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Discussion - Oedipus Rex > The question of free will

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message 1: by Dianna (new)

Dianna | 393 comments I can't help but finding that as the central theme.

Do we have it or are we in the hands of fate?


message 2: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Dianna wrote: "I can't help but finding that as the central theme. Do we have it or are we in the hands of fate?"

That's certainly one of the central themes of Oedipus Rex, and I'm glad that you brought it up early in the discussion. And it's as much a question today as it was for Sophocles, isn't it? The Christian formulation is of free will vs. predestination, but it's the same thing. (And scientifically, if we believe in the absolute nature of cause and effect, there is no free will because every action we take is an effect of one or more causes, and itself becomes a cause of further effects, so there really can't be any free will, can there?)

In Oedipus, the question is, as it is in Christian terms, tied up with the concept of the gods. The Greek concept of the gods is quite different from our modern concept of gods. We tend to view gods as omniscient, all knowing and all powerful. As the Bible says, not a sparrow falls.

But the Greeks had a quite different view of the gods. Their gods were immortal and had some super powers, but they also had many human and not very godlike, to us, qualities. They did not create the universe or man, but they were themselves created. They ate and drank. They slept. They caroused. They quarreled and fought each other. They could be intensely jealous. They copulated. They not only seduced humans, they also raped them. Not the sort of behavior most of us see as godlike.

There were three Fates or moirae -- Clotho the spinner who spins the thread of life, Lachesis the measurer who measures the thread out, and Atropos who snips the thread at the end of one's life.

The theology of the Fates is too complex to get into here, but a fascinating question of Greek theology is whether the gods had to be obedient to the fates or whether the gods could affect what was fated. There are conflicting answers in Greek mythology.

However, you're right that for this play we need to look at whether Oedipus really had any free will in this matter, and how the answer to that affects our view of the play (and of life).



message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Well, like I said in the other comment "What else should they have done?" Should Oedipus have destroyed himself upon hearing the prophesy? Apparently, that's the only act of free will that might have prevented the prophesy from coming true.




message 4: by Dianna (new)

Dianna | 393 comments Or his real parents could have just ignored the first prophecy and done things as if they had never heard it. It reminds me of when people say, for example, "he/she is just like (insert person here who is not really a good role model.)" How many times have we heard that said? Or when a parent labels a child as "rebelious" or "shy" or "clumsy" etc. Then it is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy...


message 5: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Kathy R wrote: "It reminds me of when people say, for example, "he/she is just like (insert person here who is not really a good role model.)" How many times have we heard that said? Or when a parent labels a child as "rebelious" or "shy" or "clumsy" etc. Then it is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy..."

That's a good point. There is plenty of research, also, showing that when teachers expect little of students they get little, and when they expect much they usually get much.

Isn't this another instance where free will is subservient to fate/expectation?




message 6: by [deleted user] (new)

Everyman wrote: "Kathy R wrote: "It reminds me of when people say, for example, "he/she is just like (insert person here who is not really a good role model.)" How many times have we heard that said? Or when a pare..."

I didn't write that. Dianna did. Anyhow...

I think Laius and Jocasta and Oedipus believed that they had subverted or at least handily managed fate. They exercised their will and their reason in their foolish little human way and the fates just rolled over them.

And, honestly, doesn't it seem a bit unfair for Apollo to be punishing Thebes for the things that apparently could not have been prevented? Oedipus never would have begun his inquiry if the people of Thebes hadn't been suffering and calling on him to help them.

I know. Life/gods/fate ain't fair.




message 7: by Dianna (new)

Dianna | 393 comments That is a common theme. For example, in the Bible, often a plague would break out because of something someone did, whether they knew it was wrong or not. I can think, right off the top of my head about when Abraham told his wife to say she was his sister so the other kings would not try to hurt him...


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