Prof. Dr. Asim Karim
28 January 2013
FREE WILL IN GREEK TRAGEDIES
There are many occasions in the Greek tragedies where the characters are making decisions according to their own free will. They are not merely the puppets in the hands of fate and gods but their own motives surpass over all other influences. if they are performing any action or making any decision by following the gods even at that time their inner feelings and desires are there that compel them to act or decide according to their own will. Keywords: free will, fate, gods, personal motives, free will in Sophocles and Aeschylus’s tragedies. INTRODUCTION
In Greek tragedies the role of free will is a debatable issue because for some critics Greek characters are merely puppets in the hands of some superior forces. But for some other critics they are free to act and make their own decisions according to their own will. Those who are not in the favour of free will argue that it was Agamemnon who started the war against Trojans and killed his daughters by the will of superior forces and remained puppet in the hands of gods. Same is the case with Oedipus the king who remained a puppet in the hands of superior forces and did nothing by his own free will. By the bird eye look it seems there is no free will in Greek tragedies and characters are merely puppets in the hands of gods, but when we read the tragedies between the lines it becomes clear that characters in Greek tragedies are not merely the puppets but they have their own free will to act and decide. FREE WILL IN GREEK TRAGEDIES
“There is a misconception that Greek tragedy basically shows the working of fate, of men fastened to the puppetry of higher powers…But this tendency does not, with in the whole compass of a drama, preclude the free will of the characters or their responsibility, nor does it render their whole life puppetry. Most of the time they are presented as free agents working out their own destinies – as a rule disastrously, since this is tragedy. But sometimes they are seen in fatalistic terms; and sometimes the two motivations, human and superhuman, are seen conspiring together. But never, except perhaps in mad scenes, are the characters of Greek tragedy portrayed as automata or marionettes. Even when they are viewed as victims of the gods, they remain human and independent”. (Taplin 06) Agamemnon was sent to war against Trojans by the will of gods, here he is not working as a free agent but when the ships are struck in the sea, now he has two roads before him and have to select any one, either slaughter his daughter or withdraw the war to save her daughter’s life. But here it was his own military will that inspires him to start the war. Being a warier and general he thought it shameful to postpone the war. Here his personal motives and will dominates over all other forces. “The sacrifice of Iphogenia is not only a horrible necessity imposed upon Agamemnon, it is at the same time, his personal and his passionately desired deed, for which he is responsible and for which he has to atone. If one makes a clear logical distinction, of course one will say: ‘A man who acts under necessity is not acting voluntarily”. (Lesky 18) He becomes so hardened and determined that the begging of her child could not change his decision. There was military zeal in Agamemnon that’s why he did not give any ears to Iphogenia’s begging. “Her prayers and her cries of father / Her life of a maiden / Counted for nothing with those militarists”. (Agamemnon 268- 270) When Agamemnon and his soldiers were surrounded in storm, why not the gods come to their rescue?. Their fleet remained stuck in the mid of sea. “The winds that blew from the strymon/ Bringing delay, hunger,evil harbourage/ Crazing men, rotting ships and cables”. (Agamemnon 227- 229) It means he was free what to do because at that moment gods did not compel him to go forward to start the war. It shows that here what he...
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