Oedipus Rex

Oedipus Rex, a famous tragedy written by Sophocles, demonstrates the intersection between free will and destiny in Greek culture. Will of the gods and prophecies are major parts of ancient Greek mythology, but the power of individuals themselves changing their own destinies becomes an interesting topic for readers and Classicists. In Oedipus Rex, Tiresias prophesizes that Oedipus will grow up to kill his father and marry his mother; thus, his biological parents (King Laôs of Thebes and Iocaste)  leave him to die in the mountains out of fear. However, Oedipus survives and is brought up by his adoptive parents (King Polybus of Corinth and Merope). Without knowing his true identity, Oedipus finds out the prophecy and leaves Corinth, thinking he could protect his parents. Despite Oedipus’ efforts, he ends up killing an old man (who turns out to be Laôs) out of anger and marries the widowed Queen of Thebes (Iocaste). Here, we see a denial of fate and arrogance deceiving oneself to counter God’s plan, but without success in changing destiny. But if we consider Oedipus’ options, he could have stayed in Corinth and would simply have to control himself, or he could’ve just made sure not to kill any man or to marry any woman. In the end, it is his own decision to head towards strange city of Thebes, an unknown future. Overall in Oedipus Rex, Oedipus’s free will fulfills his destiny.


Now consider another ancient Greek tale of the Seven Against Thebes. Seven warriors gather to overthrow the later-on King of Thebes (Eteocles) and were all prophesized to die except Tydeus. However, during war, Tydeus broke the law of war, dishonoring fallen warriors (despite being his enemies) by eating their brains to heal his own wounds. This extreme disrespect in Greek society leads Athena (Goddess of War) to refrain from her original plan to save him from his lethal wounds, causing his unpremeditated death. In this story, his own mistakes worsened his situation unexpectedly; Tydeus’s free will changed his destiny. The over-arching theme apparent in many Greek mythologies is how free will and destiny interconnect; there is no definite fate.


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