Oedipus Rex

Fate vs. Free Will Theme Analysis

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Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Guilt and Shame Theme Icon
Sight vs. Blindness Theme Icon
Finding Out the Truth Theme Icon
Action vs. Reflection Theme Icon
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Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon

The ancient Greeks believed that their gods could see the future, and that certain people could access this information. Prophets or seers, like blind Tiresias, saw visions of things to come. Oracles, priests who resided at the temples of gods—such as the oracle to Apollo at Delphi—were also believed to be able to interpret the gods' visions and give prophecies to people who sought to know the future. During the fifth century B.C.E., however, when Sophocles was writing his plays, intellectuals within Athenian society had begun to question the legitimacy of the oracles and of the traditional gods. Some of this tension is plain to see in Oedipus Rex, which hinges on two prophecies. The first is the prophecy received by King Laius of Thebes that he would have a son by Queen Jocasta who would grow up to kill his own father. The second is the prophecy that Oedipus received that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Laius, Jocasta, and Oedipus all work to prevent the prophecies from coming to pass, but their efforts to thwart the prophecies are what actually bring the prophecies to completion.

This raises a question at the heart of the play: does Oedipus have any choice in the matter? He ends up killing his father and marrying his mother without knowing it—in fact, when he is trying to avoid doing these very things. Does he have free will—the ability to choose his own path—or is everything in life predetermined? Jocasta argues that the oracles are a sham because she thinks the prediction that her son would kill her husband never came to pass. When she finds out otherwise, she kills herself. In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus has fulfilled his terrible prophecy long ago, but without knowing it. He has already fallen into his fate. One could argue that he does have free will, however, in his decision to pursue the facts about his past, despite many suggestions that he let it go. In this argument, Oedipus's destruction comes not from his deeds themselves but from his persistent efforts to learn the truth, through which he reveals the true nature of those terrible deeds. Oedipus himself makes a different argument at the end of the play, when he says that his terrible deeds were fated, but that it was he alone who chose to blind himself. Here, Oedipus is arguing that while it is impossible to avoid one's fate, how you respond to your fate is a matter of free will.

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Fate vs. Free Will ThemeTracker

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Fate vs. Free Will Quotes in Oedipus Rex

Below you will find the important quotes in Oedipus Rex related to the theme of Fate vs. Free Will.
Lines 1-340 Quotes
Here I am myself—
you all know me, the world knows my fame:
I am Oedipus.
Related Characters: Oedipus (speaker)
Page Number: 7-9
Explanation and Analysis:

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If ever, once in the past, you stopped some ruin
launched against our walls
you hurled the flame of pain
far, far from Thebes—you gods,
come now, come down once more!
Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker)
Page Number: 186-189
Explanation and Analysis:

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Thebes, city of death, one long cortege
and the suffering rises
wails for mercy rise
and the wild hymn for the Healer blazes out
clashing with our sobs our cries of mourning—
O golden daughter of god, send rescue
radiant as the kindness in your eyes!
Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker)
Page Number: 211-217
Explanation and Analysis:

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Now my curse on the murderer. Whoever he is,
a lone man unknown in his crime
or one among many, let that man drag out
his life in agony, step by painful step—
Related Characters: Oedipus (speaker)
Page Number: 280-283
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lines 341-708 Quotes
Did you rise to the crisis? Not a word,
you and your birds, your gods—nothing.
No, but I came by, Oedipus the ignorant,
I stopped the Sphinx! With no help from the birds,
the flight of my own intelligence hit the mark.
Related Characters: Oedipus (speaker), Tiresias
Page Number: 449-453
Explanation and Analysis:

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No man will ever
be rooted from the earth as brutally as you.
Related Characters: Tiresias (speaker), Oedipus
Page Number: 488-489
Explanation and Analysis:

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Blind who now has eyes, beggar who now is rich,
he will grope his way toward a foreign soil,
a stick tapping before him step by step.
Related Characters: Tiresias (speaker), Oedipus
Page Number: 517-519
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lines 709-997 Quotes
Listen to me and learn some peace of mind:
no skill in the world,
nothing human can penetrate the future.
Related Characters: Jocasta (speaker), Oedipus
Page Number: 780-782
Explanation and Analysis:

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Great laws tower above us, reared on high
born for the brilliant vault of heaven—
Olympian Sky their only father,
nothing mortal, no man gave them birth,
their memory deathless, never lost in sleep:
within them lives a mighty god, the god does not
grow old.
Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker)
Page Number: 957-962
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lines 998-1310 Quotes
They are dying, the old oracles sent to Laius,
now our masters strike them off the rolls.
Nowhere Apollo's golden glory now—
the gods, the gods go down.
Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker)
Page Number: 994-997
Explanation and Analysis:

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Man of agony—
that is the only name I have for you,
that, no other—ever, ever, ever!
Related Characters: Jocasta (speaker), Oedipus
Page Number: 1176-1179
Explanation and Analysis:

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If you are the man he says you are, believe me
you were born for pain.
Related Characters: A Shepherd (speaker), Oedipus, A Messenger
Page Number: 1304-1305
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lines 1311-1680 Quotes
"...is there a man more agonized?
More wed to pain and frenzy? Not a man on earth,
the joy of your life ground down to nothing
O Oedipus, name for the ages—"
Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Oedipus
Page Number: 1331-1334
Explanation and Analysis:

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My destiny, my dark power, what a leap you made!
Related Characters: Oedipus (speaker)
Page Number: 1448
Explanation and Analysis:

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Take me away, far, far from Thebes,
quickly, cast me away, my friends—
this great murderous ruin, this man cursed to heaven,
the man the deathless gods hate most of all!
Related Characters: Oedipus (speaker)
Page Number: 1477-1480
Explanation and Analysis:

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Now as we keep our watch and wait the final day,
count no man happy till he dies, free of pain at last.
Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Oedipus
Page Number: 1683-1684
Explanation and Analysis:

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