Joe Strehlow 3/26/09 4°
Does Free Will Exist?
In the unnerving play “Oedipus,” Sophocles reveals that although fate is predetermined, and although it is insinuated that one has free will, one’s entire life, down to the minutest details, has already been determined. Oedipus, an individual destined to kill his father and marry his mother, is thrown out of the home of his parents, King Laius and Queen Jocasta of Thebes, when he is merely a small child. His feet are bound together and he is thrown out into the wilderness. A shepherd pities him and saves his life, giving him to King Polybus of Corinth. Oedipus eventually learns of his disturbing prophecy, and does everything in his power to avoid fulfilling his destiny. Sophocles conveys that no matter what actions one commits, an individual’s fate is always preordained; he portrays that, ultimately, one will fulfill his destiny, while still appearing to have the ability to make one’s own decisions. Sophocles illuminates that Oedipus’s destiny is predetermined when the author foreshadows Oedipus’s forthcoming fate. When Oedipus desires to express that he wishes to find the murderer of Laius, he declares, “With the help of God, we shall find success—or ruin” (5). Oedipus’s regarding of how God will help Oedipus and his people succeed or find ruin prognosticates that Oedipus and his people will not only be successful; at one fell swoop, they will also become utterly and emotionally subverted. Oedipus does not completely understand the boundary between fate and free will; he does not fully gather that although God seems to give people choices, the outcomes are always predetermined. Oedipus’s declaration is wholly ironic; little does he know that in order to reach his goal of finding the murderer, he must realize he himself killed Laius, who, unbeknownst to him, was his father. In addition, the chorus foretells of an impending destiny when they chant, “All of us flutter in agony, wringing our way into
darkness and death” (6). The sinister chorale of the choir predicts that “all of us”—referring to Oedipus and his kingdom—will end up being stolen from their bodies by Death. Even though the hoi polloi is aware that death is one of the only few certain things that will indefinitely occur, that does not prevent it from being fate. Fluttering in agony is also fate, but the difference is that some destinies are meant to be known and some are meant to be kept secret; however, even if a destiny, mainly a future that one or many thought ought to be secret, becomes known to the future beholder of the destiny, the foretold destiny will not change, and the enlightenment of the future to the individual(s) it affects was inevitable. Furthermore, the truth that one’s fortune is preordained is revealed more when Oedipus demands that the prophet Teiresias should inform him of what his future beholds; Teiresias proclaims, “It does not matter if I speak; the future has already been determined” (10). Teiresias’s assertion of truth supports Sophocles’s message, which is that no matter what one does, one cannot change the future. Teiresias believes it is completely his decision to speak, and it seems like that; contrarily, whether Teiresias informs Oedipus of what his future beholds or not is already destined to occur. Even for minor decisions, one thinks one has the choice of what to choose, yet one’s fate has already been prearranged long before a moment of choosing occurs. Oedipus still appears to be able to make his own decisions; he is unaware that one’s entire life is ordained even before one is born. When Oedipus demands that Teiresias should tell him what his future will bring, Teiresias replies, “You are destroying yourself” (10). Oedipus refuses to believe that improper knowledge may ruin an individual, and Oedipus feels that Teiresias refuses to tell him the truth just to aggravate Oedipus. Oedipus continues to insist for his future not only because of his longing to know the truth, but because he wants to defy Teiresias and God himself, as Oedipus wants to do what others say he cannot; he also does not know that his future has long been ordained and that he cannot circumvent destiny. Moreover, the chorus
enlightens the audience of how there are no true choices in life when they reverberate, “Not when we must direct our every thought to obey God’s command” (11). The harmonious phrase of the chorus represents what fate truly is: fate is God’s word, and it is bestowed upon one with all of one’s actions predetermined. One believes on is making one’s own decisions, whereas one’s decisions have already been made. The chorus believes individuals may choose whether or not to obey God’s command, but them choosing to obey God’s command has already been determined by fate. Additionally, Sophocles conveys his theme that actions one believes are free will are actually unavoidable by fate, which is proven when the chorus resonates, “In vain will the murderer hide…Let him flee to the edge of the world: on his heels he will find the command of the god” (12). The choir augurs that Oedipus, the murderer, will refuse to realize what he has done and will refuse to accept himself as the murderer of Laius; Oedipus feels if he flees from his problems, they will cease chasing him. He also believes that his most significant problem is that fate is his opponent, and in order to defeat fate, he must outsmart fate; Oedipus’s hubris prevents him from noticing that destiny is unavoidable, and that one has no choice in what one’s outcome is. One’s destiny is chosen for them; one cannot choose one’s destiny, and even all the inconsequential decisions that seem so minute are preordained. Throughout the intricate play “Oedipus,” Sophocles reveals that although one appears to be able to make choices, one is not aware that one’s future has already been determined for oneself. One cannot avoid one’s true destiny, as even the insignificant choice of whether one orders chocolate or vanilla ice cream for dessert, or, in the instance of a major future career decision, whether one chooses to earn a Masters of Business Administration or to become a Bachelor of Engineering; all of life’s choices are preordained. Although an individual may believe that he or she is making his or her own choices, one’s fate has already been preordained.