Running from fate (Oedipus Rex)

One aspect of the story of Oedipus that has long intrigued me is that Oedipus, in a sense, brings his fate upon himself by attempting to run from it while simultaneously, if unconsciously, seeking it out. This running from fate begins, of course, when his parents attempt to abandon him on the mountainside after they hear the prophecy that he will kill his father and marry his mother. This attempt to escape from fate, however, only pushes him further toward his fate by giving him the false assurance that the couple who adopts him are the parents referred to in the same prophecy when he hears it as an adult. His runs again, fleeing from the home in which he was raised in order to escape his fate and yet falls again into it when he encounters and kills his real father along the road and unknowingly marries his mother after saving Thebes from the Sphinx.

In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus evinces this ability to simultaneously run toward and away from fate through the play. He pursues his fate through the questions he asks even while he attempts to run away from it, hoping that the answers to his questions will reveal that he is innocent.

In the light of last month’s reading of the Iliad, there is a great deal of comparison to be made between Achilles and Oedipus in the way that each grapples with his fate. Where Oedipus goes wrong, it seems, is in his failure to accept his fate. Boethius’s quite Greco-Roman notion of accepting one’s fate with a sort of virtuous resignation comes to mind here. One wonders, given that his avoidance of his fate is what walks him into it, how things might have worked out for poor Oedipus had he adopted Boethius’s advice.

 

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