Oedipus Rex Questions and Answers
by Sophocles

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

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One could argue that King Oedipus is a victim of fate in Sophocle's classic play and that there was no way he could avoid his destiny. As a child, King Laius and Jocasta consulted an oracle, who told them that their son would one day murder his father and marry his mother. In an attempt to avoid fate, Laius and Jocasta fastened a rope around Oedipus's ankles and gave him to a servant to leave in the mountains. However, the servant took pity on the infant and gave him to shepard, who presented him to King Polybus and Queen Merope in Corinth. Oedipus was raised in Corinth under the impression that Polybus was his biological father. After hearing the same prophecy regarding his fate, Oedipus believed that he could outsmart the gods and avoid his destiny by fleeing Corinth.

However, Oedipus became a victim of his own hubris and unknowingly murdered Laius on his way to Thebes, where he eventually married Jocasta, who gave birth to his children. In the play, Sophocles makes it clear that Oedipus's...

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zumba96 | Student

Oedipus is a victim of his own actions, but also he is a victim of his fate. He does his best to leave Corinth and get away from his prophecy that was given to him by the Oracle. He does his best to escape the horrible fate given to him, but he fails. He is bound by his fate and not his free will. Some could say because he went to change his fate, with his own actions was the cause of his downfall, but many would argue the opposite. Many believe that because the inevitable nature of fate, that in fact was his downfall. 

kostaglatov | Student

P94

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.

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iskabibbel | Student

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.