Greek tragedies often establish free will and fate as the driving forces of the conflict. In Oedipus the King, written by Sophocles, Oedipus, the son of king Laius and Jocasta, has free will which ultimately leads him to finding out his fate. Oedipus’ freedom is what guides him to his destiny. The choices that Oedipus makes determine how fast or slow he is going to find out about his fate. It is possible for him to not have found out about his fate at all. It is his free will that determines some of his actions.
There are several instances when Oedipus’ freedom allows him to make choices that were not prescribed in his fate. Oedipus chooses to find Laius’ assassin. In addition, he takes his punishment upon himself. His learning of his past leads to his downfall and the outcome of his life. Oedipus was born to king Laius and queen Jacosta. Upon his birth the king is informed by an oracle that their son is going to grow up and murder his father and marry his mother. To protect himself and his wife, the king sends him away to be killed.
However, Oedipus is saved by a shepherd and brought to the home of a married couple, who raises him as their own. Years later, while traveling through the countryside, Oedipus is confronted by a man that he ultimately kills. The man he killed was his father, king Laius (this was set up to be part of Oedipus’ fate). Continuing his journey, Oedipus meets the Sphinx who tells Oedipus a riddle. When Oedipus solves this riddle, he is given the honor to be the king of Thebes and the husband of Jocasta. Thus, Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother.
He has now fulfilled his destiny. Later, the city of Thebes becomes plagued. The God Apollo mandates from the heavens that the only way to rid the plague that haunts the city, is to find out who murdered Laius. “Relief from the plague can only come in one way. Uncover the murderers of Laius, put them to death or drive them to exile” (349-51). Oedipus, determined to rid Thebes of the plague, searches to find out who the murderer is. Tiresias, a blind prophet who knows the whole story, but is vowed to silence, advises Oedipus that a search for the murderer may not be prudent.
“How terrible to see the truth when the truth is only pain to him who sees! I knew it well, but I put it from my mind, else I never would have come” (359-62). Oedipus’ free will is exhibited when he chooses to search for Laius’ murderer. It was in Oedipus’ fate to murder his father and marry his mother. It wasn’t in his fate that he was going to find out that he murdered his father and married his mother. Clearly, it was his choice that he made that leads him to learning about his cruel twist of fate.
Oedipus acknowledges that it was his fate that explains the past. To punish himself, he stab himself in his eyes with Jocasta’s brooch. “You’ll see no more the pain I suffered, all the pain I caused! ” (1406-07). Oedipus knew that he would not be able to examine the world anyway, so he took it upon himself to blind himself. Oedipus could not bare the shame of his life. Shortly after blinding himself, Oedipus then decides that he can longer stay in Thebes and thought it would be the best if he was exiled.
To Oedipus, it was pointless to stay in Thebes, the city in which he felt such great passion about. At the beginning of the play, before the murderer was even found it was planned that the murderer was going to be exiled. It wasn’t fate that decided that he would be exiled after finding out about his sins. In conclusion, it is true that Oedipus’ fate was written before he was born. His choices that he made, lead him to finding out about his fate.
Oedipus is a victim of circumstances beyond his control. If Oedipus didn’t choose to search for the murderer of Jacosta’s former husband, king Laius, it is very possible that Oedipus would have never found out about the fulfillment of his fate. Oedipus could have gone on with his life as a confident and happily married king. It was Oedipus’ freedom of wanting to know that lead him to his downfall.