For many years, people have wondered whether they are in completecontrol over their lives or whether fate is involved. The ancientGreeks believed that fate and the gods were responsible for theirdestinies. In the play Oedipus the King as written by Berg(1978), there are many themes involved. The major scene thatestablishes many of these topics is the encounter between Oedipus andTiresias (Sheehan, 2013.) Essentially, this encounter reveals twomajor philosophical positions which are the fate of man and the roleof gods in his affairs. Therefore, this article wishes to explainwhether the lives of mankind is determined and controlled by fate orfree will.
The philosophical positions established from the encounter arefate and the role of gods in the lives of mankind. Fate was whatdetermined and shaped the lives of man. Fate is considered to be aforce that cannot be stopped by man in any way. In essence, fate wasa reality that could not be opposed and could only be revealed byselected people (Barnes, 2008). Notably, this is indicated byTiresias when he says “Well, it will come what will, though I bemute.” The second position is that of the role of gods in the lifeof man which is related to prophesy. Tiresias indicates to the kingthat it is because of his defiance of the gods that Thebes issuffering. The agreement which he signed with the gods broughtdisaster to him, and he is the architect of his downfall. Hence, itis indicated that the role of the gods is to determine what happensin the affairs of man. This is indicated by Tiresias when he tellsthe king that "the accursed polluter of this land is you."However, the two positions are interrelated.
The encounter between the king and Tiresias revealed severaltraits about him. The characteristics are confidence,self-commitment, and pride. Oedipus is a confident person.From the encounter with Tiresias, it can be seen that Oedipus hasconfidence in what he does. What he has is more than averageconfidence but overconfidence. Such confidence makes the people tobelieve in his actions and to respect him. The self-confidence madehim able to act swiftly, publicly and decisively. Furthermore, ifOedipus did not have such confidence, then he would have looked forsomeone to take charge of the time crises. According to Roche (2012),unlike Chorus, Oedipus trusted his ability to make correct decisionsin times of danger. Through his confidence, he can solve the crisesfacing the people and give them real solutions. His confidence isalso shown by the manner in which he calls Tiresias and Creon. Inessence, he threatens to banish them from the city because of theallegations which they are facing. However, if the situation weredifferent, then his overconfidence would have proved to be hisfailure. In conclusion, the enormous self-confidence made himovercome the crises and save the city from the plaque.
Furthermore, Oedipus is a person with self-commitment. Throughhis argument with Tiresias, it can be seen that Oedipus is a personwith a total self-commitment. His argument with Tiresias is justifiedsince Tiresias knows the person who murdered Laius but is hesitatingto tell him. The self-commitment is well demonstrated when Tiresiasaccuses Oedipus of being responsible for the problems which they facein the city. Instead of inquiring more from Tiresias, he thinks ofhim as lying and plotting a secret agenda to destroy him. Being a mancommitted to himself, he imagines that his certainties are correct.He even reminds the people how he had been successful earlier whileTiresias could not offer help to Thebes. This indication asserts thathe uses his past achievements to prove that he is right. Hisself-commitment contributed to his failure.
The encounter also reveals that Oedipus is proud and hot-temperedafter his argument with Tiresias. He becomes hot tempered when herealized that he might be implicated as the person who murderedLaius. To avoid the implication, he became angry and interrogatedTiresias to find the truth about the person that killed Laius. He isproud since he trusts his abilities to make people tell the truth byusing his previous methods which made them tell the truth. Pride andhot temper were important in making him get the truth from peoplesince he always trusted his instincts. Had he lacked these qualities,he would not have been able to make them tell the truth and indeed hewould not have been made the King of Thebes (Sheehan, 2012). Throughhis pride, he made Tiresias, to tell the truth and therefore he wasable to identify the killer of the Laius.
The visions of Oedipus indicate that he thinks he could defy whatgods had for him. He sees that the life of man does not have tobe dictated by the gods or what they intend to occur in someone’slife. He struggles with life because he defies the gods and wants tolive and to what he thinks he should do. In essence, he thinks thatthe gods can let man live out of his terms without being interferedor influenced by the gods. Furthermore, he sees gods to be having toomuch control over the life of a person. He demands that the worldremains answerable to him rather than him being accountable to theworld by using his freedom to express himself. He does not realizethat gods control the life of human beings and that whoever followshis free will is leading himself to ultimate destruction (Berofsky,2012). He assumed that the gods would be friendly towards actions. Heeven analyzes his life and judges himself as having lived a perfectlife. Additionally, he thinks that by living an exceptional life andachieving great things, the gods should spare him. He concludes thathe has lived a moral life and achieved many successes in the past.Besides, his visions told him that he was only answerable to himselfand not the gods, he did not want to do something which was contraryto his convictions. He, therefore, makes clear that the role of thegods in the affairs come second to what man does. However, he waswrong since no gods had control over the lives of people and anyonewho defied what the gods wanted for him or lived according to hisfree will headed for self-destruction.
In contrasting the visions of Odysseus and Oedipus, it is foundthat only Odysseus believed that the gods controlled the lives ofmankind. Anything that happened to a human being had to have beencaused by the gods. For Oedipus, the banishment from his land was dueto the prophecy that the gods had given his family while forOdysseus, the wandering in the sea for many years was because hisfate was planned by Poseidon who was not pleased with him. Hence,Poseidon was testing him by making his life go through variousproblems. However, Oedipus understood that man could live accordingto his free will and do anything he wanted without being interferedwith by the gods. These explanations reveal why he did not realizethat the agreement which he signed with the gods was causing theproblems to his kingdom while the people knew of it. In conclusion,the lives of man are controlled and determined by fate and the gods,and not by free will.
Barnes, J. (2008). Fate. New York: Delacorte Press.
Berg, S., & Clay, D. (1978). Oedipus the King. New York:Oxford University Press.
Berofsky, B. (2012). Free will and determinism. New York:Harper & Row.
Sheehan, S. (2013). Sophocles` Oedipus the King. Chapter 3:Overview of Themes. doi:10.5040/9781472540119.ch-003.
Sheehan, S. (2012). Sophocles` Oedipus the king: a reader`sguide. London: Continuum.
Roche, P. (2012). The Oedipus plays of Sophocles Oedipus theKing, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone. New York: New AmericanLibrary.