What you don’t know won’t hurt you. This widely popular piece of advice directly applies to Oedipus. Unfortunately for Oedipus, he is incapable of following such advice. The story begins with the murder of Laius already in the past. As Oedipus learns of Laius’s death, he pursues knowledge of the tragedy and tries to expose the murderer to no end. It is inevitable that Oedipus finds out that it was he who has killed Laius, his father.
Oedipus is a man of swift action and great insight. At the opening of Oedipus the King, we see that these qualities make him an excellent ruler who anticipates his subjects’ needs. When the citizens of Thebes beg him to do something about the plague, for example, Oedipus is one step ahead of them – he has already sent Creon to the oracle at Delphi for advice. But later, we see that Oedipus’s habit of acting swiftly has a dangerous side. When he tells the story of killing the band of travelers who attempted to shove him off the three-way crossroads, Oedipus shows that he has the capacity to behave rashly.
It is not fate precisely; the fact that Oedipus discovers that the prophecy has come true is more of just an unavoidable outcome. Oedipus is human, and therefore has the ability to make choices as such any human can. However, the choices Oedipus’s makes are far from free-willed. Oedipus’s human nature that is the reason why it is inevitable for him to discover that he is the murderer that he seeks. His unwavering curiosity, anxiousness and stubbornness make it hopeless to stop him until he gets exactly what he wants. Oedipus is doomed by his very own disposition. “I shall shrink from nothing in my search to find the murderer of Laius” (p16). When Creon brings news of Laius’s death, Oedipus does not even let him share what he came to report. Instead, Oedipus asks question after question to find out what Creon knows. Oedipus is so bent on finding the truth that he threatens the old shepherd with death. “You will die now, if you don’t give me an honest answer” (85).
Choices are abundant for Oedipus throughout the play. Every time someone suggests he forget the matter he chooses to disregard them. The decisions he makes during his pursuit are not fated at all and have not been prophesied. If Oedipus hadn’t made the decisions and choices he did, it is possible that he may have never uncovered the truth. Certain decisions and choices had to be made to arrive at the truth. However, it is his human nature that directed him to make the choices he did. Everything around him, his responsibility, his experiences have made Oedipus the person he is. He has been molded in such a way that one could predict what choices he would make in almost any situation.
More than just curiosity and stubbornness make up our tragic hero. Part of what makes Oedipus’s character is the responsibility he feels to help those in need. In the beginning, the Priest endows much urgency on Oedipus to save the city of Thebes. “And now, Oedipus, power to whom all men turn, we beg you, all of us here, in supplication – find some relief for us. Noblest of men, we beg you, save this city” (3). Oedipus is a hero, therefore he can not resist this plea for help and must take on whatever challenge confronts him. The Priest continues by proclaiming “You are king; if you are to rule Thebes, you must have an inhabited city, not a desert waste” (4). At this point it is impossible to ignore the plague. It goes against human nature to ignore the situation, and that would be impossible. This places even more responsibility on Oedipus that will fuel him in his quest for the truth.
Jocasta tries to reason with Oedipus “Don’t pay attention prophecies. If god seeks or needs anything, he will easily make it clear to us himself” (50). Yet despite her request, Oedipus still continued his search for answers. Oedipus is so obstinate he will not even take advice from his wife. “I have given him advice, but it does no good” (62). This shows that no one has any influence over the decisions that Oedipus makes except himself.
In many ways Oedipus is warned to end the pursuit for knowledge he is after. When Tiresias comes to Oedipus he has the wisdom that Oedipus craves so badly. Tiresias proclaims “Wisdom is a dreadful thing when it brings no profit to its possessor” (20). Despite the warning, Oedipus follows up with questioning. Reluctant to answer any questions, Tiresias requests to leave. “Dismiss me, send me home” (20). This presents Oedipus with a choice. He can either send Tiresias away with no further questioning or he can keep him and dig for answers. Naturally Oedipus would choose the ladder. Although it seems he has free will over every decision, his nature compelled him to keep Tiresias from leaving so that he could continue badgering him for answers. Oedipus’s questioning lead him to meet with a shepherd. It is the shepherd who offers a final plea for Oedipus to stop asking questions. “In God’s name, master, don’t ask any more questions” (86). One more time Oedipus ignores the warning and forces the shepherd to speak the truth.
Oedipus sends for Tiresias, the blind prophet, and asks him what he knows about the murder. Tiresias responds cryptically, lamenting his ability to see the truth when the truth brings nothing but pain. At first he refuses to tell Oedipus what he knows. Instead he predicts that Oedipus will find out one way or another anyhow. “What is to come will come even if I shroud it in silence” (22). What Tiresias is saying is that even if he were not to tell Oedipus another word, he will find out eventually anyway. Tiresias is human and does not make his prediction based on fate at all. Tiresias is well aware of Oedipus’s nature to pursue knowledge and knows that if he does not get the information he requires from Tiresias, he will search until he gets it from some place else. “You see straight now but then you will see darkness” (28). That line has great meaning. Not only is it a prediction that Oedipus will eventually find the truth, but it also foreshadows Oedipus gouging out his eyes. Tiresias again predicts with certainty. “He will be revealed as a native-born Theban” (31). There is no doubt in his statement. Tiresias is positive in his foretelling. Yet again he points out the truth will be revealed. “He will be revealed as brother and father…” (31). Oedipus curses and insults the old man, going so far as to accuse him of the murder. These taunts provoke Tiresias into revealing that Oedipus himself is the murderer.
In conclusion, I want to reiterate my belief that Oedipus was a victim of his own nature. There is a strong sense of inevitability, not because anything is fated, but because of the circumstances and characteristics of Oedipus. Much advice and many warnings were issued all of which Oedipus ignored. Oedipus was also presented with many choices. If he had decided differently on some of these choices he many have not found out the truth, however in life, decisions are made with heavy influence by human nature. This proved to be Oedipus’s downfall. The choices that lead him to the truth were the only ones a human of that nature could make.