Relationship between Fate and Free Will
The relation between fate and free will has been a subject of contention for years. Various individuals have come up with conflicting ideologies regarding the relationship between fate and free will. Various individuals, for example, Sophocles, extensively supported the ideology that tied an individual’s freedom of will to fate. Though arguments that support the relationship between fate and freedom of will are quite compelling, there are some missing blends of its realistic boundaries. Sophocles, in Oedipus the King, depicts that fate had a bearing on an individual’s life despite the existence of free will. This paper will compare the relationship between fate and free will in Oedipus the king. The plot of the paper will also seek to establish if there is an existence of a higher authority in the play and offer suggestions on ways of reconciling the concept of human free will.
Generally, fate had already predestined a path for Oedipus. This can be confirmed by the fact that there was already a prophecy, by Oracle of Apollo at Delphi, which warned that Oedipus was to marry his mother and kill his father. There is a very tight relationship between prophecy and fate. The fact that the Oracle of Apollo was bestowing a prophecy upon the life of Oedipus meant that a defined path was already laid for him (Sophocles NA). This defined path or occurrence of events may be regarded as fate. The prophecy, which became the fate of Oedipus, later came to pass. Although Oedipus had a freedom of will, throughout his existence his actions seemed to be driven towards the path that fate had laid for him. His freedom of will which came with a variety of characters, for instance, pride and temper seemed to lay a ground for the following his fate.
As the plays plot continues to unfold the series of events faced by Oedipus seem to be in line with his fate. For instance, Oedipus ends up killing his biological father and later marrying his mother unknowingly. These events occur although Oedipus had freedom of will. He was aware of the prophecy and spent most of his life trying to avoid the prophecy. Although, his will was to avoid his fate he faced it unknowingly. Jocasta, Oedipus mother, had not quite come to terms with the prophecy of her son killing her husband. According to her, the prophecy would never come true. It seemed utterly impossible for her to marry her own son (Sophocles NA). From this fact, we see that Jocasta also had a form of freedom of will. She refused to accept the fact that her fate and that on her son were related. Having learned of the prophecy Jocasta would do her best to disapprove her destiny. But as fate would have it, her son killed her husband and married her.
The fact that Oedipus ends up marrying his mother and killing his father though he tried so had to prevent it leaves loopholes on the issue of freedom of will. Yes, he had the freedom of will but there seemed to be a higher power that aligned his actions to his destiny. During this period, there was a very strong natural belief in the Greek gods. The way of life of the people at that time was very dependent on the gods. These people believed in very powerful gods who had abilities to see the future. The gods would then use specific people to communicate what they had seen to the rest of the population (Ehrenberg NA). For instance, prophets were able to see visions that would be translated as messages from the gods. The fact that the blind Tiresias saw visions proves that there existed a higher authority in the play. This higher authority laid down the fates of almost everybody in the world. Although Oedipus had freedom of will there was already a predefined fate which he had to meet. His freedom of will only acted as a propeller that would see him meet his fate.
The prophesy that drives the plot of the play is that the son of queen Jocasta would grow to kill his father and marry his mother. The plot is broadened by the fact that all of the characters involved in the prophesy try their best to prevent it from coming true. The characters are filled with their own beliefs and freedom of will. This freedom of belief and freedom of will is used by the play writer to depict the inevitability of the fate. Although the freedom of will drove the characters to perform various preventive measures they met their fates. This only proves that although freedom of will is not attached to fate, it helps in the conduction of the necessary activities needed for individuals to meet their fate.
One might argue that the characters had no freedom of will since all their action only seemed to drive them towards the direction of their fate. For instance, Oedipus had a natural drive that convinced him to dig into his past. Although he received some opposition regarding revisiting his past, his defiant nature, which is a characteristic of freedom of will, drove him to revisit his past. Revisiting his past came with a persistent urge of knowing the truth (Sophocles NA). The persistent urge of knowing the truth resulted into the chronological unfolding of events that later helped Oedipus meet his fate. Every character in the play knew the implications of meeting their fate. Although the implications were severe at some point they were absorbed in the freedom of will to the extent that they were blinded by the fact that they were slowly meeting their fate.
King Laius and Oedipus had the same prophecy. King Laius knew that his son will one day kill him while Oedipus was aware that he would one day kill his father. Naturally, any individual who wants to prevent such an event from happening would seek the truth about the ware about of either the father or the son depending on the party concerned. King Laius and Oedipus tried the same but were later absorbed in their feud (Sophocles NA). Fate had intertwined them in a tight spot. Knowing the kind of pride possessed by King Laius and Oedipus it was only natural for their freedom of will to drive them in the direction that fate had laid for them. The unfolding of events driven by the freedom of will of the characters led to the fulfillment of the prophecy. Oedipus was not driven to kill king Laius and marry Jocasta rather he did that out of pure freedom of will.
From the play, fate comes as a result of prophecies. Prophesies are generally messages from the gods who had abilities to see the future. Fate may thus be referred to as the end. The gods had already seen the end which came as a result of the unfolding of events without the interference of third parties. This means that freedom of will is a stepping stone meant to help in the meeting of fate. There was no possible way for the characters to evade the already predestined occurrence of events. Towards the end of the play, Oedipus admits that fate is inevitable. Although he agrees with this fact, he insists that all of the deeds that resulted in him meeting his fate were based on his free will. He affirms this when he states that although all his terrible deeds were somewhat fated, his ignorance and pride were what drove him to perform them (Sophocles NA). This can be translated as, although fate is inevitable, individuals are left to choose the events that drive then towards meeting their fate. King Laius and Oedipus would have chosen very different lines of actions which would eventually lead them to the same fate. Though fate is very inevitable, it under no circumstances ever interferes with the freedom of will.
In conclusion, the concept of human free will is very important. Human free will helps in the development of the event in an individual’s life. The concept of free will helps in bringing out a form of accountability. Since no external force pushes someone to perform certain activities, they are held accountable for their actions. Freedom of will helps in the comfortable choice of paths taken by humans. It thus gives room for the incorporation of personal reasoning before performing certain actions.
Sophocles, E. A. Oedipus the king. Classic Productions, 1994.
Ehrenberg, Victor. From Solon to Socrates: Greek History and Civilization during the 6th and 5th Centuries BC. Routledge, 2010.