Who says, “You are right, but there is not a man alive who can force the will of the gods,” in Oedipus, and what is its significance?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Most translations of Oedipus that I've read say something more along the lines of no mortal being able to force a god's "mouth" or "speech." This line is spoken by Oedipus in response to the Choir, who says that one day Apollo will make the man who slew Laius's identity...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Most translations of Oedipus that I've read say something more along the lines of no mortal being able to force a god's "mouth" or "speech." This line is spoken by Oedipus in response to the Choir, who says that one day Apollo will make the man who slew Laius's identity known. Oedipus agrees but says that they will have to wait, since a man cannot make a god speak.

This line is significant because it is the dilemma that causes Oedipus to summon Tiresias, who the choir proclaims is a seer that has all of the knowledge that Apollo does. It is the conflict with Tiresias that spurs the intrigue of the play, as Tiresias informs Oedipus that he himself is the killer that he is seeking. It is also ironic, considering that Oedipus fulfilled the prophecy by attempting to avoid it.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Oedipus says this, or something like it, at around line 280. I think a better translation would be that there is no man living who can force the gods to speak against their will, specifically. Oedipus is responding here to the Chorus, whom he has asked for the identity of the man who killed Laius. The Chorus tell him they cannot tell him the answer, but that Apollo could, if Oedipus could only make him speak. To this, Oedipus says it isn't possible for a man to make the gods do something they don't want to.

The significance of the statement is that it is ironic, for two reasons. The first is that, unbeknownst to Oedipus, the murderer he is seeking is himself—he is the one who has killed Laius, his own father. The other irony is that Oedipus has brought the will of the gods down upon himself by attempting to avoid it. Having heard the prophecy that he would kill his father and sleep with his mother, Oedipus took steps to avoid this but ended up encountering his father and killing him.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team