Fate in Oedipus Rex
Sophocles' tragic tale of Oedipus presents the reader with a very bleak view of mankind and the world in general. According to the story, every person is predestined to enact a role scripted by fate, a "mysterious power" that rules even the greatest of Greek gods (Hamilton, 27). In this tale, the source of this fate is not as clear as its function.
The first of many allusions to fate in Oedipus the King comes from the chorus, which calls upon the gods Athena, Artemis, and Phoebus (Apollo), "three averters of Fate," (Sophocles 163) to save Thebes. The phrase implied that the gods could help man avoid the dictates of fate, but that they cannot alter fate. Sharing the terrible facts of Laius' death, Teiresias tells Oedipus: "It is not fate that I should be your ruin, Apollo is enough; it is his care/to work this out" (Sophocles 376-378). The prophet's pronouncement links fate and Apollo, yet he suggests the god is facilitator, not dictator, of fate. The chorus warns Oedipus: " . . . terribly close on his heels/are the Fates that never miss (Sophocles 472-473). Here, for the first time, is reference to the three goddesses--Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos--whom Hesiod says assign each man at birth the lives they will lead (Hamilton, 43). Later Oedipus ponders the source of his fate: "Would not one rightly judge and say that on me, these things were sent by some malignant God?" (Sophocles 828-829) Yet he never answers his own question. Near the end of the play, Oedipus acknowledges, "It was Apollo, friends, Apollo, that brought this bitter bitterness, my sorrows to completion" (Sophocles 1329-1330), yet he recognizes the god as the agent who will work this out, not as the sovereign of fate.
These citations reveal the influence of fate, yet there is no evidence in Oedipus the King that human action evokes divine consequence, as is seen in the Hebrew Bible. Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden because they disobey God's explicit command; Noah is saved from destruction because he...