Role of Fate in Sophocles’ “Oedipus the King”

Many of us have at one time or the other wondered what really drives a man to do some things. At times, we have asked ourselves questions on if man is responsible for his actions. When something happens to our friends, do we pause and ask ourselves what really drove them to take that particular action or commit that particular “sin” as the Christians would say. While at times men choose their actions, there are times when one is merely pushed by fate to do some things. A clear example of how free will and fate can determine the outcome of a man’s life is clearly brought out in the story of Oedipus the king. (Steiner)

Looking closely at the events in the life of Oedipus, one does not fail to notice the role that fate plays. When he is born, his father learns of an oracle that says that his own son would kill him then get married to his wife. To escape from this oracle, he decides to kill the boy by placing him in the forest. Fate then comes to his rescue by bringing along a shepherd who rescues the boy and gives him to a neighboring king.

When Oedipus grows up, he learns of the oracle that dictates he would kill his father. To him, his father is the one who raised him up. He decides to run from this prophecy by going to a far country. On the way, he meets a man who is rude to him and decides to kill him. As fate would have it, this man happens to be his biological father Laius. This marks the fulfillment of the first half of the prophecy. Upon arriving at Thebes, Oedipus solves the riddle of the Sphinx which makes him win the hand of his mother in marriage. Again, this is clearly the work of fate.

After marrying his mother, the couple gave birth to four kids whom in reality were Oedipus brothers. When a plague ravages the land, Oedipus sets out to learn the cause and that is when is told he is the cause of the problems. After learning that he actually killed his father and married his mother, Oedipus is shocked and gorges out his eyes in despair. His wife who doubles as his own mother hangs herself in the palace. From killing his own father to his mother hanging herself, this becomes a real tragedy for Oedipus family.

While some people claim that the tragedy that befell Oedipus and his family was the price for his sin, it is clear from the story that he did not have control of what was happening to his life. When he killed his own father Oedipus was in reality running from the fear of what he had learned from an oracle at Delphic. He also has to solve a riddle about the Sphinx that had troubled people for long making him a champion in the eyes of the people. It is then that they give him Queen Jocasta for a wife. Oedipus does not know this until later on when it is already too late to change the events.


It is clear from the story that Oedipus had to undergo all this for prophecy to be fulfilled. From being rescued from the forest where he had been left to die to killing his own father and later on marrying his biological mother, it is evident that fate played a clear role in the matter. It would therefore be unfair for anyone to insinuate that Oedipus was responsible for the tragedy that befell him. The whole story points to one direction and that is fate, not choice is the cause of Oedipus fate. This story should serve as a reminder to each one of us that we can never run from our destiny.

Works Cited

Steiner, George. The Death of Tragedy.1961. New York: Oxford UP, 1980.Print.

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