Character and Fate in Oedipus

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Characterand Fate in Oedipus

One of the mostdebated questions in humanity is whether people are responsible fortheir actions. People have been wondering over this question sincemillennia. Throughout history, human beings have wondered how divineor diabolical power influences their behaviors. Other factors notedfor influencing human behavior include genetics, environment, andentertainment. These factors determine the degree of freedom humanshave when making moral and ethical decisions. The ancient Greeksbelieved that fate played a crucial role in determining the humanlife. Ancient Greeks believed that fate is a reality that is externalto the individual and has the power of determining and shaping humanlife. In the contemporary society, people view fate from theperspective of a misty halo associated with romantic destiny whilethe ancient Greeks viewed fate as an unstoppable and terrifyingforce. The essay will analyze the maxim that character is fate inrelation to Oedipus and show how both virtues and flaws in Oedipuscharacter leads to his tragic end.

Characteris Fate to Oedipus

Oedipus as acharacter has his own strengths and weaknesses. His strengths includedetermination, loyalty, and fearless. On the other hand, hisweaknesses are anger, denial of fate, and contemplation about fate alot. In this respect, it is important to combine two character traitsof Oedipus to analyze character as fate. Being fearless and denyingfate has led to him having the hubris persona characterized byexcessive pride and overconfidence, which eventually leads to histragic end. Oedipus becomes a victim of his own fate owing to thefact that Sophocles portrays fate as an opposition element influencedby the actions of an individual and yet events that the individualcannot control dictate fate.

Oedipus is the songof Queen Jocasta and King Laius. An astrologer informs the king andqueen that Oedipus will murder his father and marry his mother. Inorder to avoid these seemingly catastrophic future events, the kingand queen resort to tying Oedipus’ legs and command a shepherd totake their son to a mountain pick hoping that the beasts of themountain would eat him. However, the shepherd takes pity on Oedipusand does not heed the command of the king and queen. This savesOedipus from inevitable death. The shepherd instead offers Oedipus toanother shepherd who comes from another kingdom. The king of theother kingdom does not have a child and is happy to take Oedipus ashis child. In this way, we can deduce that fate is not the doing ofan individual but rather nature and the goodwill of the shepherdplayed a critical role in ensuring that Oedipus’ fate was not todie as a young child. Fate also played a critical role in ensuringthat the young Oedipus still grew up as a loyalty despite the factthat his biological loyal parents had forsaken him.

Fate plays acritical role in showing the virtuous trait of Oedipus. This is aftera few years later when he gathers information from another astrologerwho claims that he will kill his father and marry his mother. It isimportant to note that at this time he does not know his realidentity and believes that his adoptive father and mother are thesubjects the astrologer is referring as his future victims. He stillbelieves that Polybus his adoptive father is his real father. Oedipusdoes not want to kill his father and subject his mother to thetortuous life of being the wife his son. This information from theastrologer makes Oedipus to leave his adoptive parents and go back tohis own country. However, Oedipus does not have the knowledge thatwhere he is going is his real home, the kingdom ruled by his father.This shows how fate has the means of recreating destiny although theactions of some individuals could have altered the destiny of anindividual. Fate had saved him from an inevitable death and fate hasrecreated his destiny of coming back to the kingdom where he wasborn.

While Oedipus istravelling to his kingdom of origin, he meets his father accompaniedby some soldiers. It is important to note that although thisencounter was a minor matter, the repercussions created a majorproblem. During the encounter, he kills his biological father and thesoldiers who accompanied him. The fulfillment of the first prophecyhappens when Oedipus kills King Laius. This implies that fate has wonand despite the trying of man to avoid fate, an individual’sdestiny must be realized despite the efforts that the individual andother people in trying to change their destiny. This also highlightsthe fact that fate defines the character of an individual on thebasis that fate always leads the individual to their destiny. KingLaius, Queen Jocasta, the shepherd, and Oedipus himself had tried toevade the destiny of Oedipus killing his father but they had allfailed and eventually, King Laius died at the hand of his son just asthe astrologer had predicted when Oedipus was still a young boy.

The other referenceto fate as the determinant of character is associated with Oedipusencounter with the sphinx, a monster that was eating people whofailed to answer its questions correctly. However, when Oedipusencounters the sphinx, he answers its questions correctly. Thisresults with sphinx jumping off a mountain to its death. When thepeople of the kingdom hear of the heroic deed of Oedipus his actionselates them and they offer to give him their widowed queen as a gift.The widowed queen was Queen Jocasta, whose husband Oedipus killed andwhom fate would have it is Oedipus’ mother. The eventual marriageof Oedipus to his real mother fulfills the astrologers’ propheciesthat Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother. Thisfulfillment of the prophecy highlights the fact that a person fate isunavoidable despite the many opportunities that present themselves inlife. Various characters in the Greek tragedy of Oedipus have triedto influence the outcomes of fate and change their destiny buteventually fate leads them to that particular destiny. The act ofmarrying his real mother proves that fate has totally won over thelife and destiny of Oedipus. Despite his actions and the actions ofother people to influence his destiny, fate is not changeable andalthough people may take alternative routes to their destiny, thedestiny proscribed by fate is the eventual destiny.

The story ofOedipus also leads to the inquiry of what role the deities and godshave on the fate and character of an individual. In this respect, itis important to note ancient Greeks believed that astrologers weremessengers of the gods. This shows that people do not have influenceover their destiny since the gods decide each individual’s fate anddestiny. The gods are responsible for deciding the fate of anindividual, which leads to the necessity of analyzing how the god’sinfluences the character of an individual. The gods had decided thatOedipus would kill his father and marry his mother. Differentcharacters tried to evade this but as fate would have it, eventuallythis destiny came to a realization. Fate is an inescapable phenomenaand people must face their destiny eventually according to ancientGreeks (Lawall and Maynard 243). However, for Oedipus to arrive tothis destiny, it is imperative to note that that he had developedsome personal characteristics that made it possible for therealization of his tragic end.

The rule of hubriswas very predominant in the character formation of Oedipus. Theearmark character of Oedipus is hubris, characterized by excessivepride and self-confidence. His portrayal as a true hero occurs whenhe abandons his sanctimonious nature. However, as the plot of thetragedy continues, the theme of evolution and the role that hubrisplays on the downfall of men manifests itself in a more vivid manner.At the beginning of Oedipus the King, Oedipus is a man ofgreat stature and king ruling his lands through justice for all hissubjects. However, there is also a hint of his catastrophic fate,which is a result of his arrogant approach to issues. At thebeginning, Oedipus portrays the character traits of concern for hissubjects, love, deep-rooted wisdom, intelligence, and a reputation ofhigh moral standards. As the plot progresses, Oedipus changes hiswisdom to a characteristic of self-righteous and in the eight line ofthe tragedy, his arrogance is very vivid when in a monologue hestates, “Here I am – Myself – you all know me, the worldknows my fame: I am Oedipus.” This statement is ironical in thesense that Oedipus’ fame will surpass ages but he is oblivious ofthe fate set for him.

Oedipus is also apillar of strength in the eyes his subjects although some of thedecisions he makes due to his flaws as a leader bring him closer tohis weaknesses. For instance, he is known to be afraid of losingpower and for that purpose he resorts to kill Creon when he comeswith the message from Apollo’s oracle under the pretense that Creonis conspiring with Tiresias, a blind prophet, to seize power fromOedipus. This shows that Oedipus has become jealous and fearful thatthere are people who are capable of taking glory from him. Theseflaws also compel him to look for self-glory when he vows that hewill find the individual who killed Laius. He states, “I’llstart again – I’ll bring it all to light myself!” is anindication that Oedipus believed that he was the only intelligent andwise enough to identify the real killer.

Although Oedipushas the right to claim to an extent the pride of his achievements, hetakes this right beyond a reasonable level. Oedipus places himself ata level that only succeeded by the deities and show defiance to thegods. Due to these flaws, it is important to note that he killed hisown father just as the astrologers had prophesied. However, it isimperative to note that as the gods had chosen his destiny for him,the virtues and flaws that Oedipus portrayed as his character traitswere in line with the accomplishment of his fate and tragic ending.His virtues such as intelligence and wisdom helped him to go back tohis original kingdom without his knowledge and become the ruler ofthe kingdom he had become. His flaws led him to kill his father andeventually marry his mother, a fate prophesied at his young age.

When therealization of Oedipus fate is apparent to Jocasta, she commitssuicide due to the shame associated with being the mother and wife ofOedipus. Oedipus is shamed and disgraced but instead of committingsuicide he resorts to blind himself to avoid seeing the people he hasharmed as an outcome of his imminent fate. This shows that the maxim,character is fate is true in relation to the tragedy of Oedipus sinceall character traits of Oedipus plays a role in ensuring that Oedipusfaces his imminent fate and destiny.


The maxim thatcharacter is fate is true in the character of Oedipus. Sophoclesportrays Oedipus as a man of virtue and flaws manifested in strengthsand weaknesses. However, it important to note that his weak andstrong character traits plays a critical role in ensuring thateventually Oedipus faces his fate and destiny. In the end, Oedipuscomes to realize that the gods have control over human fate andtrying to challenge them will only lead to frustration and pain.According to the ancient Greeks, the gods were very powerful and ifnot appeased, they could be very harmful to people. Another aspectaccording to the ancient Greeks is that people do not have free willas the gods decide the fate of the people and their decisions in lifewill eventually lead to their intended fate and destiny.

Work Cited

Lawall, Sarah N.,and Maynard Mack. The Norton Anthology of World Literature.New York: Norton, 2002.