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The Role of Fate in Oedipus the King

Oedipus the King was written by Sophocles and was is titled Oedipus Rex in Latin. It is one of the most well-known Greek tragedies. As is the case with Greek tragedies—or roughly most tragedies that make their way to stage—fate plays a key role in the events in Oedipus the King. The play is also the origin of the term “Oedipus complex.”

Fate as Antagonist

The primary antagonist in this tale is fate. Most tragedies where fate is the driving theme the characters in its web all attempt to escape it. Unfortunately fate can’t be avoided and if it is tempted fate will usually render a far worse conclusion for attempting to deprive it of its will.

Laius’ Fate

Apollo tells Laius that he and Jocasta would have a son that would kill him. When Oedipus is born, Jocasta sends Oedipus to his own fate and leaves him on a mountainside to die. Jocasta attempts to cheat fate by doing away with her son to save her husband, but Oedipus is found by a shepherd who saw the whole thing and raised by King Polybus. Laius’ fate comes when he kidnaps the son of King Pelops and basically showed little respect for Pelops’ hospitality by doing so.

The Fate of Thebes

Oedipus sends Creon to the temple of Apollo to figure out what will become of Thebes and how to do away with the plague. Fate is tempted here by the Oedipus attempting to end the plague when it is not his place to do so. Apollo tells Oedipus that he will end up killing his father and taking his mother. Oedipus believes he will end up killing King Polybus.

Oedipus’ Fate

Teiresias—Apollo’s blind prophet—tells Creon of Oedipus’ fate. Oedipus is busy trying to find the murderer of Laius. Teiresias cryptically tells Oedipus the nature of his marriage, but Oedipus doesn’t interpret the meaning in Teiresias’ words. He tells Oedipus that the shame of his relationship will bring about ruin and that the insults Oedipus gives to him will be returned as a result of his deed.

Oedipus sets himself up for downfall further when he forsakes Teiresias’ word and says he has no special ability. As prophets are basically the mouth of the gods and do their direct will, Oedipus is in a way committing blasphemy. The provocation leads Teiresias to—again cryptically—tell Oedipus that he is actually on level footing with his children and that the truth with crush him.

When Oedipus relays the events to his wife, she tells him to ignore the prophecy and that Apollo’s prophecy didn’t hold up as she believed that her husband was killed by a bandit.

Strands of Fate Tied Up

Oedipus finds out that Polybus doesn’t die at his hands, but of natural causes so it seems the prophecy didn’t come true. However, Laius is killed by Oedipus when the two argued over who had the right of way on a road. Neither man recognized the other. Oedipus marries Jocasta, widow of Laius making his both wife and son to her and father and brother to his children. Oedipus finds out about the true nature from a shepherd, finds his wife Jocasta who had hung herself, took her jewelry and smashed them into his eyes. Oedipus ends up blind and destitute and his children cursed by being the product of incest.