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?Fate? Throughout Sophocles?s Three Theban Plays: Antigone, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus
The classical Greek writers have given the world major literary themes. One such theme is ?Fate?. According to Webster?s New World Dictionary of the American Language the word fate is defined as ?the principal or determining cause or will by which things in general are believed to come to be as they are or events to happen as they do: destiny?(529). The Theme ?Fate? is applicable to Oedipus and his lineage, in Sophecles?s three Theban plays: Antigone, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus.
?Fate? plays a cruel role in the lives of everyone related to Oedipus. Not only was Oedipus’s life condemned from the beginning, but the lives of his four children were also ill fated. The entire bloodline, beginning with Oedipus, met a tragic end or led a tragic life through no fault of their own. Thomas Gould explains, ?sometimes it is suggested that Oedipus would not have avoided his misery by having been a better man, but he could have remained prosperous and happy if he had been a less good man? (Gould 51). If not for ?Fate?, the lives of Oedipus and his entire family could have been much better off.
The whole debacle started with the birth of Oedipus. Oedipus was the only child of Laius and Jocasta, king and queen of Thebes. They took Oedipus to the oracle at Delphi to have his prophecy read. The oracle prophesized that Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother, “… Why, Loxias declared that I should one day marry my own mother, And with my own hands shed my father’s blood. Wherefore Corinth I have kept away far, for long years; and prospered; none the less it is most sweet to see one’s parents’ face…”(ll. 556-559, 187). In order to prevent this from happening, Laius and Jocasta pierced Oedipus’s foot and ordered a shepherd to abandon him on a mountainside. The shepherd pitied the child and gave him to a herdsman from Corinth. The herdsman then gave the child to Polybus and Merope, the childless king and queen of Corinth. They adopted him and raised him as their own. Oedipus grew up thinking he was the prince of Corinth. He heard rumors that he was not the natural son of Polybus and Merope, and he went to consult the oracle of Delphi to find the truth. The oracle repeated the same prophecy that was told to Laius and Jocasta. Thinking that Polybus and Merope were his parents, ?Oedipus moves away when he is told his fate? (Jones 41). ?Fate? then stepped in and Oedipus met an old man accompanied by several servants at a crossroads. The old man was Laius, on his way to Delphi. Since both men were proud, they refused to step aside so the other could pass. Oedipus lost his temper and in a rage he killed them all, except for one servant who escaped,
… I found myself upon the self-same spot where, you say, the king perished … When in my travels I was come near this place where three roads meet, there met me a herald, and a man that rode in a colt-carriage … And the old man himself, would thrust me, I, being enraged, strike him who jostled me– The driver– and the old man … He paid though! duly I am not; but in brief, smitten by the staff in this right hand of mine … out of the carriage straight he rolls down headlong; and I slay them all…(ll. 1104- 1112, 217).
When Oedipus kills his father, Laius, ?it is not out of hatred of his parents? (Vernant 110). Oedipus has no idea who the ?stranger? is. All Oedipus realizes is that he has his life in danger. Fate is what has Oedipus murder his father. Not realizing that he had fulfilled half of his terrible prophecy, Oedipus continued on his way to Thebes. When he arrived at Thebes there was a widespread plague in the city. In order to free the city of this plague one had to solve the riddle that came with it, the riddle of the Sphinx. Oedipus was clever enough to solve the riddle, which in turn cured the city of the plague. After answering the Sphinx’s riddle and ridding Thebes of the monster, Oedipus was considered a hero. When the people learned of Laius’ death, believed to be the fault of bandits, they made Oedipus their new king. In the imperial palace there was Jocasta, a recent widow of the missing King Laius. As it was accustomed, Oedipus married the widow Jocasta. The city was happy with their king for the next years, Jocasta and Oedipus eventually had four children: Eteocles, Polynices, Ismene, and Antigone. This fulfilled the other half of his horrible fate.
Then, another dark cloud came over Thebes. There was another plague infecting the city. An Oracle was contacted and the way to solve this riddle was to banish the killer of the former king Laius from the city. Oedipus in the process of solving the riddle found out that Jocasta was in fact is real mother “But she, perhaps … I have her for mother…”
(l. 1383, 236).
Eventually Oedipus learned of what he had done was consumed by despair. After finding Jocasta hanging from the ceiling, Oedipus shouted that he could no longer bear to see his shame and gouged out his eyes with the brooches on Jocasta’s dress. Oedipus was eventually banished from the city of Thebes, and wandered around Greece, unaccepted because of the curse that was thought to be on him.
In time Oedipus made his way to Colonus. He requested to see the king, Theseus. It is revealed to Oedipus by Ismene that a new prophecy has been told. The city that possesses the grave of Oedipus will receive continued good fortunes. She then warns that Creon knows of the prophecy and will try to force Oedipus back to Thebes. Theseus then enters and treats Oedipus respectfully. He agrees to protect Oedipus from Creon and allow him to live in Colonus until his death. Oedipus promises that Athens will be rewarded. Fate again interrupted Oedipus’s life at this juncture. After living a life full of suffering he decided to rest in a grove of trees. It just so happened that the grove was a sacred place for the city of Colonus. Oedipus then met with Theseus and was allowed to stay in Colonus in peace. He was not there long but at least he died with a small degree of honor. Unfortunately, fate was not so kind to the rest of Oedipus’s descendants. Before he died Oedipus prophesized that his two sons, who abandoned him for a chance at the throne of Thebes, would kill each other in battle. They were made co-rulers of Thebes, but each wanted complete rule. Eteocles won over the people and was able to exile Polynices. Polynices then went to Argos and raised an army to invade Thebes. As predicted by Oedipus, Eteocles and Polynices met on the battlefield and killed each other. Creon was once again made king of Thebes. His first act as king was to give Eteocles a state funeral. He condemned Polynices as a traitor and would not allow his body to be buried. Antigone would not allow this to happen and defied Creon by burying her brother. Creon was astonished by Antigone’s defiance and ordered her to die. With Antigone’s death the legacy of Oedipus was complete. Not only was one life full of suffering, but those of his children were also.
If not for fate, much of the despair in the lives of Oedipus and his children could have been averted. Oedipus and Laius were both far too stubborn for their own well being, that much is true, but it was fate that brought that bundle of pride together in the first place. Fate is also responsible for Oedipus’s glory in death. It just so happens that he stopped to rest in the grove at Colonus. The Athenians and King Theseus ruled Colonus. The compassion of Theseus towards Oedipus allowed him to die with a bit of dignity. Fate can also be held responsible for the meeting of Eteocles and Polynices on the battlefield. The odds of both of them surviving to combat each other in a huge battle could not have been to good. If fate had not played it’s hand, one of them probably would have died somewhere else on the battlefield. Antigone and Ismene seemed to be innocent victims of the fates of their father and brothers. Neither of them did anything wrong, yet neither of them had any happiness in their lives. When they were small children, their mother hung herself and Oedipus poked his eyes out. Antigone wasted her life leading her blind father around, sharing in his misery. Ismene had to live with the fact that she was inbred and the gods cursed her family. Eventually Antigone’s life ended in despair to. She was separated from her fianc? and died as a traitor to the state. Unfortunately, ?Oedipus was undone by external things and was in no way responsible for his misery? (Gloud 57). Oedipus and his lineage were ill fated from the start and never really had much of a chance.
Oedipus was a victim of fate, his future was foretold by an Oracle, he had no way of knowing his wife was his mother nor that the stranger he killed was his father. Oedipus could not prevent his own downfall. Oedipus was the king of Thebes, he became king when he cured the city of a deadly plague. He cured the plague by solving the riddle of the mythical creature, the Sphinx. Now the city is suffering from another plague and as king Oedipus must solve the riddle of this one.
When Oedipus was born he was taken to an Oracle; this was custom for the rich. The Oracle was to tell his fate. The Oracle said that when Oedipus grows up he will marry his mother and he would also kill his father, “… Why, Loxias declared that I should one day marry my own mother, And with my own hands shed my father’s blood. Wherefore Corinth I have kept away far, for long years; and prospered; none the less it is most sweet to see one’s parents’ face…”(p36 ln1-6). When his parents herd this they gave Oedipus to a man and he was to get rid of the baby by leaving it in the forest, but an servant of Polybus, the king of Corinth, finds the baby and brings him to the king. The king falls in love with the baby and takes him in as one of his own.
Oedipus left Corinth to avoid his foretold fate, he went to Thebes. On his journey he ran into a caravan at the crossroads before entering Thebes. This caravan was of the present King of Thebes, Laius, but Oedipus did not know that. The people on the caravan started insulting Oedipus. Oedipus lost his temper and in a rage he killed them all, except for one servant who escaped “… I found myself upon the self-same spot where, you say, the king perished … When in my travels I would come near this place where three roads meet, there met me a herald, and a man that rode in a colt-carriage … And the old man himself, would thrust me, I, being enraged, strike him who jostled me– The driver– and the old man … He paid though! duly I say not; but in brief, smitten by the staff in this right hand of mine … out of the carriage straight he rolls down headlong; and I slay them all…”(pg29 ln13-27). As it turns out the man he killed was his real father. There was no way that Oedipus could of known that this stranger was his father, he had never met or seen him ever before that one time.
After Oedipus finished killing his father, he continued on his journey to the city of Thebes. When he arrived at Thebes there was a widespread plague in the city. In order to free the city of this plague one had to solve the riddle that came with it, the riddle of the Sphinx. Oedipus was clever enough to solve the riddle, which in turn cured the city of the plague. The city, which was recently missing a king, made Oedipus the king since he saved them. In the imperial palace there was Jocasta, a recent widow of the missing and presumed dead King Laius. As it was accustomed, Oedipus married the widow Jocasta. The city was happy with their king for the next years; Jocasta and Oedipus had two daughters. Then another dark cloud came over Thebes, there was another plague infecting the city. An Oracle was contacted and the way to solve this riddle was to banish the killer of the former king Laius from the city. Oedipus in the process of solving the riddle Oedipus found out that Jocasta was in-fact is real mother “But she, perhaps … I have her for mother…”(pg39 ln1-5). When Jocasta finds this out he then kills her self, “The illustrious Jocasta is no more…”(pg44 ln18).
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