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Gervanna Stephens
Dr. Carol Fider
ENGL335 World Literature
22 June 2012
Fate versus Free will as portrayed in Oedipus the King.
The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines fate as the development of events
outside a persons control, regarded as predetermined by a supernatural power. This therefore
would pose opposition to free will, defined as the power of acting without constraintat ones
own discretion. This concept of the oppositions of fate and free will are a poignant factor in
Sophocles Oedipus the King.
Fate was the will of the gods, a reality that could not be opposed, ritually revealed by the
oracle of Delphi who spoke for Apollo himself, (Higgins). In the storys beginning, we see
where Oedipus has sent Creon to see the oracle, for Creon, Menoeceus son, my own wifes
brother, to the Delphic shrine of Phoebus I have sent that he might ask what act or speech of
mine should save the state (335). This action opens the tragedy and sets the pace for all that is to
be revealed throughout the story, for it is the words of the oracle that cause the revelation of fate.
It is prophesied at the birth of Oedipus by the oracle that he is destined to kill his father
and marry his mother, the god foredoomed to die, slain by his babe and mine, speaks Jocasta
to Oedipus (352). For this reason, his parents Laius and Jocasta bore his ankles through and tied
them, sending the baby to be left on the mountains to die, yet never did that child, the hapless
boy, slay himbut died himself before his sire, (352) this action is done to prevent the words of

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the fated prophecy from coming true. This act of Laius and Jocasta reflects a choice of will,
which counters the oracles fated words.
Fate however sees the prophecy undone and as such, the baby is saved and taken to the
house of Polybus and Merope in Corinth to be raised. A messenger sent to Thebes from Corinth
reveals this unto Oedipus, among Kithaerons wooded folds I found theeI rescued theeI
loosed thy feet, pierced through and bound with cords, (356). It is therefore seen that the child
was not killed in the mountains as had been thought. When Oedipus hears that he will kill his
father and marry his mother, he flees Corinth, I was doomed to marry with my motherthe
murderer of the father who begat me. And hearing this I fledaway from Corinth, never to
return (350-351). The flight of Oedipus from Corinth acts as him exercising his free will, for
he believed Polybus and Merope his real parents.
The audience and reader however, understand that the workings of fate and destiny are in
motion, actually guiding Oedipus to do the exact thing from which he is running. This idea lends
itself to the thought that fate trumps any sort of free will man may think he possesses.
Oedipus choice to investigate the murder of the previous king to purge the city of its
plague can also be seen as fate in action, for it was the oracle who said, pollution, harboured in
the land, we must drive hence, nor harbour irremediably, (335). The action or the determination
Oedipus thinks is his own in the search for Laius killer is unwittingly fueled by fate and sees the
oracles words revealed as true.
Oedipus thus, cannot affect the future that the oracle predicted, for the events had already
taken place before they were revealed. The predictions of the oracles come true, despite Jocasta
preaching their unreliability and Oedipus flight from the oracles words. For in an attempt to

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change fate both Jocasta and Oedipus do exactly as predicted. It can be easily understood that the
gods will fate and destiny rather than mans free will and choice have been done in the
play. The Chorus exclaims, all-seeing Time hath found and doomed (360) this expresses that
time sees all; fate and the course of time are powerful things that no man can outdo. Man can
neither understand nor seek to stop the will of the gods, and it is pointless to try as is seen by
Oedipus tragic example.

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Works Cited
Higgins, Charles and Regina Higgins. CliffNotes on The Oedipus Trilogy. 22 June 2012,
Retrieved from <http://www.cliffsnotes.com/study_guide/literature/id-100.html>. Web.
Oedipus the King. Greek Literature in Translation. Print.