Free Will In The Odyssey

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Human beings have been baffled by existential questions and conflicts throughout history, and we humans attempt to answer these questions and reconcile these conflicts through various cultural depictions of gods and goddesses, religion, and spirituality. Homer’s The Odyssey and Sophocles’ Oedipus the King provide two interesting examples of how Ancient Greeks sought to define meaning in life, establish and enforce morality, justify social hierarchies, explain powerful forces, and especially to explore the age-old question of whether our lives are tied to fate or whether we exercise free will. In The Odyssey, Homer writes of numerous gods and goddesses, intimately known by his hero Odysseus and his Ancient Greek audience. The gods and goddesses…show more content…
The prophet Teiresias foretold his successful journey, but warned that he would face great difficulty that would surpass the ability of ordinary humans. In The Odyssey, human fate is explicitly tied to the gods and goddesses: their wrath or fury, their desire to show mercy, and the way disputes among themselves are settled. However, the gods and goddesses may sometimes be persuaded to allow exiled humans to earn mercy by proving their worthiness through triumphing in a series of superhuman challenges that ultimately demonstrate their personal spiritual growth. Prophecy is unchanging, but the story suggests that humans can earn favor and places emphasis on the possibility that humans might have some ability to determine their fate as they fulfill prophecy. By contrast, in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, gods and goddesses are depicted more abstractly. If they rule specific powerful forces that impact human lives, or if they have disputes with one another, this is largely unknown. Divine influence is present in human lives as humans believe that their actions will either please or anger the gods and that they may be rewarded or punished accordingly, but humans must seek their fate through oracles and prophets who can tell the future. Humans may try to escape fate with cunning wit or strength, or by trying to earn the favor of the gods by extraordinary acts of bravery or…show more content…
As King of Thebes, Oedipus unknowingly marries his mother, Queen Jacosta, and they have four children together. Oedipus becomes an arrogant tyrant, convinced that he rises nearly to the level of the gods because he was the only mortal who could kill the Sphinx and free Thebes from its destruction. The gods punish Oedipus’ sins with the horrific agony and humiliation that he wished on the cursed soul who killed the King Laius, not realizing that he himself was the guilty party and would suffer the curses he uttered. Both The Odyssey and Oedipus the King explore the vital existential question of how much free will humans have in their lives and what relationship the gods and goddesses have to the fate of human lives. The Odyssey offers a more hopeful prospect, suggesting that mortals might persuade the gods to have mercy and escape the worst of their fate. Conversely, the story of Oedipus the King demonstrates a powerless human condition in which the power of the prophecy ultimately triumphs despite any and all human attempts to thwart
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