Oedipus the King: A tragedy of fate By definition a tragedy satisfies the moral sense, it brings forth pity or fear and it tells a story of misfortune by reversal of situation, all of which are fulfilled by Sophocles’ Oedipus the King. This being said, I will argue that this play is actually a tragedy of fate: “its tragic effect depends on the conflict between the all-powerful will of the gods and the vain efforts of human beings threatened with disaster. ” In tracing the events throughout Sophocles’ play it becomes evident that the will of the gods wins out, causing the collapse of Oedipus, his land and the people of Thebes.
Being a leader of high stature and having won acclaim as the savior of Thebes, Oedipus was well regarded by the Thebian people; however with all of his worldly accomplishments and high standing, he could not overcome the destiny prescribed to him by Apollo, at Delphi. In order to call Oedipus the King a “tragedy of fate” we have the burden of proving that the tragedy does not develop from acts of free will, but rather are unavoidable events of chance. We must show that Oedipus’ journey to the oracle indeed sealed his fate and though try as he may the will of the gods is all to powerful for any human to overcome.
This I will argue is the very essence of the tragedy, the fact that no matter how great of a man Oedipus has become and no matter his earthly “power” he, or no other human could vary the life in which he is destined to live. This predestination or this curse, if you will, that Oedipus would “lie with (his) mother and beget children men’s eyes would not bear the sight of – and to be the killer of the father that gave (him) life” (Sophocles pg 56) gives meaning to the play and allows irony to unfold into a tragic tale of misfortune and the ultimate reversal of situation.
After Apollo foretold a “dreadful, calamitous future” for Oedipus he ran away, far from his supposed parents who lived in Corinth, in an attempt to dodge the horrible fate he was to face. This was done in vain. Ironically, he was not running away from his destiny, but rather running towards his demise. His journey carried him to Thebes the city he would save from ruins, the city that would cherish him, and the people he would live to protect.
But on this journey or one similar to it he would begin to fulfill the oracle of Apollo, at the place where three roads met in the woods he would unknowingly murder his father, Laius, who was at the time the ruler of Thebes. The fact that Oedipus indeed took the breath of life from another man surely is an act of free will, but this is not in question. The thought that he was attempting to run from his father and in doing so came face-to-face with the very thing from which he ran is one of irony. It is obvious now that Oedipus would not be able to escape his predestination, he would not be able to avoid the oracle of Apollo.
This having been illustrated, it becomes evident that Sophocles’ Oedipus the King is indeed a tragedy of fate; however, the irony, the misfortunes, nor the tragedy would stop here. As the story goes, Oedipus would solve the riddle of the Sphinx, become king of Thebes and marry the wife of the late Laius, Jocasta. He would establish a life for himself far from Polybus and Merope, the people he knew as his mother and father. Here he would gain power, respect and authority; still yet he would not escape the uncontrollable destiny he was now sure to fulfill.
As the story unfolds, Oedipus’ and the people of Thebes gain knowledge of the past, through the prophet, Tiresias, who explained that Oedipus was the murderer that was causing his city grief, the king’s wife Jocasta, who gave details to Laius’ death and through a Corinthian messenger, who told Oedipus that Polybus and Merope were not actually his parents. This knowledge along with the oracle of Apollo, at Delphi marked the reversal of situation that saw one of “the great men” of this world fall from power only to become a disgrace to himself and the Thebian people.
At the climax of this recognition scene Oedipus takes his punishment upon himself, gouging out his own eyes so to never again look upon those he had shamed. Ironic is a man who went through life fearing his fate, not able to see his misfortunes unfolding before the very eyes he would later destroy. In closing, without question Oedipus the King is a tragedy, not only does it satisfy the moral sense, it also tells a story of unfortunate reversal of situation and excites pity for Oedipus.
However some critics would not agree that it is a tragedy of fate, this to me is absurd. To argue that the misfortunes of Oedipus were brought on by acts of his own free will would defile the Sophoclean meaning behind this play. It should now be quite evident that Oedipus was cursed with a predestination fit for no mortal human being. The misfortunes he experienced were not due to his own actions but rather were cast upon him by the gods and only through divine intervention was the oracle of Apollo, at Delphi fulfilled.
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