Oedipus the King is an Ancient Greek tragedy written by Sophocles. The main protagonist is Oedipus, the King of Thebes, who manages to solve the riddle of the Sphinx and save the city from destruction. However, Thebes suffers from a devastating plague, which concerns the King. Oedipus visits oracles, who say that the reason for the plague is that the murderer of the old King Laius remains alive and unpunished. After an investigation, Oedipus learns that it was he who killed Laius and, in fact, it was his father, while the queen Jocasta that he is married to is his mother. Hence, these events show that the earlier prophecy given to King Laius about his son killing him and taking his place has come true, and fate is inevitable. However, it is not fate but rather the attitude and decisions in life that may lead to tragic events.
Fate is one of the central themes in the tragedy affecting some of the main characters. Oedipus himself, Laius, Jocasta, Tiresias, Creon, the Corinthian Shepherd, the Theban Shepherd, and even some of the secondary characters – all have faced the fate sent upon them. One of the perspectives of viewing fate is that all the tragic events in the play represent how human ignorance and human character flaws may lead to their bad ends. Fate is not a monolithic look at the Gods’ will in Oedipus the King.
One character that represents fate in the play is Tiresias, as he is the first person to reveal the truth about Oedipus’s prophecy. However, he is reluctant to speak the truth at first as he is aware of the possible outcomes that it may have. Prophet’s awareness of Oedipus’s fate can be seen in the “But I [Tiresias] say that you, with both your eyes, are blind” (Sophocles 1264). Hence, Sophocles gives readers of the play a hint of how blindness and carelessness in decision-making can lead to tragic outcomes.
Jocasta, the mother, and wife of Oedipus, is another character affected by the prophecy. She does not trust the oracles and tries to convince her son and husband not to believe in their predictions. However, that tells that she believes in fate and its inevitability. Her belief in fate and inability to avoid it come true as she feels helpless in front of it and commits suicide.
Creon, on the contrary, is an interesting character in his approach to fate. Creon sums up his perception of fate: “Don’t try to keep control of everything. You have lost the power your life once had. (Sophocles 1803-1804). In his dialogues with Oedipus, he is reasonable and desires to resolve the conflict in a manner that may be considered fair and objective. Some additional characters involved in the resolution of the prophecy include Loxias (Apollo), who was the first to tell Oedipus about the prophecy (1182). Theban Shepard also mentions fate as the one that killed Polybus (1124). On the contrary, the Corinthian Shepard who brings the message about Polybus’s death also reveals that Oedipus is not his real son (Sophocles 1210). Hence, the additional characters play a supporting role in convincing Oedipus of the importance of the prophecy, which eventually becomes self-fulfilled.
In conclusion, Oedipus the King is centered around the topic of fate. However, it is not perceived as something inevitable, as characters constantly make impulsive decisions that lead to tragic outcomes. The only person who remains objective about the prophecy is Creon, but his opinion is always doubted by Oedipus. The prophecy puts a psychological burden on the characters, which makes their decision-making irrational.
Sophocles. Oedipus The King, Translated by Ian Johnston. Vancouver Island University, 2014.