On the razor-edge of fate : perceptions of destiny in Sophocles’ Theban plays
Penha Ferreira Vieira, Mariana
The goal of this thesis is to analyse the differences and similarities in the perceptions of fate and aleatory events in the Antigone, the Oedipus Tyrannus, and the Oedipus at Colonus of Sophocles. Rather than dwelling on the anachronistic question of “determinism versus freewill”, the focus will be on the ways in which the characters themselves interpret the things that happen to them in their lifespan, in terms of luck, fate, or things that could have been different had they known better at a given moment of time. The conditions in which they perform the determining actions of their lives will be under scrutiny. Actions that seem to arise from contingency, from the previous moves of other actors, from accidental miscalculation, or even from voluntary offence will be contrasted with those for which there is no visible chain of cause and effect, and that are thus attributed to the desires of the gods or to inborn misfortune. There is, from one play to another, a contrast between authoritative assertions of characters with acknowledged prophetic power (Tiresias in the first two works, Oedipus in the later play) that lead the audience to hope for different things: in the Antigone, it shall be argued, there is more room for the possibility of a timely solution for the conflict, than in the Oedipus Tyrannus, where everything has happened already before the start of the play. In the Oedipus at Colonus, Oedipus’ new status means that he has understood more about the functioning of reality and the workings of destiny. The ways in which the plot structure itself conveys a view on the workings of fate will also be analysed, from the series of coincidences in the Oedipus Tyrannus to the function of the episodes in the other two plays. Even though the Theban plays are not philosophy treatises, the echoes of contemporary philosophical ideas are a constant in their text. Wherever relevant, a contrast with the Presocratic corpus has been made in an attempt to identify some of the thought patterns reused and adapted by Sophocles for his specific purposes and portrayals of the human position in the vaster cosmos.