“The immediate cause of Oedipus' ruin is not 'fate' or 'the gods'... what causes his ruin is his own strength, his loyalty to Thebes, and his loyalty to the truth. In all this we are to see him as a free agent”. Contraposition of free will to destiny or fate is very popular in literature of all times. The aim of this essay is to examine problem of Oedipus’ ruin. There is one opinion, that human being is “the most wonderful thing in the world” and that “he can do anything” as well as “he has free will”.
At the same time there is another thought, reminding us, that there is something else, the human being is powerless in front of. We mean laws of gods; first of all we mean law of death, which demands resignation, respect and faithful obeisance by its cogency. The other behavior in the face of death or fate seems to be unreasonable. Is it true? Can this point of view be final? Sophocles collides free will of human being with gods’ will in his tragedy “Oedipus, The King”. Oedipus, as the ruler, is responsible, circumspect; sincerely concerned with his people and listening to their opinion.
Priest, who was the head of procession, which came to the king, remembers that once Oedipus rescued the city and won a victory over Sphinx. The priest expresses feelings of love and belief on behalf of the whole nation: people hope to find support and protection. “Between thought and action, between our plans and their results a distance opens. Only a man like you, Oedipus, tested by experience, can make them one. That much I know. Oedipus, more like a god than any man alive, deliver us, raise us to our feet. Remember who you are. Remember your love for Thebes.
Your skill was our salvation once before. For this Thebes calls you savior” (Sophocles, p. 25) Oedipus answered that he had already started struggle for rescuing of city and sent Kreon to Delphi to find out the reason of pestilence and how to get rid of it. When Kreon comes back and says that terrible pestilence is punishment by gods’ will (as far as killer of diseased king still stays at the city without vengeance), Oedipus starts investigation. At that moment he doesn’t know, that he curses himself, because he killed his father. He has eyes, but he is blind at the same time.
Truthful sense of events is not clear to him. He meets first presages of truth (for example, words of soothsayer Teiresias that he is the killer: “Murderer. I say you, you are the killer you're searching for” (Sophocles, p. 40). with indignation. Oedipus sees in those words the crafty designs of his enemies, who want to dethrone him, but later description of diseased king as well as place of incident imbue his heart with disorder and anxiety; it forces him to remind events of youth, when he killed an unknown traveler in the thick of quarrel on the road.
Sophocles expressed events of tragedy in a masterly fashion, alternating moments of weak events with increasing exertion. Moments of recognition, expressing Oedipus’ strength and his loyalty to the truth play important role in tragedy. So, when Oedipus clashes with terrible suspicions for the first time, everything clears up: a messenger comes from Corinth, tells him about death of father and invites to come to the throne. Death of Oedipus’ father has one consoling circumstance: his father died a natural death. Still, being afraid of the second part of prophecy (marriage with his own mother), Oedipus’ abdicates the thrown.
Trying to reassure him, messenger tells that Polybos and Merope are his adoptive parents; in such a way short moment of weakening anxiety is replaced by the stage of increasing fear. The further it goes, the more Oedipus is sure, that he killed his father. Nevertheless, Oedipus doesn’t stop his investigation, even when his wife begs him to stop it: “Oedipus! No more questions. For god's sake, for the sake of your own life! Isn't my anguish enough--more than enough? … Oedipus, you must stop. I beg you--stop! … implore you, Oedipus. For your own good. ” (Sophocles, p. 71)
Regardless of the fact that Oedipus is bearer of tragic guilt, his image is majestic and monumental. He was defeated in struggle with fate, with will of gods. Still, he doesn’t look like a miserable plaything of destiny. Oedipus asserts his dignity with all his power in final act of self-punishment. He punishes himself for unwillingly committed crimes; he punishes himself cruelly but at the same time symbolically. The king puts out his eyes, which were blind and didn’t help him to see the truth. He also considers impossible to see those people, who were betrayed by his crimes: light light light never again flood these eyes with your white radiance, oh gods, my eyes.
All, all the oracles have proven true. I, Oedipus, I am the child of parents who should never have been mine--doomed, doomed! ” (Sophocles, p. 77) “How could my eyes, when I went down into that black, sightless place beneath the earth, the place where the dead go down, how, how could I have looked at anything, with what human eyes could I have gazed on my father, on my mother-oh gods, my mother! What I did against those two not even strangling could punish. ” (Sophocles, p. 86) The tragedy ends by mournful farewell of Oedipus with his daughters.
The last song expresses sad thought about limited nature of human knowledge and inconstancy of human happiness. Sad destiny of Oedipus sounds as basis of fact, that you cannot call somebody happy until he reaches the end of life. Examining the tragedy, we can see that in spite of will of gods, Oedipus acts as an independent man; as a reasonable man, who has ability to answer for the consequences. Even in unfavorable circumstances he tries to do his duty and to be corresponding to high moral standards. Oedipus remains loyal to himself, to truth and to Thebes. He could stop the investigation, but he preferred to find out the truth.
At the same moment, he could ‘forget’ the truth to live in calm, but he couldn’t. It seems that fate defeats him but actually he remains free; grief and pain ‘cleanse’ him. He shows morality, the moral will of a human being. We see his inner power and feel that Oedipus is a victim and a winner of the fate at the same time. It is important to underline the supreme role of moral responsibility, which forces fate (the theme, taken by Sophocles from some ancient myth) to recede into background. We see the idea of self-consciousness, moral and ethical responsibility of human being and development of personality.
Sophocles underlines that Oedipus is not a victim, passively expecting and accepting blows of fate. Oedipus is an energetic and active person, who struggles for the sake of reason and justice. He is winner in this struggle, and he chooses punishment, executing it and overcoming his sufferings in such a way. Oedipus is a man, devoted to one idea, realizing his decision from the very beginning till the end; a man, strong enough to be loyal to knowledge; devoted to himself; a man, who can serve a standard and ideal for his contemporaries because of his strength.