What do you think Sophocles is saying about the gods in this play? About fate or destiny? Why do you think Oedipus does not curse the gods for his fate?
In ancient Greece, when science was still undeveloped, people often refer some incidents in nature are the works of gods. Gods were above all kinds; they controlled everything, including fate and destiny. Gods were immortal, powerful, and omnipotent. Sophocles successfully making fate a large part in the play Oedipus the King. He portrays that fate controls people no matter how hard we try to avoid it. Oedipus eventually has to accept his fate because it’s unavoidable and leads to his downfall.
In the play Oedipus the King, we can find Sophocles showing the audience the dominance of gods in various parts in the play. In the beginning, the priests were praising Oedipus for his mightiness and his past of saving Thebes from the Sphinx. They pleaded to Oedipus to save them again from the suffering that the country and the people was having. Then, Oedipus tells them that he’s waiting Creon for the answer brought back from Delphi. “His eyes are bright. O great Apollo, bring him here effulgent with success” (P. 217 bot) From this, we can tell that even a great king still have to listen what the gods say. In addition, in the antistrophe on page 231, “Zeus and Apollo are wise and discern the conditions of men,” it shows that gods control everything and are omnipotent; anyone can’t hide from gods no matter what they do.
Fate is the central theme of Oedipus the King. We all know that Oedipus killed his father and married his mother, but Oedipus doesn’t believe it until the end he found out the truth. At the very beginning of the story, from an oracle to Liaus, he and Jocasta learned the oracle said, “ fate would make him meet his end through a son, a son of his and mine.” (P.238) To avoid this tragedy from happening, Liaus and Jocasta decided to abandon Oedipus and pinned on his foot in order to prevent Oedipus from a chance to live. However, things changed dramatically. A herdsman from Corinth found Oedipus and took him back to Corinth and present Oedipus to the King. The king always wanted a baby but he never got one. Therefore, he treated Oedipus as his own son and raised him up. After Oedipus grown up, once, a drunkard man told Oedipus “Aha! You’re not your father’s son.” (P.240) This puzzled Oedipus about his identity. He went to Delphi for the oracle, but Apollo never hinted Oedipus what he came to hear and only telling him one thing “ Apollo once declared that I would come to couple with my mother, and with these very hands of mine spill out the lifeblood of my father.” (P.246) Then, terrified by the fact that he might kill his father he thought to be and marry his mother he thought to be, Oedipus fled from Corinth to Thebes. One his way, he killed a man, who is his true father, Liaus, and married his mother, Jocasta, after saving the city of Thebes from the Sphinx.
Of course, Oedipus doesn’t know that he married his mother and killed his father. All he knows is he is the king and the savior of Thebes. He even says that “ but for myself and for myself I’ll break this plague.”(P.219) What he doesn’t know is that he’s the cause of the plague. When Oedipus meets Tiresias, he expected that Tiresias would give him the clue of the killer of King Liaus. However, Tiresias was reluctant to tell the truth because he knew that if he told the truth, there would be more chaos. Angered by Tiresias’ reluctance to tell the truth, Oedipus accused Tiresias for planning the whole thing. Tiresias was also angered by Oedipus and can’t tolerant any more and finally spoke out the truth: “ The rotting canker in the State is you.” (P.226) At this moment, Oedipus still had the confidence in himself and thought that what Tiresias said was nonsense. He said “ It is, but not for you, you purblind man: in ears and mind and vision.” It is a dramatic irony that although Tiresias was blind of sight, he’s clear of truth. While Oedipus was clear of vision, but was blind of the truth.
Later on in the play, with the answer told by the messenger from Corinth who is also the man that discovered Oedipus, that the king of Corinth is not Oedipus’ father, and the fact that Oedipus was discovered in a woody dell of Cithaeron, Oedipus became more interested in his identity, while Jocasta’s face turned pale when she heard the facts of what the messenger said. Before that, without knowing that the king of Corinth isn’t Oedipus’ father, Jocasta even teased the gods, “Aha! Forecasts of the gods, where are you now? This is the man that Oedipus was terrified to kill, so fled; and now, without the slightest push from him, he’s dead.” (P.245) From this, we can tell that Jocasta thought the oracle that she and Oedipus were concerned about is gone. But now, she found that she’s totally wrong. No one can escape from fate. “The pack of sure-foot Fates will track him down” (P.231) Now Jocasta was totally terrified and wished not to proceed, but Oedipus insisted to do so. Later, Oedipus met the shepherd that got the order from Liaus to abandon Oedipus on the hill. At first, the shepherd refused to tell the truth, but with Oedipus’ demand, he had no choice but to tell the truth. In the last line of his words: “Make no mistakes, you are a doom-born man.”, reveals the whole theme of the play. After realizing the whole incident, Oedipus totally broke down, not only his fame, but also his everything. Oedipus was once a great king, but now an ill-fated man. This corresponds to what Tiresias said before “him openly displayed a Theban born, and shattered by the honor. Blind instead of seeing, beggar instead of rich, He’ll grope his way in foreign parts, tapping out his way with stick in hand.”(P.230) As Tiresias said before, Oedipus is the plague of the state. Before knowing the truth, I think it is really hard for Oedipus to accept the truth that he is the cause of the plague. But now, he learned that he couldn’t do anything but to accept his fate.
The reason why Oedipus doesn’t curse the gods of his fate is that he respects the gods and he fears the gods and he knows that gods control everything, including fate. Gods are powerful and are watchful of everything; people are not able to stand against the gods. If Oedipus curses the gods, he might get a harsher punishment or even death. However, he does blame the gods for his fate. “ O Zeus, what playing thing will you make of me?” (P.239) At this moment, Oedipus has no idea of his identity and felt tricked by the gods. Also, at the end of the play when he knew the oracle came true, he said “Friends, it was Apollo, spirit of Apollo. He made this evil fructify.” (P.257) This shows that Oedipus blames the gods for not telling him the truth straightforwardly, and made him blind of the truth from the start to the end.
In conclusion, the play gives us a hint that gods are omnipotent. They control everything and fate is inevitable. Oedipus had done all he could to avoid the oracle from happening, but in the end he find out that it’s all planned by gods and he couldn’t escape from his fate.
Roche Paul. Sophocles: The Complete Plays. Signet Classics, 2001 Print