Sophocles' Oedipus the King features fate as the play's adversary. The narrative is linked with the idea of fate. Despite their best efforts, the characters in this drama are all doomed to fail. Because they tried to defy fate, two people suffer the consequences of their defiance.
First, Oedipus sends Jocasta's brother Creon to the temple of Apollo, the god of foretelling the future and curing disease, in order to discover the fate of Thebes and how to cure the plague plaguing the city. According to Oedipus,
I acted at once. I sent Creon,
My wife’s own brother, to Delphi-
Apollo the Prophet’s oracle7-to learn
What I might do or say to save our city. (Sophocles, 81-84)
Oedipus's father, King Laius, was the subject of an Apollo prophesy that he would be killed by the child Jocasta bore with Oedipus; similarly, Apollo prophesied that Jocasta would bear Oedipus, who would be the father of Oedipus's son, who would be killed by King Laius's child.
When Creon is dispatched to find the blind prophet of Apollo, Tiresias, fate takes over. Tiresias, without his choice, tells Oedipus his doom. As long as Oedipus is determined to locate the killer of King Laius, he will not give up. Oedipus is a tenacious seeker of the truth who refuses to give up until he succeeds.
Tiresias, who Oedipus continuously annoys, finally learns the truth about his master. Tiresias tells Oedipus, "I know what you're thinking."
You cannot imagine I tell you,
you and your loved ones live together in infamy,
you cannot see how far you’ve gone in guilt. (Sophocles, 417-419)
When Tiresias mentions that Oedipus is married to his mother, he is referring to the fact that he has fathered children via her. Tiresias is speaking to Oedipus in a way that Oedipus cannot understand. Afterwards, Tiresias says, "I pity you, tossing at me the identical insults / each guy here will fling at you so soon" (Sophocles, 423-424). To put it another way, Tiresias is telling Oedipus that nothing he owns is truly his. Oedipus is doomed to lose all he has worked so hard for. In his blasphemous statement to Tiresias, Oedipus slams the gods for denying him the ability to predict the future. The fact that Oedipus labels Tiresias a liar means he is disputing the words of the gods, which is blasphemy.
At Tiresias' insistence, Oedipus learns that he doesn't know where he is or who his parents are. It is implied that Oedipus is both the father and the brother of his offspring by Tiresias's words: "And a swarm of other horrors you'd never dream" (Sophocles, lines 485-486). This day will bring both your birth and your demise," says Tiresias (Sophocles, 499).
Tiresias confesses to Oedipus that he is the killer in his final speech to the young man. Even though Oedipus is an outsider in Thebes, the god promises him that he will soon find that his true identity lies within the city. On top of that, Oedipus will learn that he is the father and the brother of his children, and the son and spouse of his wife. That Oedipus would lose everything, that Oedipus will be blind and banished, is precisely what Tiresias predicts (Sophocles, 510-525).
In our third example of fate as an adversary, Oedipus meets Jocasta after disputing with Tiresias and then with Creon. King Laius was informed by an oracle that he would die "a victim at the hands of his own son" when he learned what the debate was about (Sophocles, 786-787). And then, King Laius was also assassinated in an ambush by highwaymen, thus there were two deaths in the span of one day. As Jocasta points out, Oedipus has no need to be afraid of prophesy.
Apollo brought neither thing to pass. My baby,
no more murdered his father than Laius suffered,
his wildest fear-death at his own son’s hands.
That’s how the seers and all their revelations. (Sophocles, 794-797)
There is no way Jocasta could have anticipated that she would be unable to defy the gods or destiny.
When a drunken man accuses Oedipus at dinner of being a liar and accusing him of murdering King Laius, fate steps in. Delphi's oracle tells Oedipus what he must do in life. Oedipus is told by the oracle as follows:
You are fated to couple with your mother, you will bring,
A breed of children into the light no man can bear to see-
You will kill your father, the one who gave your life!. (Sophocles, 873-875)
In order to save Merope and Polybus and to avoid his own doom, Oedipus escapes Corinth after hearing the oracle's prophecy. This is our sixth incident of fate.
Due to Jocasta's concern of the oracle's prediction, she changed the curse. Jocasta killed Oedipus as a baby. When she did this, Jocasta was seeking to manipulate the course of destiny. After the death of the infant, Jocasta hoped to change her husband's fate. That Oedipus will lie to his mother and create cursed kids is a result of Jocasta's effort at manipulating fate. In reality, Oedipus is just a victim of fate.
When the messenger gives the word that Polybus died naturally, we witness once more the hand of fate at work. Oedipus and Jocasta are both relieved to hear this, since it confirms once again that oracles are inaccurate. The dread that he will lie with Merope keeps Oedipus from returning to Corinth while she is still alive, but he is not the only one who fears the prophecy's consequences. Oedipus is told by the messenger that Merope is not Oedipus' mother since he gave Oedipus to her and Pelops as a present (Sophocles, 1113-1119). When Oedipus was brought to Corinth by this messenger, he was also one of the final parts in Oedipus' identity puzzle.
Oedipus demands that the shepherd certify that Oedipus is the son of Jocasta and King Laius when he comes on the scene. It's time for Oedipus to face up to his destiny. Everything in the prophesy has come to pass. The following is what Oedipus does with Jocasta's body once he discovers it: "And there we beheld the woman hanging by the neck"
He rips off her brooches, the long gold pins
holding her ropes-and lifting them high,
looking straight up into the points,
he digs them down the sockets of his eyes, crying. (Sophocles, 1403-1406)
In the end of the play Oedipus is blind, ruined, and exiled just as Tiresias foretold when he said,
You are the scourge of your own flesh and blood,
And the double lash of your mother and your father’s curse
Will whip you from this land one day, their football
Treading you down in terror, darkness shrouding
Your eyes that now can see the light. (Sophocles, 474-479)
In the end, it was Fate who triumphed. There is no such thing as cheating fate in the Greek view. Even the gods are powerless to alter destiny. There were several victims instead of only one. Perhaps only King Laius would have died if Jocasta hadn't sought to defy fate. Because of this adulterous contamination, Oedipus is doomed and his offspring will be cursed for the rest of their lives. When it comes to fate, it's best not to mess about.
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