Fate in Oedipus the King by Sophocles


Oedipus the king is a Greek tragedy written by Sophocles. It is based on myths, as some of them take place when the play starts. The main character of the tragedy is the son of King Laius and Queen Jocasta of Thebes. After Laius gets to know from an oracle that “he is doomed to perish by the hand of his own son,” he binds together with a pin the feet of the newborn Oedipus and gets him to a servant with directions to kill him.

But the servant deserts the baby in the fields, leaving the baby’s destiny to the gods. The theme of destiny, fate, and prophecy is one of the centers throughout the whole play. Finally, the boy is raised by a shepherd and gets to know from the rumors that he is the son of Polybus and his wife Merope. After particular occasions, the prophecy comes true, and Oedipus becomes the murderer of his father and gets married to his mother, simultaneously becoming the king of Thebes. This essay analyzes the theme of fate in Oedipus the King by Sophocles. The first section contains the short summary of the tragedy. The next two sections explain the role and power of fate, destiny, and free will in Oedipus the King.

Oedipus the King Short Summary

Oedipus the King, a Greek tragedy by Sophocles, tells the story of Oedipus, a man who becomes the king of Thebes after solving the riddle of the Sphinx. Later on, Oedipus learns that he has unknowingly fulfilled a prophecy that stated he would kill his father and marry his mother. Upon discovering this, Oedipus becomes overwhelmed with guilt and shame, and ultimately blinds himself as punishment. The key themes in Oedipus the King are fate, free will, and the consequences of one’s actions.

Theme of Fate in Oedipus the King

The passage touches upon the matters of prophecy and fate, as it is raised as the central theme. The play starts with Creon’s get back from the oracle at Delphi, where he has got to know that the affliction will be if Thebes expels the man who murdered Laius.

Tiresias predicts the detain of one who is both father and brother to his own kids. Oedipus tells Jocasta of foresight he heard as a boy, that he would murder his father and get married to his mother, and Jocasta tells Oedipus of an analogous prophecy offered to Laius, that her son would raise to murder his father. Oedipus and Jocasta discuss the degree to which forecasts should be believed, and when all of the foretells come true, it becomes clear that one of Sophocles’ intends is to validate the supremacies of the gods and oracles, which had lately come under assault in fifth-century b.c. Athens.

Sophocles’ viewers would, surely, have known the narration of Oedipus, which only raises the meaning of total predictability about how the play would terminate. It is difficult to state how impartially one can blame Oedipus for being “sightless” or unwise when it seems that he has no choice about coming to the prophecy true. Oedipus appears only to wish to flee his fate, but his fate incessantly catches up with him. Lots of people have attempted to argue that Oedipus causes his disaster due to a “tragic flaw,” but no one has coped to make a consensus about what Oedipus’ fault in fact is. Probably his story is meant to reveal that fault and disaster can happen to anyone, that human beings are comparatively helpless before fate, and that careful meekness is the best approach toward life.

Fate and Free Will in Oedipus the King

Taking into account the modern notion of fate and fatalism, the audience has a predisposition to regard Oedipus as just a puppet ruled by superior forces. This, nevertheless, is mistaken. While it is a mythological axiom that prophets exist to come true, prophets just forecast the future. Neither they nor Fate utters it.

The oracle offered to Oedipus the thing that is often called a “self-fulfilling divination”, in that the prediction itself adjusts in motion incidents that terminate with its own accomplishment. This, nevertheless, is not to state that Oedipus is a casualty of destiny and has no freedom of choice for his life. The oracle motivates a sequence of detailed selections, unreservedly created by Oedipus, which became the reason to murder his father and get married to his mother.

Oedipus selects not to come back to Corinth after getting to know the prophecy of the oracle, just as he selects to head toward Thebes, to murder Laius, to marry, and to take Jocasta especially as his wife; in return to the affliction at Thebes, he decides to send Creon to the Oracle for recommendation and then to go after that suggestion, commencing the inquiry of Laius’s murder. None of these selections were determined.

Another feature of oracles in legend is that they are constantly misunderstood by people who listen to the prophecies; hence Oedipus’ misunderstanding the implication of the Delphic Oracle. He visits Delphi to get to know who his actual parents are and supposes that the Oracle declines to reply to that question, providing instead a distinct prediction that predicts patricide and incest. Oedipus’s supposition is mistaken: the Oracle does reply to his query.

Stated less obliquely, the reply to his query reads thus: “Polybus and Merope are not your parents. You will someday murder a man who will happen to be your father. You will also someday get married, and the woman whom you select as your wife will be your actual mother.”


Fate and destiny are regarded to be the central themes of the play, and the characters accept the prophecies as something inevitable in spite of the fact they frequently misunderstand them. Sophocles aimed to show, that gods and their “representatives” have at least some power, but this power is mainly attributed to people themselves, who are the makers of their own destiny themselves.

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