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Is Oedipus a victim of fate or a victim of his own actions?Thankyou!

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p94 | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 5, 2010 at 10:19 AM via web

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Is Oedipus a victim of fate or a victim of his own actions?


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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 5, 2010 at 5:35 PM (Answer #1)

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You will receive many different and distinctive answers to such a question.  I would say that an equally compelling case can be made for both options.  Such complexity is testament to Sophocles' genius and greatness in the construction of his play.  On one hand, Oedipus' fate cannot be overcome.  He tries with the best of intentions and the highest use of his freedom to supplant his fate with a different outcome.  It comes to no avail, as he becomes fate's instrument.  At the same time, some uses of his freedom causes him to be victimized by his own hand.  His scornful treatment of Tiresias and his prophecies as well as his unwillingness to heed the role of fate in his own life helps to move him closer to accomplishing that which he seeks to avoid.  I think that Oedipus becomes the type of figure that Greek and modern audiences can examine and see parts of their own sensibility and understand how "not to behave."  Oedipus might be the best example of a literary cautionary tale, a character pitted between being doomed by fate and undermined by his own hand.

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iskabibbel | High School Teacher | eNoter

Posted July 5, 2010 at 10:49 AM (Answer #2)

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To answer this question one must look at the role of theater in ancient Greek society.  Theater was not something that was created purely for entertainment value; it was a means of promoting the cultural values and, more specifically, the religious beliefs that governed Greek life.  One of these beliefs was that the destiny of each individual was decided upon by the Fates. These three beings decided a person’s nature (good or evil), what will happen in the person’s lifetime, and when that lifetime will come to an end.  In Oedipus, we clearly see that the Fates have laid out his path from the moment of his birth.

Sophocles' audience would have been familiar with the myths surrounding ancient Thebes.  They would have known about the prophecy that Oedipus' parents received when he was born.  The ancient Greeks took their faith in the gods, Fates, and prophecy quite seriously.  It is not unreasonable to assume that Socrates' audience would have expected Oedipus to be confronted with all the trials and the consequences thereof that Socrates so eloquently describes.  Anything else would have been heretical.

Did Oedipus' actions bring about his downfall? Yes. Those actions, however, were based on faulty information, the truth having been carefully hidden from him so that he would have no other logical path to follow but the one which the Fates had created.

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kostaglatov | College Teacher | eNoter

Posted July 6, 2010 at 11:20 AM (Answer #4)

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I posted an answer to your question last night,but for some reason it does not appear here. I will give a somewhat condensed response . We  address this question in rather  absolute terms, that is we believe in one or the other- The contemporary mind cannot accomodate both concepts . The Greek mind however differed from us in that regard and saw no incompatibility there. We see evidence of this in Homer where Athena decends and convinces Achilles to break off battle with Agamemnon. Achilles could have killed Agamemnon there but chose not to for hope of greater glory. So keep that in mind. You must be mindful of what a tragedy is. Simply put, it is this. Classical Greek society is charicterized , among other things , by moderation. A tragedy is an example of what happens when there is an exess. Frequently this excess comes in the form of pride or hubris. While iskabibbel is correct in pointing out the audience was aware of the surrounding myth, she fails to point out ,more importantly, that the Greek audience would recognize the fatal flaw in Oedipus . It is in our recognition of this flaw that Oedipus becomes a tragic figure.  The excessive pride, demonstrated by Oedipus in his belief that he could outrun or outwit the prophesy , this hubris , manifests itself in the  actions whch precipitate his fall.  It is for you to decide if he was a victim of fate, or of his own free will. An argument may be supported either way.  I would simply say this.  A character becomes a tragic figure for us because however responsible the protagonist may be for the actions which precipitate his fall, we somehow feel he is not wholly to blame.

good luck

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