Free Will in Oedipus the King
Oedipus the King by Sophocles is the story of a man who was destined to kill his father and marry his mother. The story continues in the tradition of classic Greek plays, which were based upon the Greeks’ beliefs at the time. The ancient Greeks believed that their gods decided what would ultimately happen to each and every person. Since those gods destined Oedipus to kill his father and marry his mother, Oedipus’ life was definitely fated. However, the gods only decided where Oedipus’ life would eventually lead; they never planned the route he would take to get there. All the decisions that Oedipus made in order to fulfill his destiny, and the decisions he made after the fact, were of his own free will, and were largely shaped by his mien.
Probably the most relevant examples of the exercise of free will are in the events which lead up to the play and which fulfill Oedipus’ prophecy. When Laius and Jocasta hear of their newborn son’s fate, their first instinct is to kill Baby Oedipus. But they cannot do the deed outright; they instead make the choice to pin his feet together and leave him on a mountainside. This turns out not to be the best choice for them, but at least it was a choice. Perhaps the most barefaced example of free will is in the murder of Laius and his men—not so much the murders themselves but the circumstances surrounding the murders. This is how Oedipus describes the incident to Jocasta:
Making my way toward this triple crossroad I began to see a herald, then a brace of colts drawing a wagon, and mounted on the bench…a man, just as you’ve described him, coming face-to-face, and the one in the lead and the old man himself were about to thrust me off the road—brute force— and the one shouldering me aside, the driver, I strike him in anger!—and the old man, watching me coming up along his wheels—he brings down his prod, two prongs straight at my head! I paid him back with interest! Short work, by god—with one blow of the staff in this right hand I knock him out of his high seat, roll him out of the wagon, sprawling headlong— I killed them all—every mother’s son! (884-98)
Talk about road rage! Oedipus is pushed out the way by a wagon, and he retaliates by killing almost everyone in the wagon, including his father! Sure, Oedipus was destined to kill his father anyway, but the manner in which he did so gives an insight into his demeanor. Oedipus could have killed his father in any number of ways, but to do so in a fit of rage set off by so seemingly trivial of an event is just not rational. Murder may not have been as big of a deal at that time, but if Oedipus had tried that in today’s world, he would have either been executed or have been spending the rest of his life in a mental institution. This incident goes to show that Oedipus is a very rash and impulsive man, and this carries over into his administration and decision-making.
As king of Thebes, Oedipus is a very short-tempered...