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The Importance of Free Will in Three Theban Plays

One of the key concepts touched upon in all three Theban plays completed by Sophocles is the existence of free will and its influence on human lives. This argument should be mostly based on the idea that each person has a predisposition to autonomy. The only responsibility for people is to realize the areas where they are lacking discipline and understanding and create the best environment for the development of these qualities. Sophocles’ plays focus on human interactions and display interpersonal relationships as the essence of everyday existence, which may be seen as relevant even in today’s world. Within the framework of the current paper, the author is going to focus on the greatness of Oedipus the King while presenting evidence regarding the role of free will from the other two Sophocles’ plays as well.

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The reason why Oedipus the King is the best choice in the case where one decides to discuss free will is that the central topic of the play is prophecy. The fact that many people tend to trust predictions from oracles at Delphi makes Oedipus believe that his future is predetermined, and he will not have a chance to alter at least anything. When one of the prophecies becomes a reality, it turns out that one of Sophocles’ ideas was to address the possibility of justifying the powers of prophets and gods. With numerous prophecies at hand, Oedipus gets taken away by the idea that one’s destiny should remain unchanged, and there is no reason to interfere with oracle predictions. The concept of free will here is outlined as an ability to withstand the temptation to remain idle and give in to the pace of life.

Even though Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone does not follow the same ideas as Oedipus the King, Sophocles accurately aligns the audience against the concept of inevitability and how one shall not argue with fate (Garvie, 2016). Despite the possible accusations mentioning that Oedipus may have been foolish, Sophocles presents the story as something utterly usual, meaning that any of the readers could have been exposed to the same scenario and outcomes. At the end of each of the three plays, the audience becomes aware of Sophocles’ prophecies and the major theme of one being unable to escape their fate irrespective of what they would do to evade the divination. Yet another crucial idea is that Oedipus unknowingly replaced his father on the throne and fulfilled the prophecy while genuinely trying to escape from it. This kind of divine intervention is what bothers Sophocles the most, as he recurrently tries to help the readers associate themselves with the main characters of the three Theban plays.

Even though Sophocles tries to juggle between the concepts of human flaws and uncanny interventions, it is not completely overt what exactly was his view on the fate of Oedipus and his daughter. As a mere human, Oedipus tried to apply his free will and overcome the power of prophecies but failed miserably because life is always full of unexpected events that seem to lead to the same outcomes over and over again. Across all three Theban plays, Sophocles develops the idea of humans being prone to errors and disasters, notwithstanding their actions and beliefs. Therefore, free will is a myth for Sophocles which he describes as the need to give in to humility and fate instead of trying to evade prophecies.


Garvie, A. F. (2016). The plays of Sophocles. Bloomsbury Publishing.

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