By promoting the idea of fate and destiny, Sophocles suggests that everything in the world is predestined and no one has control over what happens. He hints at the idea that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable. “Your prayers are done. Man cannot flatter Fate, And punishments must come”(251). Through this phrase, Sophocles provides insight on the idea that humans cannot flatter or change fate no matter how intensive our efforts are. He shows that we cannot fight against the relentless laws of fate. At best we may discover what our fate is, but even then, we can only obey. Destiny leads the person who follows voluntarily, and those who resist are dragged by force, and this is reiterated throughout the play. Each time a character obtains some knowledge concerning their future, they take steps to evade that destiny, and those same steps end up leading them right back to that destined path.
Sophocles reveals, that the knowledge of our destiny affects the actions we take, and this, in turn, solidifies our fates even more. Another example of how Sophocles reveals that everything in the world is predestined is through Tiresias “A corpse for a corpse the price, and flesh for flesh, one of your own begotten”(239). With this, Tiresias essentially tells Creon that he will pay the price for Antigone’s death with his own son’s life. Ultimately this prophecy also ends up getting fulfilled. This further illuminates the idea that everything is predetermined. Sophocles is showing us just how powerful our destiny is and that no matter what we do avoid it, we will have to face it eventually. This idea that everything is predetermined and that our timeline is already set is quite a new concept for us in the modern era and brings up many questions. Does knowing our destiny give us purpose or does it limit and restrict us?
People are not constrained by destiny, rather by the learning and understanding of their destiny. Sophocles shows that although fate was thought of as something unknowable and absolutely mysterious, people sought to discern its intentions by turning to the oracles. Through these oracles, Sophocles brings in different prophecies, and the knowledge of these prophecies sparks the characters to take action in different ways.
By showing Antigone the fate of her brothers, Sophocles ignites a spark that carries throughout the play. Antigone believes that she still needs to bury her brother because it is an offense to the Gods to leave a family member unburied. Antigone’s fate was sealed as she decided to bury her brother and face the consequences. When Ismene realizes that Antigone is serious about burying Polyneices she says “You frighten me” Antigone simply replies “Do not fear for me.”(194) At this point Antigone makes it clear that she is doing what she must, to follow the fate that has been decided by the Gods. She is not going to fight this fate.
She knows that following the fate and laws of the Gods is more important than following the laws of man. Because Antigone knew her fate and that it would ultimately lead to imprisonment or death, she gave in and let it consume her by committing suicide. After learning our destiny we tend to only see one path or course of action and this causes us to forget about the other paths in life. We then focus on how or how not to follow that one path. Once we know our fate, it is only human nature to either embrace it or try to avoid it, but sometimes our ego can prevent us from doing either or them.
Sophocles shows us that human nature and ego are the reasons why we cannot change our destinies. At the point when Creon visits the prophet Tiresias, he comes to pass on a notice, not an unavoidable destiny. He expresses that Creon has settled on an awful decision, however that he can still recover. “To err is human, true, and only he is damned who having sinned will not repent, will not repair”(237). With this Sophocles gave Creon more of a choice for this situation and Creon is shown to have control over what occurs, while Oedipus never had a choice, his fate was sealed. Creon had a sizable ego, however, until he passed the point of no return and he was caught in the grasp of a horrible destiny that he could not escape.
Sophocles shows us, that humans cannot change their destinies because of their nature as humans coupled with substantial ego’s. He also shows that Creon’s ego is so vast that even after Tiresias warned him, he thought that only he was right and went on to besmirch the reputation or Tiresias. He went as far as to call all prophets, “a money-grubbing race” and “… still a crook”(238/239). This solidifies Sophocles’ point to a large extent and shows how egotistic people can be, and because of this, we cannot change our destinies. Sophocles suggests that the average human cannot get past his/her ego and this causes us to be prisoners of fate.
Sophocles draws attention to the concept that people cannot alter their destinies because everything is already determined and because of human nature. It is of paramount importance that we understand why Sophocles brings in the concept of fate and destiny in his plays. Sophocles is a widely studied philosopher and his ideas are what shape our perception of Greek civilization, so if we understand what he believed in, then that in turn provides us with insight on what the Greek people as a whole believed. This use of fate as destiny to explain events in the play and in real life provide us with a better understanding of the play and the Ancient Greek civilization as well.