Throughout Oedipus Rex, the importance of fate and the role it plays, provide the structure for a debate of whether or not Oedipus is culpable for his actions. The overarching theme of fate versus freedom is one that magnifies the longevity and resonance of the tragedy.
The prophecy of Oedipus demonstrates a fatalistic attitude and society, which is in turn, a denial of free will. Although at first glance Oedipus operates under free will, his choices ultimately end in the fulfillment of his fate. This element of causal determinism serves to depict how Oedipus truly had to choice in the matter of fate. Oedipus’ curiosity attempts to fight the universal causality of Greek society at the time, but the fatalistic societal beliefs deny the agency of humanity. So what can be interpreted as Oedipus’ somewhat conscious denial of the situation at hand is faultless because, in the end, he cannot fight the prophecy.
Oedipus is seen as a master of all things, except himself. The role of fate separates him from the gods, even though the polis of Thebes see him as such. Even the master is not above fate. The people of Thebes were so quick to proclaim Oedipus the hero and raise him to a god-like status, depicting the importance that the Greeks placed upon their gods. The gods’ served as an explanation to the unexplainable, a scapegoat, a belief system in which humans could be rid of difficult choices. In a sense, they are willingly giving up their free will.
But Oedipus fights this. Despite warnings against finding Laios’ killer, he perseveres in a quest for knowledge, in a quest to save the city he rules. This action reflects a very human quality and demonstrates a weakness of man, and the desire to know the unknowable. He is choosing free will over freedom, and yet he is still a victim of the fatalistic society he lives in. It is an act of human rebellion to reject the easy explanation.
We still struggle with fate versus free will, or more modernly, hard determinism versus hard libertarianism. This philosophical debate helps to eternalize Oedipus Rex, as our search for compatibilism is ongoing.