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Oedipus Paper

Oedipus Paper

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Published by: yaveorn on Jun 20, 2009
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BRENNER, ANDREW
Oδίπoυς τύραννoς
(Oedipus the King)Fate vs. Free Will in the Predictions of OraclesOne of the chief themes of Oedipus the King is Free Will vs. Fate, although thesubtlety with which it is examined is sometimes overlooked. The "fate" often perceivedin Oedipus's life is attributed to the predictions of the oracles in the story, who receivetheir knowledge of the future from the gods, specifically Apollo and Zeus. Somequestions that are often considered while analyzing Oedipus the King are to what extentare Oedipus's actions determined by Fate, through the gods' divine guidance of events,and to what extent are the course of events caused by foreknowledge of the events? Isknowledge of future events a form of predetermined fate, or does free will still play thechief role? And to what extent were the Oracles' predictions predicated on certain freewill actions of characters in the play?The central prophecy of the play is clearly the prediction that was made beforeOedipus was born:
Oedipus: "...I should lie with my own mother, breed Children from whom all mean would turn their eyes;And that I should be my father's murderer." 
(Scene II, Lines 265-267)This prophecy was initially told to Oedipus's parents Laïos and Iocastê. It can beargued that this prophecy does not signify Fate that Laïos and Iocastê were bound to, because they prophecy they were told was predicated on the fact that they would have ason. If they had chosen not to have a child then, they would not have been bound to the
 
fulfillment of the prophecy. It is only after they have a son that the actions they take to prevent the fulfillment of the prophecy actually facilitate its fulfillment. After having ason Laïos and Iocastê, perhaps realizing they have fulfilled the predicate required for the prophecy to be fulfilled, having a son, attempt to rid themselves of the problem byinjuring the baby Oedipus's feet and leaving him in the wilderness to die. This of courseleads to Oedipus being found by a shepherd and brought to Corinth, where he was safely brought up as a part of the royal family. In this interpretation of the events that led up tothe events of the play it is clear that both free will and unflinching Fate were equallyresponsible for causing the death of Laïos and the incest committed by Iocastê.While it can be argued that Laïos and Iocastê had some element of control over the fulfillment of the prophecy, Oedipus appears to have much less control over the wayevents have proceeded during his life. Oedipus, upon hearing from a drunk that the Kingand Queen of Corinth are not Oedipus's real parents, consults the oracle of Delphi to seeif the drunk was telling the truth. The oracle ignores Oedipus's question, but tells himseveral other things, one of which is essentially the same prophecy that has been told toLaïos and Iocastê, that Oedipus would kill his father and commit incest with his mother.Oedipus, in an attempt to avoid fulfilling the prophecy, immediately leaves Corinth sothat he will not kill who he thinks is his father and marry who he thinks is his mother.Oedipus's reaction to the prophecy is natural, and so many readers of the play naturallyconsider the fact that Oedipus is still subject to the fate prescribed by the oracle as proof that the events that befall Oedipus are completely beyond his control. However,Sophocles has not left this issue so one sided as that, but subtly questions why Oedipusdid not complete the inquiry that first leads him to seek the counsel of the oracle, which is
 
whether or not the King and Queen of Corinth are really Oedipus's parents. A substantialargument can be made that Oedipus's haste and lack of proper judgment in not properlyanswering the question for which he sought the oracle is the true cause of his downfall,and has little or nothing to do with fate decreed by the gods. The idea that Oedipus's freewill had a crucial part to play in the events of his life is perhaps also implied by thesetting of his first fulfillment of prophecy: the place were he killed Laïos was a placewhere several roads met, symbolizing the several options he had in response to therudeness of the king's men, including the option of not killing the king.One of the play's major unanswered questions is just how much fate has to dowith the will of the gods. At one point in the play Iocastê says:
"It is God himself Who can show us what he wills, in his own way." 
(Scene II, Lines 199-200)But later in the play she says:
"Why should anyone in this world be afraid Since Fate rules us and nothing can be foreseen?" 
(Scene III, Lines 64-65)In the first quotations Iocastê clearly attributes the cause of events, or at least someevents, to the will of the divine, and specifically Apollo, and says that God reveals whathis will is in certain unspecified ways. In the second quotation Iocastê says that Fate(which is not elaborated upon, and may mean determinism, the divine, or the Greek goddesses the Moirae
1
) controls
all 
events, and it is impossible to foresee what those
1
According to Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moirae
 
) the Moirae were the Greek goddesses that personified Fate. See Works Cited page for further citation details. Note: the “date accessed” on thecitation page is the day this citation was made, not the day the article was originally accessed.

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