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Free Will and Predetermination in Oedipus Rex Essay

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Classical Literature and Mythology
Free Will and Predetermination in “Oedipus Rex”
Oedipus, a prominent character in the play “Oedipus Rex” written by Sophocles, is
portrayed as a tragic hero who undoubtedly must fulfill his destiny: to kill his father and marry
his mother. As the story plays out, two main concepts are addressed throughout, both of which
serve as significant entities in understanding the story of “Oedipus Rex” and what Oedipus
endures: free will and predetermination. It is apparent to see that Oedipus is given free will, but
not entirely. He was able to have free will in the sense that he was able to successfully avoid
what he thought were his parents, but overall, he did not fully have free will because his
avoidance eventually led to what he was destined to do anyways. “He thought he had long since
escaped the fate decreed by the oracle…He discovers that he has indeed killed his father and
married his mother” (Harris and Platzner 659). Oedipus’s life and destiny were already planned
or predetermined because of the Gods and their decisions. Thus, there was nothing he could have
done to escape his fate even if he acted out against it. Oedipus, being mortal, was also faced with
the crudeness and challenges of human nature which predetermined how he would act once he
heard his prophecy.
Even when Oedipus thought he had free will, he truly did not since his “choice” aided in
his prophecy, whether he knew it or not. He decided to turn away from his family, or who he
thought was his family, which led him to ultimately still sleep with his mother and kill his
biological father (Harris and Platzner 663). Ultimately, Oedipus chooses to “leave Corinth,
believing that he could prevent the oracle’s fulfillment and evade the inevitable guilt” (Harris
and Platzner 665). He could not have been held responsible since it were the gods who had
predetermined his fate. Even though Oedipus longed for his destiny not to be true, nothing he did

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could reverse or fix it since his choices were already predetermined. Thus, Oedipus was doomed
to a life that became torturous and full of guilt and pain as he realized what he had done.
Being fully mortal and human, Oedipus tried to change his destiny but unfortunately
failed. Oedipus acted similarly as his father did when his father came to the realization that his
son would murder him. In response to this news, he pierced and bound Oedipus’ ankles and
abandoned him on a mountainside to avoid his fate (Harris and Platzner 665). Both Oedipus and
his father could not have free will because both were bound to a set of “innate human
responses…responses that produce rivalry and potential violence between fathers and sons”
(Harris and Platzner 665). Thus, even Oedipus’ father did not have free will in this story, despite
the fact that what he thought he was doing would avoid his fate of being killed by his son.
Because Oedipus was human, he could be both in control of his rational decision making and
easily angered. Because of his anger, he lashed out at the old man only to find that it was indeed
his biological father.
Oedipus did not have free will since the more he tried to escape his destiny that oracles
and seers gave him, the more he was trapped into fulfilling it entirely (Harris and Platzner 663).
If Oedipus had never heard the prophecy that was given to him, his destiny still would have been
fulfilled even if he did not initially hear details about it. Because of Tiresias, Oedipus was able to
find out what his future would bring: “He shall be revealed at once as brother and father to his
own children, husband and son to his mother, his father’s kin and murderer” (Sophocles 693). If
Oedipus’ knowledge and realization of killing his father and marrying his mother never came,
his fate still would have prevailed since it was predestined from the start. The truth that the
oracles, seers, and prophets presented to Oedipus would not have changed his fate.

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1 Classical Literature and Mythology Free Will and Predetermination in “Oedipus Rex” Oedipus, a prominent character in the play “Oedipus Rex” written by Sophocles, is portrayed as a tragic hero who undoubtedly must fulfill his destiny: to kill his father and marry his mother. As the story plays out, two main concepts are addressed throughout, both of which serve as significant entities in understanding the story of “Oedipus Rex” and what Oedipus endures: free will and predetermination. It is apparent to see that Oedipus is given free will, but not entirely. He was able to have free will in the sense that he was able to successfully avoid what he thought were his parents, but overall, he did not fully have free will because his avoidance eventually led to what he was destined to do anyways. “He thought he had long since escaped the fate decreed by the oracle…He discovers that he has indeed killed his father and married his mother” (Harris and Platzner 659). Oedipus’s life and destiny were already planned or predetermined because of the Gods and their decisions. Thus, there was nothing he could have done to escape his fate even if he acted out against it. Oedipus, ...
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