Comparison of Free Will and Fate in the Greek and Modern Society

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A classic theme in almost every ancient play or writing is the conflict between fate and free will. This leads me to question whether our lives are driven by fate or free will… Fate is your destiny, it is the force from the earth/universe that pulls you to where you are meant to be in life. You cannot run from it. No matter how much you try to change your life in order to alter your fate you cannot do it. Free will is on the opposite end of the spectrum where you have the ability to control your own destiny. You are in control of the roads you take and the choices you make, instead of having something controlling you. Free will choices influence the fate of people’s lives in our society.

In Oedipus, the fate of people’s lives were told to them by the Oracle of Delphi. The Oracle told King Laius that his son is destined to kill him and marry his wife Jocaste. After learning this they sent their son, Oedipus, to an island where he was meant to die. Unknowingly to them, he was rescued by a shepherd. After saving him, the shepherd gave Oedipus to the King and Queen of Corinth. Years later, a drunken man made a comment to Oedipus that he was not the real son of King Polybus and Queen Merope. Oedipus visited the Oracle soon after and was told the same story that his real father had heard many years earlier. Again, the story went as he would be the cause of his father’s death and would marry his mother. Once he learns this, he leaves Corinth to avoid the oracle coming true. On the way from Corinth he comes across a man on a highway and is forced to get off the road, and he eventually kills the man, not knowing it was King Laius. Later, Oedipus does indeed wed his mother and has children with her. The story comes to an end when the truth is finally revealed by the one man who had survived Oedipus’ attack on his father. This led to Jocaste’s suicide and the blinding of Oedipus.

As it is evident, fate caught up with Oedipus! Once he realized he had fulfilled his fate he felt so guilty and cursed by his destiny that he chose to blind himself instead of killing himself, because he felt it was a more severe punishment than death. No matter what path he took in life, no matter who he believed his parents were, or what/where he believed he rightfully came from… he ended up in the right village at the right time to kill his father and wed his own biological mother just as the Oracle has said he would. Fate will have its way no matter what lengths you (or other people) go to save you from it, and that is a perfect example of it. The irony of this story was that Oedipus thought he could escape his fate when, in fact, he fulfilled it without even knowing.

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, his character is viewed as being “insane” by the other characters due to the conflict he is having to deal with mentally. He was being viewed as insane because of his choices he made by his free will of thought. Upon returning home to Denmark for his father’s funeral, he finds that his mother, Gertrude, married his uncle after only two months since his father’s death. Hamlet is visited by his dead father’s ghost and told his death was caused by his uncle Claudius. In this moment, he is aware that his father ultimately wants him to kill his uncle, but Hamlet cannot come to that decision unless he has assurance that this very thing is true. He must impose his own free will by deciding what to do to get a certain reaction out of Claudius in order to confirm that the ghost is not lying to him.

Hamlet had become so vengeful, all emotions stemming from his father’s death, that he did not just kill Claudius but also four other men he knew. After doing so, he knew he had just signed his death certificate because of his firm beliefs in his religion. He believed that someone’s fate was not something someone could simply choose. It was something that will merely just happen to someone, and they cannot control or change it. He said, “Nature’s livery, or fortune’s star” (1.4.32) which is another way of saying that someone’s destiny was given to them only by chance.

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According to Shakespeare in Hamlet, “There is a divinity that shapes our ends rough hew them how we will,” and, “the readiness is all”. He believes that there is a fate that awaits everyone. We all formulate some version of our own destiny by the end of our lives. Although he does touch the mere possibility that free will also plays a big part in his life, he knows that it will not change his fate. Once Hamlet confirms that his Uncle Claudius did indeed kill his father, he decides he will avenge his father’s death by killing him. When the moment came to kill him, he was kneeled down praying on the floor. In that particular scene Hamlet conjured up the scenario that if he killed him while he was praying, he would be sent to heaven and not purgatory. In that exact moment, he was using his own free will by the choices he made even though he would still eventually come to kill Claudius.

Fate and free will is one of the major themes for both Hamlet and Oedipus. When Oedipus learns of his fate from the Oracle, he imposes his own free will by trying to run from what was predicted to happen. Some of the choices he made were to prevent the prophecy from coming true. For Hamlet, he knew his fate was death because he was going to and wanted to kill his uncle which, in his religious views, would send him to purgatory. The choices Hamlet made on his own ultimately led to many deaths including his own. Both fate and free will controlled the outcomes for each of the character’s lives. Hamlet came face to face with certain experiences due to the choices he made while Oedipus’ experiences were caused by his fate which was predetermined to him by the Gods.

In Hamlet and Oedipus, they were both suffering what they assumed and were told was their fate, and they knew they could not escape it. In the reader’s perspectives, it was more or less, viewed as being free will rather than fate. Every action they took and every choice they made brought them closer and closer to what was already assumed to be their fate. Their fate, unknowingly, controlled every aspect of their lives.

We must ask ourselves if today’s society is driven by fate or free will. According to religion, some people believe they have an ultimate destiny that awaits them at the end of their life. In the religious perspective, God decides the fate of everyone’s lives. What people do not realize is that we continue to express and utilize our free will in our everyday life. We are all in control of our lives whether we believe so or not.

Fate and free will play very different roles in our lives when you compare the modern society we live in today to the ancient Greece society. Fate was a major theme for them, while free will is for us. In our society, we can choose whether or not to partake in a certain religion or what path in life to take. I am in control of my own destiny and the choices I make because I have the free will to choose and make my own decisions to predetermine the path I will take in life. Although fate does play a role in my life as well. Every choice that I make will have an impact on my individual fate or outcome of my life.

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