The Role of Fate in Sophocles

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The Omnipotent Role of Fate in Sophocles's Three Theban Plays

Fate is an oft debated concept. Do one's actions truly play a role in determining one's life? Is fate liberating to some or is it constricting to others, in that no individual can make completely individual decisions, and therefore, no one is truly free. Nowadays, fate is a subject often rejected in society, as it is seen as too fanciful, too idealistic, and too ambiguous to comprehend. However, at the time of Oedipus, the concept was a terrifying reality for most ancient Greeks. Fate was an unstoppable force and it was assumed that any efforts to change one's future were inconsequential. In Sophocles' Three Theban Plays, fate plays a crucial role in Theban and Athenian societies.

Fate is the will of the gods, and as is apparent in Antigone, the gods' will is not to be questioned. Much of Sophocles' work focuses on the struggle between civil law and what is believed to be divine law. As an invader of Thebes and the killer of his own brother, Polynices is believed to be a traitor, undeserving of the most basic privileges. For his crimes, Creon refuses to give Polynices the proper burial rites that would put his soul to rest. The King also threatens death to any persons attempting to bury Polynices properly. This law stands in effect for the entire city - a strong civic order, which is the first decree that Creon makes in order to demonstrate his new power over the city. Creon eventually decides to desecrate the body of Polynices so that he could never be given a burial. However, soon this civil law is challenged when Tiresias, a Theban soothsayer warns the King that the gods disagree with his decision to defile the body of Oedipus's son. Offended by Creon's pride and by his refusal to bury Polynices, the gods threaten to take the life of Creon's son. Tiresias' prophetic warning is met with anger and rejection, and he is sent away. None... Continue Reading