The Athenian World View
Greek drama is filled with tragedy and irony. Yet the idea of man’s destiny is an issue that sometimes appears on the surface and sometimes rides as an undercurrent quietly beneath the action. In Oedipus Rex, king Oedipus tries to escape his destiny by leaving his home. It was foretold that he would murder his father, the king. Unknown to him was the fact that he was an adopted son of the king, so he leaves home in an attempt to alter his destiny. But he kills a traveler who was leaving a city that was cursed. He answers the riddle of the sphinx, which then lifts the curse, and the famine in the city is ended. He is made king for his deed and marries the queen. He later learns that it was his real father that he slew and his real mother that he married. The salient point here is that despite his efforts to alter his destiny, he was trapped by it in an unspeakable irony. It was a destiny fulfilled here on earth that had a real impact on man.
There are many such illustrations of man’s concern with his destiny in Greek drama and literature as it relates to the present life and to a lesser degree, perhaps, to the nether life. Achilles, king of the netherworld, confesses that he would rather be a simple man than king of Hades. Essentially, he raises questions about the status of hero in terms that are meaningful to man’s earthly struggle.