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The Role Of Faith And The Gods In Oedipus Rex

1947 words - 8 pages

A common struggle man faces is the question of who or what has power and control over his life. Does he have total control of his future, or is there a higher being at work that takes human lives into their own hands? Sophocles, in his work Oedipus Rex, establishes a view that gives fate, which is created by the gods, a seemingly inescapable characteristic over man. The role of fate is clearly defined, through the fulfillment of divine prophecy, and Oedipus’ inability to recognize prophecy as a realistic source of knowledge, as a fate that strikes a delicate balance with the free will of man.
The balance stricken between fate and free will, in Sophocles’ mind, is portrayed through Oedipus’ fatal flaw, which forces him to his fate, while also defining his free will. His hamartia is visible from the beginning of the play when Oedipus says to his people, “Tell me, and never doubt that I will help you” (Sophocles Prologue. 13). Clearly, he views himself as having a supreme ability to take matters into his own hands and aid the people whom he governs. This extreme desire to aid his people, which is undoubtedly an admirable quality, is coupled with an extreme desire to find answers. This thirst for knowledge is also shown at the beginning of the play through Oedipus’ interactions with Creon, where Oedipus badgers Creon with questions regarding the prophecy, asking “Murder of whom? Surely the god has named him?” (Prologue. 106). These two seemingly noble characteristics, the desire to help his people and the desire to know the truth, end up working against Oedipus, and results in the tragedy of the play. The role of fate in this beginning scene is clearly seen through the prophecy, but at this point in the plot, it is unclear how much power the prophecy has over future events. Another display of fate is through Oedipus’ personality. He is a man who is compelled to know the truth. This is a characteristic that he was born with, and therefore, is an element of fate. He is unable to control his persona he was given at birth, but while this may be an element of fate, it directly ties to his free will. Through his inherent belief that justice must be served for his people, Oedipus makes a decision that is completely of his own free will. Oedipus’ concern for justice for King Laios, for the people of his land, and for his own personal safety, leads him to make the decision that the murderer “must be killed or exiled” (I. 94). Resulting from this decision is the balance Sophocles intends to portray between fate and free will. Fate is clearly seen through the psychological tendencies seen through Oedipus’ character (Shamir 1). The contrasting trait of free will is seen through the actions Oedipus decides to take as a result of his personality.
The philosophical position Sophocles takes in Oedipus Rex is shown through the depiction of the role of fate versus the role of free will. Sophocles takes a character, Oedipus, who possesses...

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