Oedipus's Argument of Fate

In lines 1095 - 1115 of Oedipus At Colonus, Oedipus argues that he is "innocent" and shows that his "unwilling crimes" were committed, as he states, "against my will." This exceprt shows Oedipus passionately trying to convince Creon that he is "guiltless" with regard to murdering his father and marrying his mother. That is, Oedipus argues that his fate was sealed by the oracle of the gods, and thus out of his direct control.

This is an essay I wrote concerning the topic based on my interpretations of free will, and based on the book.

Just because free will exists in the world, it does not mean that fate is negated. Oedipus learned this the hard way when he tried to cheat fate and change his destiny. Of course, everyone knows that Fate is the biggest cheater of all. In the crooked game of dice known as life, where mortals play against the gods, Fate has been known to use trick dice. Oedipus is clearly guilty of his actions: murdering his father and marrying his mother. There is no question of that; he confessed to what he did, and although he was bitter about his banishment and towards those who ran him out, he accepted it as appropriate punishment.

Nevertheless, Oedipus still does not admit that he committed any crimes. He puts himself in the position of a pawn; that he was only carrying out predestined orders. Oedipus argues furiously that he was only guilty in actions, not in heart, and that he was driven to do what he did by forces beyond his control. Oedipus defended himself against those who accused him of doing it with evil intent. He claimed that he was manipulated by fate, and that is why what he did cannot be called a crime, only an action. In Oedipus at Colonus, when questioned by the chorus of elders, he shifts blame to the gods, claming himself to be “all ignorant to a doom too known to those who planned it.” Oedipus was not ignorant though. Oedipus and his real parents were warned well ahead of time by the prophets, but it was not so much of a warning as it was a telling, because warnings can be heeded, whereas a telling can only be acknowledged.

We cannot say that no effort was made to try to change the situation. His parents started on attempts to disprove the divine word before Oedipus could even walk, when they chained his ankles and handed him to a countryman to be left dead in the wilderness. When Oedipus himself learned of his destiny, he left his homeland to get as far away from whom he thought were his parents as possible.

It is only the expert handling of circumstances by fate that could have caused Oedipus to do what he feared his entire life, because Oedipus’s behavior was defined by the situation. Take for example the murdering of his father. The odds that Oedipus would one day run into his own father and quarrel with him to the death over right of way, to any person, would seem to be nearing zero. Oedipus would never have guessed that the man he met might have been his father, and acted quickly, because one tends to act quickly when seeing someone charging forth with a weapon. Oedipus continues to emphasize on this point of self defense with his confession, “I killed him, yes, but I can plea…the man that I murdered would have killed me. By law, I am innocent, void of all malice.” Oedipus also holds onto the defense that he was forced into haste by the circumstances, and therefore remained ignorant of his role in fulfilling the prophecy until it was too late: it is not easy to get things straight in the middle of a skirmish. Oedipus asks Creon, his accuser, “Would you, godly creature that you are, stop and say ‘Excuse me, sir, are you my father?’” After Oedipus gets to Thebes, he defeats a difficult enemy, the Sphinx, and becomes a hero. He is given the throne for his heroic actions and there happens to be a widowed queen. It can only be expected that they would unite. How was Oedipus to know that the queen was his mother? “I did not know. She did not know.” Therefore, saying that Oedipus was forced into his actions by the circumstances is a valid argument.

However, a question remains unsolved. Who is to blame for the setup of these situations? Oedipus cannot be blamed: he tried his best to avoid his destiny. His parents cannot be blamed either. Although they may have been cruel to abandon their baby, they too tried their best to avoid their destiny. I can only accuse the gods themselves who brought this prophecy to Oedipus’s family. The gods were neither helpful fortunetellers, nor innocent spectators. They did not judge Oedipus’s character and realize that it already was inevitable. No, they orchestrated the entire thing around Oedipus’s character so that it became inevitable. They already took the initiative when they had their prophets reveal the news. The gods, wise enough to see into the souls of humans, accurately predicted what a person would do, based on his or her personality, so they created the perfect rumor that would trigger enough actions that it eventually became truth. If they had not told Oedipus’s parents, they never would have sent their child away, and the chain of events would have occurred differently.

As mentioned before, Fate plays unfairly, and when it was Oedipus’s turn to roll the dice, Fate calculated how hard Oedipus would throw it according to his character, plugged in some variables, assumed how many times the die would roll over, and placed the die in Oedipus’s hand at exactly the right angle. Oedipus throws a normal throw without interference. It is definitely a free throw, from a free mind, full with free will, but surprise…Oedipus die lands on the exact number that Fate wanted.

Other essays on Oedipus:
Oedipus as a Ruler

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