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The role of prophecies in Oedipus the King Critical Essay

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Updated: Jul 6th, 2020

This paper is aimed at discussing the role of prophecies in the play Oedipus the King by Sophocles. In particular, it is necessary to show how different characters attempt to respond to the predictions, which they do not wish to come true, and explain the effects of their actions.

Overall, it is possible to say that by attempting to prevent the prophecies from being fulfilled, they only seal their fate and eventually suffer the misfortunes that they fear so much.

In order to better illustrate this argument, we need to speak about such characters as Laius and Oedipus. Laius is the rule of Thebes; he learns from oracle that his son Oedipus will kill him and usurp his throne.

This is why he orders Oedipus to be killed but they fail to execute his order and save the child. The main thing is that by giving this command, Laius starts a chain of events which eventually results in his death. Oedipus slaughters him without realizing that Laius is his father. Provided that this character decided to take no action in response to the prophecy, the disaster could have been averted.

This is the cruel irony of this tragedy. The main error that this character commits is that he prefers to escape his destiny rather than face it. He decides to kill his son rather than try to educate him. Certainly, Laius does not believe the course of events cannot be changed but he attemps to do by relying on brutal force instead of courage, perseverance, and love.

In his turn, Oedipus behaves in a very similar way. He is adopted by Polybus, the King of Corinth. For a very long time, he does not know that Polybus and his wife Pariboea are not his real parents. Yet, he learns from oracle that in the future, he will murder his father and marry his mother.

Oedipus flees Corinth in order to avoid this catastrophe, although he does not believe himself to be capable of committing such an atrocity. Again, if he had chosen to stay at home, the oracle’s prophecy might have never come true. Both these characters prefer to run away from danger rather than face it. This might be one of the reasons why misfortunes befall them. As it has been said before, Oedipus accidentally slaughters Laius and marries Jocasta, his mother.

It should be noted that Oedipus mistakes his father for a mere townsman with whom he had a quarrel and killed. He feels practically no remorse for killing this person. Oedipus’ primary concern is that this man is not his father. For a long time, he lives thikning that no danger threatens him and his family. However, later he learns terrible truth about himself.

Overall, prophecies are the main drivers of the plot. Every step that characters take is an attempt to escape destiny; yet, these prophecies turned to be self-fulfilling. Sophocles makes the readers think about possible outcomes provided that the main characters had decided to take no action or to behave in a different way.

Sophocles does not try to depict human beings as creatures who are entirely devoid of free will. Both Laius and Oedipus are very strong-willed people, but sometimes they lack courage to face challenges. Through these characters Sophocles urges the reader think primarily about the ethical implications of their actions.

Works Cited

Sophocles. Oedipus the King (transl. by David Grene). Chicago: University of

Chicago Press. 2010. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "The role of prophecies in Oedipus the King." July 6, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-role-of-prophecies-in-oedipus-the-king/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'The role of prophecies in Oedipus the King'. 6 July.

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