Oedipus: Puppet of the Gods

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Greek tragedy is generally characterized by a protagonist’s downfall cause by his own actions or character flaws. Sophocles’ Oedipus, however, does not fit this traditional mold. While in most tragedies the main character is a “free agent” who causes his own demise, Oedipus is merely a “puppet of the gods” who is simply a victim of fate.

The most obvious proof that Oedipus is brought down by fate is the fact that everything Oedipus experiences and does is controlled by prophecy. First, Laius abandons Oedipus because he will be killed by his son. After being brought to Corinth and being taken in by Polybus, Oedipus leaves there because prophecy tells him that he will murder his father, who he believes is Polybus. He then fulfills the prophecy by unknowingly killing his real father, Laius at a crossroad. Clearly, everything that happened to Oedipus was predetermined by a higher power. Oedipus’ act of parricide was not a result of his own actions as a free agent but rather as a result of a prophetic destiny.

More proof that Oedipus is a puppet of the gods comes from Oedipus’ interaction with Teiresias the prophet. There is a plethora of evidence in this sequence that shows predetermination of Oedipus’ fate. In telling Oedipus about his parricide and his relationship with his mother, which is a prophecy within itself, Teiresias also describes Oedipus’ future. He tells Oedipus that the man who killed Laius “will be blind, although now he can see.” Clearly, this is an allusion to the fact that Oedipus will gauge his eyes out when he finds out about his misdeeds. Teiresias continues to tell Oedipus that he will “set off for a foreign country, groping the ground before him with a stick”, which is of course a reference to Oedipus’ future exile from Thebes. With all of this predetermined, it would be absurd to consider Oedipus a free agent.

Another reason that Oedipus should not be considered a free agent is because it would contradict the underlying...
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