Oedipus Rex, Fate, and the Modern World
In the two thousand since “Oedipus Rex” was written, it has been analyzed and dissected innumerable times and in every possible way. Usually the analysis has been within the context of the play itself or within the context of other Greek tragedies. Perhaps it would be more relevant and interesting to evaluate the play within the context of the modern world.
In his play Sophocles brings up many questions which are not easily answered. Does man ha free will? What responsibilities does a man have for his own actions? Should the inferior human intellect and poor human reasoning be placed above obedience to one’s God or gods?
Neither Sophocles nor the Greeks originated these questions. Thousands of years before the time of the Greeks man worried that his life, and therefore his fate, was determined by very powerful gods. Hence much time and energy was spent praying and asking the gods to utilize divine intervention to provide better hunting, weather, food, and other forms of good fortune.
Thousands of years of superstition and spiritual worship evolved into Greeks’ religion, which was based on mythology and the belief that gods of the Olympus controlled the lives of men. Sophocles brings to light the Greeks’ beliefs in several scenes as the gods are consulted through the oracles. In one scene, Iokaste tells Oedipus that an oracle told Laios that his doom would be death at the hands of his own son. His son born of his flesh and mine (II. 214-220). Iokaste and Laios had asked an oracle about their baby’s future (Oedipus) to have better understanding of the child’s fate. Upon receiving this information, and realizing the tragic destiny of the child, they attempted to thwart the will of the gods and initiated a series of events which would eventually lead to the complete fulfillment of the oracle’s prophecy.
Does man have free will or is fate a preordained path which a man is required to follow? An individual schooled in modern western thought might feel this question is simple-minded and not deserving of a thoughtful response. A common response may be, “I am in control, and fate has noting to do with the decisions I make about how to live my life.” Yet if this statement truly reflects modern western thought then why does organized religion still persist throughout the western world? The fact is that millions of people attend church and regularly ask their God for divine intervention in their lives, as in Oedipus times when they went to ask the oracle for guidance.
Outside of western civilization, thought, lies most of the world’s population. Many non-western religions accept as a fact man’s insignificance in the universe and believe strongly in fate and the inability of man to affect the outcome of...