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Free Will in Sophocles Oedipus Rex

Sophocles said that a man should never consider himself fortunate unless he can look back on his life and remember that life without pain. For Oedipus Rex, looking back is impossible to do without pain, a pain that stems from his prideful life. Oedipus is aware that he alone is responsible for his actions. He freely chooses to pursue and eventually accept his own life’s destruction. Although fate victimizes Oedipus, he is a tragic figure since his own heroic qualities, his loyalty to Thebes, and his undying quest for the truth ruin him.

Oedipus’ pride, drawn from his own heroic qualities, is one factor of his ruining. A hero characteristically prizes above all else his honor and the excellence of his life. When his honor is at stake, all other considerations become irrelevant. Oedipus was certainly a hero who was exceptionally intelligent and, one can argue as a result of his single-handed killing of four men, physically powerful. He obviously knew his heroic status when he greeted the needful citizens of Thebes before the palace doors saying, “Here I am myself-/ you all know me, the world knows my fame:/ I am Oedipus. 7).

Oedipus is clearly a man of hubris; he is overconfident in his powers and irreverent to the gods. Oedipus also displays this uncompromising attitude in his devotion to Thebes. Oedipus’ loyalty to Thebes is another factor that led to the tragic figure’s ruin. Aristotle explains that a tragic character is just and good, but fatal error, pride(possibly hubris), or frailty brings about his misfortune. Oedipus fits this description perfectly.

Oedipus could easily have left the city of Thebes and let the plague take its course he “would be blind to misery/ not to pity [his] people kneeling at his feet”(14). When Apollo’s word comes back in the hand of Creon, Oedipus could leave the murder of Laius uninvestigated as it had been for so long, but “rising in his pride, he protests: he pits himself in some way against whatever…seems to him to be wrong…”(Levin 178). Oedipus can not let this investigation be overlooked; he must solve the riddle of who killed King Laius because his pride overpowers him.

Oedipus’ pride also reveals itself again in his loyalty to the truth. Oedipus’ constant struggle to discover the truth for the sake of his people ruined him the most in the end. Although he is warned many times to stop seeking the truth, he keeps on searching. Oedipus’ need to uncover the truth about Laius and then about himself is proof of his commitment to uphold his own nature, pride. He cannot live with a lie, and therefore must learn the truth behind the illusion he has lived for so long.

Teresias, Jocasta, and the herdsman all try to put an end Oedipus’ questioning, but persists in solving the riddle. The hero’s conscious choice to pursue and accept his doom makes him a tragic figure. Oedipus Rex single-handedly ruined his own life through his arrogant pride. He “is a free agent, and he is responsible for the catastrophe”(Fagles/Knox 149). Oedipus’ pride as a hero, a loyal King, and a truth seeker turned him into a tragic figure. He is a victim of fate, but not a puppet; he freely sought his doom though warned against pursuing it.

Fate may have determined the actions of his early years, but what he did as King of Thebes he did of his own free will. It was his own choice to kill Laius, his own choice to seek an answer to heal his people, and his own choice to learn the final truth. He claimed full responsibility, as a hero should, when Choragos asked what god drove him to blind himself. Oedipus’ pride stood in the way of a life of happiness. Sophocles ends this tragic story by warning his audience not to take anything for granted lest they suffer like Oedipus, a lesson in which many should take heed.

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