Character Is Destiny

Topics: Oedipus, Oedipus the King, Jocasta Pages: 7 (2541 words) Published: September 12, 2011
“Character is Destiny” is a phrase associated with Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher of the 6th century BC who is recognized as one of the most significant philosophers before Socrates and Plato. Unfortunately, very little is known about his life other than what can be gathered from his own statements. Heraclitus lived in Ephesus, an important city on the Ionian coast of Asia Minor, not far from Miletus, the birthplace of philosophy. Ancient biographies of him consist of nothing more than inferences or imaginary constructions based on his sayings (Graham). However, the renowned philosopher Frederick Nietzsche, who drew upon the work of Heraclitus for inspiration, claims that Heraclitus believed “that a person's character is innate and determines his future character and his judgment, and thus that there cannot be any sort of impetus to change because one's fate is already decided.” (Peterson).

The theme of “Character is Destiny” can be readily observed throughout Sophocles’ Oedipus the King. The play deals with the role of human beings in shaping their own life. Man appears to be helpless in facing the circumstances that will determine his destiny. The myth of Oedipus is about escaping the fate one has been given by the gods and foretold by the oracles (Eloit). There are many examples all through the play of the role that destiny and fate play in one’s life. The first instance occurs when Oedipus sends Jocasta’s brother Creon to the temple of Apollo to learn how to rid the city of Thebes from the plague it is suffering from. Creon returns with the message that the plague will end when the murderer of Laius, the former king, is caught. Oedipus brings in the blind prophet Tiresias to help solve the mystery, but against his will, Tiresias reveals to Oedipus his fate. Tiresias tells Oedipus, “I say you are the murderer you hunt” (Sophocles 627). Oedipus refuses to believe him and accuses Tiresias and Creon of conspiring against him. Provoked by Oedipus’s taunts, Tiresias goes on to proclaim “Blind who now has eyes, beggar who now is rich, he will grope his way toward a foreign soil, a stick tapping before him step by sep. Revealed at last, brother and father both to the children he embraces, to his mother son and husband both – he sowed the loins his father sowed, he spilled his father’s blood!” (Sophocles 630). With these words Tiresias makes known to Oedipus that he is the murderer of the king and will become a blind beggar. And furthermore, Oedipus will find out that he is both the son and husband of his own wife, and brother and father to his own children. Although he is telling Oedipus his fate, Oedipus cannot accept it (Moore).

Another example is seen when Jocasta reveals to Oedipus that her husband, King Laius, was told by an oracle of Apollo that “doom would strike him down at the hands of a son, our son, to be born of our own flesh and blood” (Sophocles 636). Believing that his son with Queen Jocasta would kill him, Laius did everything he possibly could to prevent this disaster from happening. When Jocasta gave birth to their child, “he wasn’t three days old and the boy’s father fastened his ankles, had a henchman fling him away on a barren trackless mountain” (Sophocles 636). In other words, in order to avoid his fate Laius had his son chained and handed over to a trustworthy servant with strict orders that the child be left on Mt. Cithaeron and allowed to perish. But instead, unknown to Jocasta and Laius, out of compassion the servant handed the child over to a Corinthian shepherd who then passed him on to Polybius, the Corinthian King. The child grew up as the son of the King and Queen of Corinth and later killed his true father, Laius, in complete ignorance (Sophocles 643-645). The prophecy of Apollo was fulfilled even though Laius and Jocasta took extreme steps to escape the fate that was foretold them by the oracle.

Later we see just how Oedipus himself submitted to the destiny that...

Cited: Eloit, Audrene. "Oedipus Rex by Pier Paolo Pasolini the Palimpsest: Rewriting and the Creation of Pasolini’s Cinematic Language." Literature/Film Quarterly. Volume 32. Issue 4. (2004): 288+. ProQuest Central, ProQuest. Web. 28 Nov. 2010.
Graham, Daniel W. “Heraclitus (fl.C.500 BCE).” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosopy. 8 Sept. 2008. Web. 28 Nov. 2010.
Rudd, Jay. “Back to the Future as Quintessential Comedy.” Literature/Film Quarterly. Volume 19. Issue 2. (1991): 127+. ProQuest Central, ProQuest. Web. 2 Dec. 2010.
Moore, Julie. “Free Will and Oedipus Rex.” Associated 25 August 2007. Web. 2 December 2010. .
Sophocles. “Oedipia the King.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature.” Ed. Sarah Lawall and Maynard Mack. Second Edition. Volume A. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 2002. 10-41.
Peterson, Daniel. “Heraclitus, Nietzsche, Ethics, and Imperatives.” Swathmoore University. 2007. Web. 2 Dec. 2010.
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