Fate in Classical Lit

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The Role of Fate in the Lives of Mortals in Classical Literature

Many authors in Classical literature have shown the strength of fate. Achilles of Homer’s The Iliad and Oedipus of Sophocles’ plays are two of those characters who experience the working of the fates in their lives. At one time or another, they are under the control of the gods, but even with intervention from the gods, their lives are ultimately in the hands of fate. This poses the age-old question, does one have the power of choice in their life, or have life’s event been predestined. The lives of Achilles and Oedipus have been prophesied with doom, and these prophesies end up coming to pass despite attempts of avoidance. Ultimately, fate is the ruling force of the lives and events in classical literature. Fate is the dominating factor of one’s destiny in Classical times. Fate is often corresponded with the furies which are beings who have determined the destiny of the lives of mortals. However, fate is not always related to furies in Classical literature. Sometime, it is simply referred to as “fate.” No matter how it is portrayed, fate is known to be stronger than the power of the gods. Daniel Dennett describes fate as being “the rather mystical and superstitious view that at certain checkpoints in our lives, we will necessarily find ourselves in particular circumstances (the circumstances ‘fate’ has decreed) no matter what the intervening vagaries of our personal trajectories. . . . It is widely agreed that this sort of fatalism has absolutely nothing to recommend it” (Dennett 104). Gods have power over specific aspects of the world: god of war, god of the sea, god of love, etc. Although these gods are very powerful, this power is focused, or even more so restricted to certain areas. However, as enforced by Dennett, fate has the power to manipulate every aspect in the life of a mortal. Robert Solomon goes on to give an illustration of how he comes across Frithjof Bergmann’s ‘‘Philosophy in Literature” while in med school. After reading this work, Solomon has a major turning point in his life as he decides to redirect his career path into the field of psychology. This is not to say that he never would have received the revelation that he should change fields of study, but he does consider it “fate” that he did come across this work at such a point in his life. This just goes to show that the inner workings of fate come out on top despite the path one may think they are following. Furies may control fate, but the fate is often revealed through some type of prophesy. As readers can conclude from taking in a wide span of Classical literature, when people are destined to a negative fate, it is often the parents who are told about this by some sort of prophet. For example, in the lives of Achilles and Oedipus, the parents of both individuals are told the fate of their child by a prophet. Many times, the parents do whatever they can in their power to go against what has been prophesied. Again both the parents of Achilles and the parents of Oedipus attempt to save their child from the fate which has been given to them. Although there is often this attempt to escape fate, in reality, there is no way to escape it. Prophesies which are given end up coming true whether or not the people even know that it is happening. This is what happens in the case of Oedipus who is well aware that his fate is to kill his father and marry his mother. Ignorant to that fact that the king and queen of Corinth are not his real parents, Oedipus ends up killing Laius on the road, not knowing that he is killing his biological father. After this, he once again goes on to unknowingly marry his mother whose husband has gone missing. There are several times in Classical literature where the gods make attempts to meddle in the lives of mortals, but this does nothing to the determinants of fate. The gods may alter a factor of the mortals’ lives, but fate always prevails...
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