Oedipus Rex

Fate vs Free Will in Oedipus Rex

3 Mins read

Fate vs free will is a complex question. It’s been discussed by philosophers and theologians for centuries, and there are many different opinions about what happens in the universe to make things turn out one way or another. In this post, we explore the idea of fate versus free will in Oedipus Rex – a story that is all about destiny playing a large role in people’s lives.

Fate vs Free Will

Fate and free will are both important concepts in the play Oedipus Rex. Though fate and free will work together and complement one another, they can also contradict each other at times. Fate’s role is to dictate that everything that happens must happen for a reason, while free will is the power of choice. Ultimately, fate is unavoidable even when free will comes into play.

The audience and reader, however, understand that the workings of fate and destiny are in motion. Fate actually guides Oedipus to do the exact thing from which he is running. This idea lends itself to the thought that fate trumps any sort of “free will” man may think he possesses.

The gravity of Oedipus’ choice to investigate the murder of the previous king to purify his city can also be read as fate in action for it is the oracle who says, “pollution, harbored in the land, we must drive hence, nor harbour irremediably” (335). The course of action that Oedipus thinks he takes on willingly to find Laius’ killer is unwittingly fueled by fate and sees him being led toward doom.

The debate in Oedipus Rex

The debate in Oedipus Rex is one about fate and free will. The argument is between Oedipus and Creon, but the discussion is at its most intense with Teiresias. Oedipus believes that all things are destined to happen by fate, and that we cannot choose our own path. Creon believes that humans have their own free will and they can change things for better if they work hard enough. Teiresias believes in a balance of both, claiming that “the gods alone know all” (line 205).

Read About: The Role of Chorus in Oedipus Rex

Is it possible to have both fate and free will?

The tragic end of Oedipus’s story is predetermined before the beginning. The old Oracle reveals to him that he will murder his father and marry his mother. This end can be prevented only by never leaving the kingdom, but it cannot be avoided. As the action progresses, the theme of fate versus free will becomes clearer.

What does Sophocles think about the nature of fate?

Sophocles’s opinion of fate is more complex than the average person’s. He does not believe that fate is a strict and unforgiving force, but he does think it has a will. Fate wills that certain events take place because it has a plan for a specific type of individual that will bring balance to society as a whole. Sophocles never says what the fate’s will is—which I find interesting.

How does free will affect the story?

Oedipus Rex is a tragedy, and in tragedies the protagonist’s fate is sealed from the start. This means that whatever happens to them does not depend on their own free will, but rather on fate. So in this story, Oedipus’ fate is sealed because he must kill his father and marry his mother, which can be seen as inevitable.


Chorus exclaims, “all-seeing Time hath found and doomed…” (360) this expresses that time sees all; fate and the course of time are powerful things that no man can outdo. Man can neither understand nor seek to stop the will of the gods, and it is pointless to try as is seen by Oedipus’ tragic example. The conclusion of the story isn’t about fate and free will, but rather, what it takes to reach a point where we can stop using them as scapegoats and truly take control of our own lives.

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