Oedipus: Fates

D.T. Suzuki, a renowned expert on Zen Buddhism, called attention to the
topic of free will in one of his lectures by stating that it was the battle of
"God versus Man, Man versus God, God versus Nature, Nature versus God, Man
versus Nature, Nature versus Man1." These six battles constitute an ultimately
greater battle: the battle of free will versus determinism. Free will is that
ability for a human being to make decisions as to what life he or she would like
to lead and have the freedom to live according to their own means and thus
choose their own destiny; determinism is the circumstance of a higher being
ordaining a man\'s life from the day he was born until the day he dies. Free
will is in itself a far-reaching ideal that exemplifies the essence of what
mankind could be when he determines his own fate. But with determinism, a man
has a predetermined destiny and fate that absolutely cannot be altered by the
man himself. Yet, it has been the desire of man to avoid the perils that his
fate ho lds andthus he unceasingly attempts to thwart fate and the will of the
divine.. Within the principle of determinism, this outright contention to divine
mandate is blasphemous and considered sin. This ideal itself, and the whole
concept of determinism, is quite common in the workings of Greek and Classical
literature. A manifest example of this was the infamous Oedipus of The Theban
Plays, a man who tried to defy fate, and therefore sinned.
The logic of Oedipus\' transgression is actually quite obvious, and
Oedipus\' father, King Laius, also has an analogous methodology and transgression.
They both had unfortunate destinies: Laius was destined to be killed by his own
son, and Oedipus was destined to kill his father and marry his mother. This was
the ominous decree from the divinatory Oracle at Delphi. King Laius feared the
Oracle\'s proclamation and had his son, the one and only Oedipus, abandoned on a
mountain with iron spikes as nails so that he would remain there to eventually
die. And yet, his attempt to obstruct fate was a failure, for a kindly shepherd
happened to come upon the young Oedipus and released him from the grips of death.
The shepherd then gave the young boy to a nearby king who raised him as his own,
and consequently named him Oedipus, which meant "swollen feet."
Upon Oedipus\' ascension to manhood, the Oracle at Delphi once again spewed
its prophecy forth, this time, with the foretelling that Oedipus shall kill his
father, whom he thought to be the king that had raised him as his own, and marry
his mother. Oedipus, like Laius, was indeed frightened of such a dire fate, and
thus resolved to leave his land and never return, so that the prophesy may not
be fulfilled. Oedipus tried to travel as far away from home as he possibly
could, and along his journey, he crossed paths with a man who infuriated him
with his rudeness. Oedipus killed the man without the knowledge that that man
was indeed his father Laius and ultimately, half of the prophecy had been
And when he came to Thebes, the remaining portion of the prophecy was
fulfilled as he became the champion of the city with his warding off the Sphinx,
hence winning the hand of his own mother Jocasta in marriage. Together they
bore four children, and Oedipus\' dire fate had been fulfilled, all without his
knowledge. The Theban Plays begin with a plague that ravages the city of Thebes,
and Oedipus sets out to find the cause. At length, he discovers that he himself
is the cause for he was guilty of both patricide and incest. When that
realization is manifested, the utter shock and disgust of the horrific situation
causes the tormented and disillusioned Oedipus to blind himself of a self-
inflicted wound2.
According to some scholars, this was the retribution he paid for his crime,
but others would argue that Oedipus had no choice in the matter and simply had
fulfilled his destiny. The latter argument seems to be more convincing because
Oedipus does not consciously know of what he was doing at the time, and thus,
his crime was not entirely premeditated. And one cannot condemn ignorance no
more than one can realistically condemn good intentions, for Oedipus was both
truly unaware of what he had done and of no desire to harm whom he had thought
to be his parents.
In the aspect of ignorance,