How did the ancient Greeks deal with the concept of fate that is the characters have "free will" they are intelligent and their choices are not predetermined but certain events are predetermined. (this is my understanding)
What is Priam just killed Paris as a baby? What if he later killed/exhiled Paris or at least didn't make him the Trojan ambasador? (possibly not canon) What if Priam immediately returned Helen and had Paris killed/exiled? What if Priam made Paris continue the duel until one of him /Menelaus was dead?.. etc

Why couldn't Oedipus just refuse to marry anyone or at least anyone older?

  • 1
    Not entirely sure what you are asking about? These are just stories. Everything you mention could have happened. The result would be... different stories.
    – yannis
    Aug 2, 2019 at 1:56
  • @yannis there seems to be this theme in Greek Mythology that even if the characters made different choices that somehow their fates would still happen at least thats my understanding people talk about Oedipus unable to escape his fate rather than he wasn't gonna ... until he by chance blundered into it while trying to avoid it.
    – Hao S
    Aug 2, 2019 at 4:04

1 Answer 1


A lot of Greek myths dealing with the concept of fate/destiny (Oedipus most clearly), are used to illustrate how you can't escape your fate, no matter how you try or what measures you take, it will always find you and fighting it will only make it worse. That's the main takeaway from these stories, so I think it's safe to say it reflects at least a fairly prevalent attitude of the time.

If you consider myths to be more along the line of fables, with a lesson or some sort of moral, you could say Oedipus couldn't refuse to marry because you can't escape fate. Or you could say he couldn't refuse to marry because his story is also one about hubris and pride, and Oedipus was foolish enough to think he could escape his destiny and had successfully cheated fate by leaving his adoptive parents, and tempted the fate he was already doomed to enact by marrying. He literally sealed his own fate.

Ultimately, from the Greek mythology I've read it seems that the Greek attitude towards fate was somewhat fatalistic- free will is an illusion, the gods are dicks who toy with us for sport, what you have coming will get you sooner or later, have some more wine.

  • When you read these it gives the idea that no matter what you do and you are "free" in this manner and the characters are intelligent but regardless of what choices they make their fate is the same I'm gonna ignore the whole "free will is an illusion" thing makes no sense really and I feel that isn't what the point of fate in the stories is anyways.
    – Hao S
    Aug 2, 2019 at 3:51
  • What do you mean by doomed to enact yes Oedipus by his nature and what he believed thinking of him as a automoton of flesh or of spirit his actions could be considered to be certain and the only thing he would do. But that doesn't seem to be the point of the myths rather it is that what is fated to happen will happen regardless of what choice the characters make. Is it just that they don't take the prophecy/gods seriously enough?
    – Hao S
    Aug 2, 2019 at 4:03
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    I think it's that what is fated will happen no matter what. Oedipus made choices to try and escape his fate (leaving his adoptive home), but it didn't do any good, because fate was inescapable. Aug 3, 2019 at 3:21
  • fifthviolet but how can that work if for instance Oedipus just decides to not marry or kill anyone or if Priam has just returned Helen and agreed to pay tribute to Sparta or just didn't make him ambasador etc
    – Hao S
    Aug 3, 2019 at 4:53
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    @HaoSun Then that would be a very different story. He had other options, but he made these choices, and has to deal with them. He thought he had escaped his fate by leaving home and removing himself from his parents since he didn't know he was adopted, and was therefore free to choose. By still marrying, he seals his fate, and that's where the story comes from. Not much of a story if it's just 'guy leaves home, defies prophecy, manages to live a nice, boring life'. Aug 3, 2019 at 15:41

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