Oedipus Rex: An analysis of Freewill V Determinism

Overview:

Oedipus Rex a Greek tragedy written by Sophocles in about 441B.C. It is a play that deals with issues that still have relevance today. The theme of freewill versus determinism is a strong component of this play. Would Oedipus have been able to prevent the prophecy if he had acted differently?

Discuss of Freewill Vs. Determinism

Although he was saved from death and sent away from Thebes he still fulfills the prophecy. He would have preferred death that to commit such foul acts as incest and patricide. “Should mate with my own mother, and beget a brood that men would shudder to behold… murder of my own father”.[1]

Oedipus believes that due to his rescue he had no power in controlling the wheel of fate. However the symbolism of the crossroads where he killed Laius is detrimental to the play. In Ancient Greece this would have symbolized a choice.

Oedipus chose the path he faced the moment he chose confrontation and violence as opposed to fleeing. Whilst it does show he is a strong character of swift responses, these attributes of his character sealed his fate.

Themes in the play:

  • Freewill
  • Determinism
  • Patricide
  • Incest

The themes of patricide and incest are the foundations of the play. The revulsion these two themes produce is paramount.

In the time of Sophocles in ancient Greece and the performing of these plays, the spectators would have been horrified by the themes.

This disgust still has a massive impact on the audience/reader of today. It is a social taboo and in most societies and cultures there are laws prohibiting it.

Patricide and Incest:

The two acts are considered heinous, but ultimately it’s the hideous act of incest that brings about the death of Iocasta, who, too tormented by the thoughts of her actions hangs herself to escape reality.

The question of whether Oedipus could have avoided his fate must constantly be questioned although he made a choice at the cross-roads, he was left marked by being bound by the ankles as a child, was this fate’s way of marking him out for his demise or a simple mischance of luck as to be left scarred?

Oedipus as a character:

Oedipus is a complex character. He is seen morphing from a strong, clever man who outwits the Sphinx to his commanding self when he’s trying to piece together who killed Laius. Then he becomes demented and frantic upon discovery he murdered his father and the married of his mother.

He is a tragic victim at his own hand.

What Sophocles creates:

Sophocles creates a feeling of empathy for Oedipus, whether it was his freewill or fate that caused the series of events to unfold, he did not predict the outcome and you can see his utter devastation at the end.

Oedipus condemns himself to exile, he will not allow himself the release of death and punishes himself viciously “He smote his eyeballs with pins, not once, nor twice; and as he smote them blood ran down his face.”[2]

Oedipus Rex

Credit: goodreads.com

The warning:

Not only does Oedipus give the Greek audience a spectacle he gives them a warning, in the time of Sophocles the audience believed that these characters existed so not only is Sophocles warning against patricide and incest he is showing the audiences the fate of those who are involved in such acts.

 

[1] Sophocles, Antigone, Oedipus the King and Electra, edited by Edith Hall. New York: University Press. (2008)  p.75

[2] Ibid p.92

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