Explain why Oedipus could not do anything to avoid his fate in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the tradition of many mythological stories, humans did not have much control over their lives. The gods—or even the Fates (the Moirai)—determined what happened in a man's life. The Greeks were certain that a human never determined his destiny. In Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, Oedipus was destined to unknowingly do what the Greeks believed to be the unthinkable:

Oedipus was born to King Laius and Queen Jocasta. In the most well-known version of the myth, Laius wished to thwart a prophecy saying that his child would grow up to murder his father and marry his mother.

Laius abandons his son on a mountainside, sure he will die of exposure, and certain that he has changed the outcome of the prophecy. However, his steps do nothing more than create the means by which his fate is sealed: Oedipus is taken in by a shepherd—saved from certain death—and adopted by King Polybus of Corinth. Oedipus grows up without knowledge of his true identity. When he hears of the prophecy surrounding his birth, he leaves King Polybus in order to protect him. He kills his father when Laius attacks him over who has the right of way at a crossroad. Oedipus saves Thebes from the fearsome sphinx by answering the creature's riddle. He is honored as a hero, and Jocasta (Laius' widow and Oedipus' mother) is offered to Oedipus, along with the throne of Thebes, for his heroic actions.

From the moment the prophecy was delivered, no action on Laius or Oedipus' part could stop either man from arriving at the fate chosen for him. The Greeks saw fate as a force that could not be avoided. (Depending upon the story one reads, Zeus is depicted as the only one who could defy the Fates, or—like other gods and humans—as one who could not defy one's destiny.

Based upon the belief system of the Greeks, there was nothing Oedipus could do to avoid his fate. One might argue that as the ruler of Thebes he might have spared himself. However, his moral code prohibits from doing such a thing: 

In the play...upon hearing that his city is being ravaged by fire and plague, [Oedipus] sends his brother-in-law Creon to find a remedy from the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi.

Thebes is being punished for Oedipus' sin, though the King doesn't know it. He calls upon Tiresias's, a "blind prophet," to learn the truth. Tiresias tries desperately not to tell Oedipus, knowing the truth will destroy the King—and perhaps even fearful that the King's anger will destroy Tiresias. However, the King is relentless, demanding the truth. So the old man tells Oedipus what he has done:

Striking you

from both sides the terrible hounds of your mother’s

and father’s curse will drive you from this land... (338-440)

Oedipus had no way to avoid or change his fate. As Tiresias infers, the truth has come to him from the god he serves: Apollo. Tiresias says that Oedipus is the guilty man he seeks to punish for the woes visited upon Thebes. When he realizes the truth, Oedipus blinds himself and leaves Thebes.

arjun | Student

Oedipus was condemned by a beggar that he was not the real son of the king but he is adopted.Oedipus was resented and he went to oracle to know his fate. The god answered him that he would be grown up and kill his father and marry his mother.In order to avoid fate,he did not go back to kingdom but he left his country and started moving towards the other counrty where was the kingdom of his real faher.

Indeed,he could not avoid because character is destiny.What is destinied can not be obilitrated.