Fate as a Theme in Sophocles' King Oedipus
Sophocles’ King Oedipus is a controversial yet transformative work of literature. A masterpiece of its time and even now, in a modern society its strong themes are widely applicable. One, if not the most provoking themes in this tragedy is fate.
Fate as it is eminently implicated in King Oedipus challenges all that we believe. Sophocles upsets with magnificent accuracy one’s reasoning of fate and free will. Shaking the thought of fate as god of our lives, we need to understand all that it reflects and seek not only the role of fate in King Oedipus but also the role of belief in such a thing as fate.
Meaning of Fate
Fate or predestination is “the development of events, outside a persons’ control, as predetermined by supernatural power” Examining this description with the line of developments in King Oedipus, one can partly identify fate in the play with its formal description. Oedipus’ actions, e.g. killing his father and sleeping with his mother, “sinful in marriage, sinful in shedding blood” (Sophocles, King Oedipus 1228) is the developments mentioned in the description mentioned above. The next phrase, “outside a person’s control”, is not true in the case of Oedipus. He had control over his actions, as he has a free will. He chose to murder a fellow road user (King Laius) and to take Jocasta as his wife. He did not however do this with the knowledge to the identity of his birth parents, Jocasta and Laius. Finally one can add the power of the supernatural in this catastrophic equation.
The inevitable play out of fate by “supernatural powers” is supported by the historical belief of ancient Grecians. In the esoteric past of Greece where King Oedipus is set, around 430 B.C., it was widely believed that even the god’s cannot alter one’s fate. Albeit a powerful god like Apollo, the god of prophecy and healing. (SparkNotes Editors, 2002)
Understanding the meaning of fate is the starting point to comprehending its absolute presence in King Oedipus.