The Kid Next Door's Imaginary Friend
A defining feature of Greek and Roman tragedies is gods punishing mortals for their behavior on Earth. From the self-vanity of Narcissus to the forbidden love of Phaedra. These written and oral tragedies served as lessons to obey the commanding gods. If mortals disobey the gods they face a fate worse than death, either by causing the utmost anguish to their family or left to spend an eternity of suffering. In the Roman tragedy Oedipus, adapted by Seneca in the 1st century A.D., the gods play a more influential role than fate. The Roman gods act as puppet masters over mortals, pulling strings to reign down blessings or destruction. The gods write each individual’s fate. The gods created a cruel and shameful fate for Oedipus when he was still in his mother’s (and future wife’s) womb. Oedipus’s fate, to kill his father and marry his mother, is a possible future. When Oedipus tries to avoid this possibility the gods, not fate, punish him. The gods punish Oedipus by making his possible future his actual future. The gods are more powerful than fate because they manipulate reality, transfer messages through oracles and reward or punish a mortals’ behavior. Fate is a future created and controlled by the gods.
The gods planned Oedipus’ possible future but he didn’t have to kill his father and marry his mother. The fate Oedipus heard from the oracle was merely a test from the gods. Fate is only powerful because the gods wanted mortals to fear their possible future and in turn respect and pray to the gods. However, when Oedipus tried to control his fate, he failed the gods’ test. Instead of praying and asking the superior deities to change his fate, Oedipus tried to outwit and flee the gods. By fleeing Corinth, Oedipus angered the gods. In return, they manipulated reality so Oedipus would stumble unknowingly upon his shameful original fate. “The oracle warned me of this, and says I will commit another, even greater crime. Is any sin more terrible than killing one’s own father? As a loyal son, I blush to speak about my fate…Fear of this oracle exiled me from my father’s kingdom, for this reason I ran away from home and my household gods.” Oedipus’s fate didn’t actively seek him; it was the gods that pushed Oedipus closer to the fate they wanted. The gods’ ability to manipulate the mortal world to their liking makes them stronger than fate. The gods deliberately put King Laius in Oedipus’ path. As Creon explained, King Laius wasn’t looking for a battle, “he was going to the leafy groves of holy Castalia. The road he trod was overgrown with thorns, till he came to a three-fork crossroad, branching to the plain.” The gods watched the fight erupt, subtly pulling Oedipus’ puppet strings until he fulfilled his fate and killed King Laius, who, unbeknown to Oedipus, was his father. The way Oedipus became King of Thebes was also through the will of the gods. Oedipus wasn’t looking for Thebes; he was escaping who he thought were his biological parents, King Polybus and Merope. Oedipus says, “An exile, released from anxiety, wandering without fear, I happened on a kingdom…Would you have expected a healthy kingdom in reward for your enormous guilt.” Oedipus arrived in Thebes. The reward for defeating the beastly Sphinx was a marriage to the Queen, his real mother. The gods played on Oedipus’s desire to be a hero, knowing he wouldn’t resist the opportunity to defeat the beast no one in the city could. Oedipus says, “Nor did I run from those dark, riddling words woven by the Sphinx. Though the ground was scattered white with bones, I faced the creature’s bloody jaws.” The gods used Oedipus’s own arrogance so he would reach the fate they wanted. Oedipus didn’t realize what he had done until the gods were ready for him to know. The gods were so angry with Oedipus defying their power they built him up, made him king just to knock him down from a higher pedestal. The gods manipulated the mortal world so Oedipus would fulfill the fate he desperately tried to flee. The gods have the power to bring a mortal to his disastrous fate or change it all together. Oedipus not only met his original fate but it was much worse than he feared. Fate depends on the whim of the gods and their feelings for the mortal. Oedipus’ didn’t have to meet his fate. He was arrogant, curious and disrespectful to the gods. In return, they manipulated the mortal world until Oedipus fell into their traps and into the fate the Gods wanted for him.
Oracles transfer messages and reinforce the gods’ power and prestige. They are also a test. The gods want to see how a man reacts to hearing his fate. Several oracles and Oedipus’s brother-in-law try to tell him his fate. And yet, Oedipus tries to prove gods’ messengers wrong. The oracles don’t tell Oedipus every detail of his life because the gods, not fate, control a mortal’s life. If fate was inevitable the oracles could tell a mortal the whole future. Oedipus’s future depends on his behavior in the present and how the gods feel. Oracles are ploys in the gods’ constant test of mortals. Tiresias, the main oracle of Thebes, was granted ‘the eye’ as compensation from Jupiter after his wife, Juno, made him blind as revenge.  The gods control what the oracles see. Tiresias says “These are mysterious; usually the gods reveal their anger plainly. What is it that they want to have revealed, but also do not want to show? Why do they hide their rage?” In Seneca’s Oedipus, the brother in law, Creon, takes the role of an oracle. Upon his return, Creon reluctantly tells Oedipus what he saw.
“Laius! I shudder to tell it. He looked terrible, his whole body covered with blood, his matted dirty hair covered up his eyes. His voice was desperate: ‘Savage house of Cadmus, always happy with your family’s blood, shake the thyrsus, tear your children up with hands possessed.”
Oedipus’s curiosity and arrogance increase his punishment and further angers the gods. In the paper, Oedipus Rex: Fate, Truth and Self-Will, Guo Yuehua writes, “all his (Oedipus’s) sufferings are destined and brought about by the gods…It also seems impossible that anybody can escape the fate decided by the gods, and the result of such misbehavior will only bring disaster to humans.” The oracles are evidence gods are stronger than fate because they control what the oracles see and say. The fate and the future the oracles see depends on how the gods feel.
Fate is a possible future that only changes if the gods want to reward or punish a man. A man’s original fate is not a punishment but a test. After all, Oedipus’s fate was designed before he was born. Upon hearing his fate the gods watched Oedipus’s reaction. However, his arrogance and disobedience showed the gods he deserved to meet his shameful fate. As Yeuhua wrote, “perhaps it is because of his strong character that he (Oedipus) refused to believe that his fate would be under the control of gods or he is endowed with out the power to change his own fate.” Oedipus tried to change and outwit the gods’ plans. Therefore, the gods changed Oedipus’s fate and plagued the whole kingdom of Thebes. The gods worsened Oedipus’s future as a punishment for his disobedient behavior. Oedipus’s behavior during the plague over Thebes, although noble to his citizens, further angered the gods. Oedipus says, “Gods, you are too cruel! Fate is too harsh! Death is so easily come-by, but to me alone, of all the populace, it is denied.” Therefore, the gods are more dominant because they changed Oedipus’s original fate. The gods didn’t inform Oedipus of his shame after his marriage to Jocasta. They waited until he gained respect by the citizens of Thebes and fathered four children. The gods added to Oedipus’s original fate because he failed their tests and acted dishonorably. They could have relieved Oedipus of his fate if he respected and prayed to the gods. No oracle told Jocasta, King Laius or Oedipus he would become the King of Thebes. The gods worsened Oedipus’s fate based on his behavior on Earth. Fate didn’t change on its own; it changed because of the gods’ anger. After Oedipus realizes he has fulfilled his fate he returns to fearing the gods. He realizes their power and his mistakes.
“The greatest crime in Thebes is mother-love. Land of my fathers, you are ruined not by the anger of gods but by your crimes. The plague wind did not blast you, your destruction was not from lack of rain to cause a drought; it was a blood-stained king, who took the throne as a reward for murder and- abomination!-seized his father’s bed.”
Oedipus’ reaction shows that the gods are more powerful than fate. He apologizes to the gods, not fate, for his bad behavior. He also realizes the plague is an added punishment from the gods for his arrogance, self-will and curiosity.
Fate can seemingly punish many people for one person’s actions. Oedipus’ fate resulted in the death of King Laius and Jocasta, she killed herself after hearing the truth and finding Oedipus had gouged out his eyes with his bare hands. The theory of fatalism, a popular antiquity theory, is the idea that what happens, or has happened, in some sense has to, or had to happen. This theory gives fate more power than the gods. The philosophy suggest that no matter what one does they will meet their fate. Robert Solomon in an essay on Fate and Fatalism says, “Whatever happens must happen: it’s the outcome that matters the path towards it is less significant.” Oedipus has been used as an example of fatalism. That no matter what Oedipus did, like fleeing Corinth, he was continuously on the path towards his fate. The theory suggests that neither man nor God can change fate. The events, like Oedipus meeting King Laius, his landing in Thebes, solving the Sphinx’s riddle and marrying Jocasta had to happen so his fate would come true. It wasn’t controlled or manipulated by man or the gods. These events just had to happen for Oedipus to meet his fate. The theory however, isn’t clear about where fate comes from. Fate isn’t randomly assigned to a person nor is it set in stone. Oedipus fled Corinth and the couple he thought were his parents because he knew fate can change. He thought he could change his own fate however that power was in the hands of the gods. Nonetheless, the gods still have that power. They can change a mortal’s fate and future depending on his behavior on life’s journey.
The gods and fate play a powerful role in Roman antiquity. In Seneca’s Oedipus, a man’s attempt to flee the possible future designed by the gods leads to his downfall. Oedipus failed the gods’ tests. Upon hearing his fate from the oracle Oedipus tried to outsmart the gods, he didn’t pray for forgiveness. His behavior had to be punished. And as this punishment the gods manipulated the world until Oedipus met his fate. The one thing he wanted to avoid. Oedipus fled his fate. But, fate didn’t chase Oedipus. The gods manipulated Oedipus journey until he met his fate.
 Seneca. Six Tragedies. “Oedipus.” Tr. Emily Wilson, World’s Classics, Oxford 2010. Page 41.Lines 16-23.
 Seneca. Page 48. 276-278.
 Seneca. Page 41. Lines 13-14. Lines 35-36.
 Seneca. Page 45. Lines 92-93.
 Ovid. Metamorphoses. “Book 3.” Tr. Charles Martin, New York: Norton, 2004. Page103-104.
 Seneca. Page 49. Lines 330-333
 Seneca. Page 57. Lines 623-629
 Yuehua, G.. “Oedipus Rex: Fate, Truth and Self-will/Oedipus Rex: Destin, Verite, Entetement.” Canadian Social Science 2, no. 4 (January 1, 2006): 45-49.
 Yeuhua. 2006. Page 47.
 Seneca. Page 43. Lines 83-85.
 Seneca. Page 57. Lines 630-636.
 Solomon, Robert C. “On Fate and Fatalism.” Philosophy East and West 53.4 (2003): 435-454. Project MUSE. Web. 4 Mar. 2012.
 Solomon. 2003. Page 250
Ovid. Metamorphoses. “Book 3.” Tr. Charles Martin, New York: Norton, 2004.
Seneca. Six Tragedies. “Oedipus.” Tr. Emily Wilson, World’s Classics, Oxford 2010.
Solomon, Robert C. “On Fate and Fatalism.” Philosophy East and West 53.4 (2003): 435-454. Project MUSE.
Yuehua, G.. “Oedipus Rex: Fate, Truth and Self-will/Oedipus Rex: Destin, Verite, Entetement.” Canadian Social Science 2, no. 4 (January 1, 2006): 45-49.