The Victim of Fate in Oedipus Rex
The question has been raised as to whether Oedipus was a victim of fate or of his own actions. This essay will show that Oedipus was a victim of fate, but he was no puppet because he freely and actively sought his doom, although he was warned many times of the inevitable repercussions of his actions.
When first considering this topic, I speculated that maybe it was the destiny of Oedipus to suffer, but a friend asked me to explain why Oedipus, in the act of gouging his eyes out, cries explicitly:
No more, no more shall you look on the misery about me,
The horrors of my own doing! Too long you have known
The faces of those whom I should never have seen,
Too long blind to those for whom I was searching!
From this hour, go in darkness! (Sophocles 830)
Clearly, the friend declared, Oedipus was aware that he alone was responsible for his actions. Moreover, the friend also stressed the fact that if Oedipus was not responsible for his actions, then he could not be viewed as a tragic figure since he would be a mere puppet of fate or the gods. I was not prepared to argue one so scholarly as my friend, so I stayed silent. Roy, my roomate, and the friend then discussed whether Oedipus's explosive temper was a tragic flaw. The friend believed that his volatile temper was one factor that contributed to his downfall. I cannot remember now the salient points of Roy's argument, but I do recall that I partook in the debate by urging my friend to look at Oedipus as a hero who was trying to assert his rights, as a hero who was trying to defend his honor, when he slew those who violated his right of way on that fateful day where the three highways came together:
There were three highways
Coming together at a place I passed;
And there a herald came towards me, and a chariot
Drawn by horses, with a man such as you describe
Seated in it. The groom leading the horses
forced me off the road at his lord's command;
But as this charioteer lurched over toward me
I struck him in my rage. The old man saw me
And bought his double goad down upon my head
As I came abreast.
He was paid back, and more!
. . . I killed him. I killed them all. (Sophocles 819)
I tried to support my contention by repeating what my history professor, Dr. Rob Geis, taught me about the hero: the hero prizes above all else his honor and the excellence of his life. When his honor is at stake, all other considerations become irrelevant. My argument, however, failed to sway my friend's opinion in my direction. She concluded that Oedipus's inability to control his violent anger was a tragic flaw or what the ancient Greeks called hubris. Two ideas kept recurring in my mind that afternoon: fate and the hero. ...