Comment on the theme of fate in Sophocles' Oedipus the King?  

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noahvox2 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Yes, indeed, anybody who has made a careful reading of Sophocles' Oedipus the King can write an essay on the theme of fate in that tragedy. In fact, many students and scholars have done so. The question, however, remains, "What message did Sophocles want his audience to take from his production of Oedipus Tyrannos?

Personally, I like the answer provided many years ago by E.R. Dodds, in a now-famous article entitled "On Misunderstanding the Oedipus Rex." Dodds argues against the notion that Sophocles' primary interest was in showing a human being struggling mightily against unyielding fate. Instead, Dodds argues that Sophocles' Oedipus the King remains such a fascinating play because Oedipus freely chooses to follow a course of actions that results in him losing everything. Dodds argues that what causes the downfall of Oedipus is not fate, but rather "what causes his ruin is his own strength and courage, his loyalty to Thebes, and his loyalty to the truth."

Thus, while just about anyone can write an essay about fate in Sophocles' Oedipus the King, I wonder if we should write such an essay. Is fate Sophocles' primary concern in the play? To be sure, we do hear a lot about fate in the play; but is that what Sophocles found most interesting about Oedipus.

So, I would follow in Dodds' footsteps in arguing that what is most interesting about Sophocles' play is not that we should focus on Oedipus as some puppet-like victim of fate, but rather on Oedipus' dogged pursuit of the truth, a truth that ultimately leads to him discovering what must be just about the worst things a man could discover about himself: that he has killed his father and married his mother.

Furthermore, Oedipus also discovers something terrifying about himself during his own lifetime: he discovers that what the gods believe about him is true.


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