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The ancient Greeks cared deeply about the pursuit of knowledge. Although truth was often a
terrifying concept, they still saw it as a critical virtue and theatre was one way in which the
ideas of knowledge and truth were examined. Many Greek dramatists use the self-realization
of their characters to underscore the themes of their tragedies. Sophocles, for one, uses the
characters transformation of Oedipus, together with the plot, to highlight the theme of his
famous work Oedipus Rex.

Those classical Greek dramatists have given the world major literary themes. One of such
themes is “Fate”. According to Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language,
the word “Fate” is defined as, “The principal or determining cause or will by which things in
general are believed to come to be as they are or events to happen as they do : “Destiny.”
Gatera (2000)1 thinks that, “the way of accepting every event which occurs in human life or
in nature varies: some accept it, others reject it but the last decision does not come from
mortal human beings.” The theme of “Fate” is applicable to Oedipus and his lineage in
Sophocles’s three Theban plays: Antigone, Oedipus Rex, and Oedipus at Colonus and to
Rwandan genocide victims so much in their unavoidable death.


In view of social changes which are at a rapid rate, there is an urgent need to sort out the real
causes of conflict and spiritual unhappiness that prevail in our world today. Every person
needs to find out vital elements which can inspire his plans, lead his movements and provide
meaning to his contact to the world. It is not easy to explain their goals despite the wealth,
the power, the strength and other gifts they have got.

Gatera, G. P. (2000) Fate in Nigerian-Igbo Society as Reflected by Achebe’s Fiction. Unpublished BA

Similarly, people are struggling over many religious issues, some attributing human suffering
to divinities, thus advocating total submission to them, others questioning whether their lives
are results of fate or free will so that they could live independently from divinities.

Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex demonstrates a fundamental relationship between man’s free will
and fate which most people believe to guide the universe towards some harmonious purpose.
“Fate” being “that power which predetermines what will happen so that it cannot be avoided
for what is fated will happen no matter what we do.” Dovid (1998)2

Attempting to explain how both concepts of “fate” and “free will” are serious problems, one
must note that the specific concern of the present study is to explore “fate” in Sophocles’s
play Oedipus Rex. The present study also seeks to know whether there are things that
“unavoidably befall a person in a way that he cannot turn the course of events or act by free
will”. Grolier (1997)3

The theme of fate is applicable to Rwandan Tutsi lineage as far as their planned
extermination is concerned. Their attempt to self-realization and to the quest for truth after
the undeserved death that befell them before and in 1994 leads to their spiritual and moral
fragility. Nevertheless, their lore to deal with such calamities explains their resilience, and
despite the horror of that collective fate, they have to move on.

Grolier (1997) Multimedia Encyclopedia CD-Rom « Fate » Also available on internet,


In carrying out the present research, I was fascinated by a number of things:

I was mostly fascinated by the theme of fate, probably the most consistent and pervasive in
all of Sophocles’s plays. Thus, we made the assumption that Oedipus Rex would illustrate
that theme given that its central conflict is built on the accomplishment of a prophecy.

Another particular interest in the theme of fate is that it has received the least attention in
analysis of Greek plays in our Department of English while it is probably the most prominent
controversial in current discussions, especially in a country like ours which has seen a group
of its people undergoing a collective fate.

The choice of Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex among his other plays has been motivated by the
fame of its protagonist Oedipus who has been the subject of numerous theories among which
Freudian Oedipus complex. So, the present study comes with the intention of seeking how to
explain the causes of human suffering in terms of “fate”. As human suffering is as old as
humanity, the present study seeks to help understand the origin of some phenomena that take
place in human life – natural disasters, sudden deaths-and the role of divinities in it.

The supernatural intervention to secure the continuity of life, even after life, is central to
Rwandan society where there is no king, no supreme authority to decide on people’s destiny.
Fate as presented in this paper is a universal reality. Sophocles deals with tragic experience
and profound human issues and the study of his work offers his readers a chance to make an
objective criticism of both Greek and Rwandan traditional cultural beliefs. Rwandans believe
that men are not brought to a better and higher position because of their personal
achievements or efforts. Nature always puts down any individual who is aspiring and
determined by all means to achieve status, wealth and fame. “Pride goes before fall” they say.
The constant obsession to personal success is well expressed in terms of fatal greed, “death
that will kill man begins as an appetite”.

On the other hand, we need to understand whether the painful knowledge of truth is more
important than naiveté as Oedipus’s quest for truth brings about his own destruction as well
as the search for truth about genocide victims brings about social marginalization,
intimidations and threats to genocide survivors. Taking these reasons into consideration we
found it worth the time, effort and expense required to carry out the present study.


The aim of this study is to depict different situations which are characteristic of fate in its
features. Particular attention of this motive of fate is directed to Oedipus the protagonist of
the Sophocles’s play and to Rwandan genocide victims both subjected to tragic fate. So,
subject matter associated with the theme of fate will be dealt with all along this study.
The role of fate is often quite big in tragedy, especially in Greek tragedy. For the present
study could not call in all Greek tragedies it has been limited to Sophocles’s play. It would
also be erroneous to claim that this study would deal with all plays by Sophocles. It only
dealt with the theme of fate in “Oedipus Rex” and its relationship with Rwandan genocide
victims. In the present study I intended to highlight impersonal forces that work in
individuals and cause their downfall. Though those forces are found in Greek tragedies, they
bear an ethical meaning that can help other individuals recover their humanity, especially
Rwandans who lost their human dignity during the genocide considered so far as collective
fate. I also intended to explain the impact of socio-cultural beliefs on man’s everyday life,
beliefs that sometimes lead him to adopting unworthy means to escape his destiny or place it
on his fellows, trying to change the course of events. Aided by Sophocles’ exposition of fate,
I intended to put forward some lessons drawn from the failure of Oedipus representing the
old generation in order to suggest optimistic ways for our generation and generations to


Many critics have found interest in commenting on the concepts of “fate” and “free will” in
Oedipus Rex. So, given the fact that the present study is not the first work on the issue, it is
necessary to have a brief review of previous studies on it:

Brooks argues that the play is an irony:

As we have seen, this play is a tissue of ironies: Oedipus by attempting
to circumvent his fate, has insured its realization; the Sphinx’s riddle
turns upon the question “What is man?” and Oedipus, who thought
that he knew the answer, finds at the end that he did not know what
he himself was; Oedipus who saves Thebes from the Sphinx cannot
save himself. Oedipus’s curse upon the murderer of Laius has been
unconsciously a curse on himself.4

Some modern readers are fully satisfied with what Brooks offers because many people ask
themselves what Oedipus could have done to avoid the fate which overtakes him and, if they
can find no such preventive step indicated, they feel that Oedipus is simply a passive,
helpless victim of fate. And others share a closely related feeling that Oedipus is not a guilty
man who deserves his fate. Unlike Brooks, Monroe C. Beardsley (581) asserts that
“Oedipus’s downfall arises from the ignorance of his identity. In his book Theme and Form:
An Introduction to Literature (1969) Beardsley attributes Oedipus’s fate to himself as if he
deserves it.

Dennis wrote in The Literary Spirit:

The questions raised in this play are universal and its Mythology
(narratively expanded symbol) is as significant to us and our efforts
of understanding reality and humanity as it was to the Periclean
Athenians of 430 B.C. Are we masters of our own fate who fall
because of some flaw in our character, or are we merely pawns
of fate or some larger reality?5

Brooks, C. (1948) Understanding Drama. New York: Holt, Rinehard and
Winston, Inc.
Dennis, J. S. (1988) The Literary Spirit. New Jersey: Prentice Hall

Many more writers have studied Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex in terms of fate and free will:
Calvin S. Brown in Masterworks of World Literature6, Judah Bierman in The Dramatic
Experience7, Egger Max in Histoire de la Tragédie Grecque8, Jean Defradas in La
Littérature Grecque9, Gabriel Germain in Sophocle10 ,Jacqueline de Romilly in La Tragedie
Grecque11 to name only few.

Though few memoirs have studied the theme of fate in our Department of English, there is
not yet any paper that has focused on the theme of fate in Oedipus Rex while it is applicable
to Rwandan Tutsi lineage as far as the undeserved death that befell them before and in 1994
is concerned. So, our contribution here is to show that, regardless of his too enduring to be a
human being and undergo fatalistic circumstances, Oedipus does not show the standard of
what a man can achieve and endure, unlike Rwandans, especially after being subjected to
unavoidable fate. Instead, man can still live decently and heroically even in circumstances in
which he faces destruction. Honorable men, though sent in exile because they hold diverse
opinions which they cannot disguise, have to remain heroes in the struggle for life. Though
treated as enemies and put to death, having committed no crime or wickedness, simply
because they were enlightened, they have to show their resilience instead of resorting to
blaming themselves for what they did not choose to be like. Otherwise, Sophocles’s hero
teaches that no one is the centre of the world and our role here is to depict the Rwandan
belief that no one is supposed to think that everything should move in reference to him.

Brown, C. S. (1970) Masterworks of World Literature. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.
Bierman, J. (1958) The Dramatic Experience. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc.
Egger, M. (1966) Histoire de la Tragédie grecque. Paris: Mellottée.
Defradas, J. (1960) La Littérature Grecque. Paris: Librairie Armand Colin.
Gabriel, G. (1969) Sophocle. Sueil: Ecrivains de Toujours.
Romilly, J. (1970) La Tragédie Grecque. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.


Sophocles’s plays reveal how man is affected by fate and as a matter of fact it has an impact
on him. They tackle a serious existential issue, for they do not remain inside the Greek
society but extend to the entire humanity to alert to the concepts of “fate” and “free will”
providing wisdom that fits the requirements of socio-cultural, political, and economic
changes of matters.
Given that the psychology of man can be influenced by both historical and social events, the
three methodologies: historical-biographical, sociological, and psychological approaches
have been combined to clearly make the study much more efficient, accurate and concise.
Since a literary work has, on the one hand, been studied through its social milieu, it has to
apply the sociological approach. In this regard, H.A Taine in his History of English
Literature12 advocated the dependence of meaning upon the environment. He said that “Race,
Milieu et Moment” do play a major role in the understanding of a literary work, “This
approach sees a literary work chiefly, if not exclusively as a reflection of the author’s life and
times or the life and time of the characters in the work.” 13 This is why in the case of
Sophocles, his biography and both the history and social environment of Greece help much
in the understanding of his plays, simply because it is perfectly true that our understanding of
a play may depend on knowledge of the ideas and customs of the period in which it was
On the other hand, the content of Sophocles’s plays requires a psychological approach for it
deals with existential issues; the impact of social and cultural beliefs on our mind, and
phenomena that come out of them. So, sociological and psychological approaches have been
used because the story deals with human beings that undergo all kinds of social,
environmental, economic and psychological effects among themselves. With regard to the
division of the work, the study of fate in Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex and its application to
Rwandan genocide victims was based on a method that motivated the division of the work
into three chapters, apart from the general introduction and conclusion.

Taine, H. A (1972) History of English Literature. New York: Randon House.
Wilfred, L. Guérin et al. (1979) A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature. 2nd ed. New York :
Harper and Row.pp.25-26.

The first chapter presents the theoretical framework, provides definitions and reviews the
literature of the concept of fate from various angles. The second chapter is concerned with
the study of the hero’s fate in Oedipus Rex through theme, plot, focus, action, characters, and
language symbolism. Otherwise put, it portrays Oedipus and his interaction with fate. The
third and last chapter explores fate in the Rwandan society, much attention being paid to
genocide ideologies that contributed to the collective fate of 1994.



In Sophocles's play, as in other works we have read, we encounter an obviously

important notion, the role played by fate or the fates. The emphasis placed on
these words (and sometimes the personalities representing them) gives to the
stories and the vision of life they hold up something we might call a fatalistic
quality. What exactly does this mean? What does a text mean when it invokes the
concept of fate?

Almost everyone will offer a definition of his quality, but it's surprising how
those definitions can often differ. So let us attempt to clarify what, for the
purposes of this study and beyond, we understand by these important terms.

To invoke the concept of fate or to have a fatalistic vision of experience is,

simply put, to claim that the most important forces which create, shape, guide,
reward, and afflict human life are out of human control. i.e. There is something
else which, in effect, sets and controls the rules of our lives, determining most or
all things of particular importance to us: our good and bad fortune, our happiness
and sorrow, and, above all, our death.

To have a fatalistic sense of life is to hold that in this game of life, the rules, the
flow of play, the success or failure of My team (and My contribution to that), and
so on are out of the control of any human being or collection of human beings.
The outcome and all the various stages of the game are determined from non-
human sources.

The terms fate and fatalistic do assert, however, that something or someone is in
control, and hence the universe does not operate by chance. We may have little
idea of why fate works the way it does (although differing fatalistic vision will
provide different senses of just how much we can know and deal with fate), but at
least there is something outs controlling what goes on.

To assert that chance rules all things (as Jocasta does in the play) is to claim that
there is little we can do to control things and nothing we can learn about it, since
the concept of chance suggests that what occurs is quite arbitrary, unrelated to
any higher system of order or meaning.

All these points are clear enough, but it is important to insist upon them, because
(as we shall mention later) such fatalism is, in many ways, profoundly different
from what we believe nowadays, and thus books which hold up a fatalistic view
of life (and that includes almost all books up until the eighteenth century) can
provide difficulties for us, especially since a fatalistic view of life in some ways
challenges some of our most cherished beliefs and can make us profoundly
uncomfortable (a factor which is, of course, something which can make such
books uniquely valuable to us).

If we hold a fatalistic world view or believe in fate, it is not uncommon to give that fate a
name or series of names, that is, to provide some way of talking about or picturing such fatal
forces. Hence arises (according to many scholars of Myth) the entire concept of divinity or a
divine family—superhuman personalities (who may or may not have human forms and

attributes) who control the rules and the events of our lives according to their own principles,
which may or may not be intelligible to us.
In his Vocabulaire Technique et Critique de la Philosophie André Lalande argues that fate is
‘ Puissance naturelle ou surnaturelle, mais supérieure à l’homme, dont l’action se manifeste
par ce fait que certains événements sont fatals’14. A natural or supernatural power beyond
man’s control, which is manifested by the fact that some events are fatal. (Translation is

This belief that the course of events is fated, that is, decreed or laid down independently of
the wills and acts of individual men has been subject of many critics. Due to the fact that fate
applies, not to everyday affairs, but to greater affairs- our deaths, our souls’ salvation, war
and peace or social revolutions- which are fated no matter what we may do, its study has
captured the interest of many theorists.
Developed from classical Mythology, especially Greek Mythology in which it was attributed
to the Fates, three sisters goddesses ( called Moirai by Greeks and Parcae by Romans) who
determine the course of human life, to some ‘fate’ was considered a mere conviction of
impotence and to others an affirmation that some metaphysical power has decided the issue.

It is sometimes inevitable to view theories of fate without making allusion to fatalism in its
various phases, that is, the belief that all things come inevitably upon the human race by
blind destiny, with no god to send, direct, or avert them, or the belief that there is a power
above the gods to which they themselves are subject or, according to Sophocles and other
Greek thinkers, the belief that all things come by pure chance.

Fatalism which is most at home in the Orient, is often applied to determinism, the view that
everything, hence every act of will, is the inevitable effect of causes. Since this asserts the
universality of causation, it is almost opposite of fatalism which denies it. It is also almost
impossible to tackle fate without evoking the history of the Fates which are said to be behind
the course of events.

Lalande, A. (1965) Vocabulaire Technique et Critique de la Philosophie. Paris: Maisonneuve

The three sisters goddesses, first named by Hesiod in the 18th century B.C. as “Clotho who
spins the thread of life, Lachesis who measures it, and Atropos who servers it.”15 Although
they were sometimes worshipped in Greece, they are described chiefly in poetry and their
genealogy and characteristics vary in different periods. Homer mentions Moirai in the plural
only once, and he describes the goddess Moira as assigning to every man his destiny. Hesiod
says that fates are daughters of Zeus whom they serve and Thetis. Later poets give them other
parents and frequently make them independent of the other gods. They are pictured
sometimes a grave maidens, and sometimes as hideous old women. The Romans name them
“Nona, Decuma, and Morta.”16


Giving fate a name or series of names is a necessary imaginative act; or it permits the human
subject to such fate to understand his situation. Such a symbolic construct makes the most
important features of human life emotionally intelligible, allowing me to explain and
generally to accept the game we are all in, even if we are conscious that we did not choose it
and we can imagine a better one. It also permits me in the process to establish a relationship
between different people who assessed the definitions of fate.


Born at Amsterdam on 24th July 1632 of Portuguese-Jewish parentage, Benedict Spinoza was
personally the most aloof and isolated of beings and his chief aim was to show how men
could make the universe their home and acquire a feeling of kinship with all creatures. Exiled
at an early age from his own community, Spinoza sought communion with a society more
permanent than that of man, and one which was based upon the order of Nature and of God.
In his return for his devotion to Nature and to God, however, he did not suppose that either
the one or the other should condescend to take any particular interest in his own welfare. But
in his Monistic Theory he argued that “when man takes himself separately, he takes himself

The World Book Encyclopedia vol.15 (1977) Chicago :Field Entreprises Educational
Encyclopedia Americana VOL.18 New York: American Corporation.

solemnly and therefore creates triviality; whereas if he realizes his dependence upon what is
greater-God or Nature- he attains to true dignity and peace of mind.” 17 Spinoza’s pantheistic
and necessarianism also held that the course of universe is an iron- bound necessity, that
there is no room anywhere for chance or contingency.

According to him and other pantheists and materialists, all changes are but an expression of
unchanging law. They argue that there is an eternally established providence overruling the
world, but it is in every aspect immutable. Nature, according to him and to other stoics, is an
unbreakable chain of cause and effect. Thus, providence is the hidden reason contained in the
chain and fate or destiny is the external expression of this providence or the instrumentality
by which it is carried out. It is owing to this that the forecast of the future is possible to the

Spinoza’s critics, in contrast, points out that man is no longer responsible if he commits a
crime nor deserves praise in recompense for his good deeds, that God is the author of sin,
that rewards and punishments have their use as motives, that evil is merely limitation and
therefore not real and whatever is real is good.

To understand the philosophy of Spinoza is to appreciate its blend of Christian, Mystical and
Jewish thought for it is Christian in its serenity and compassion, Mystical in its visionary
character and Jewish in its spiritual obstinacy. Spinoza resembles the Old Testament prophets
in nothing so much as in his insistence that “you cannot serve two masters”. He says that
once we are to obey God there must be no complaint and that once we have surrendered to
Him, we shall find that “his service is perfect freedom”. He argues then that we are by nature
linked with God and to become conscious of this dependence is what is meant by freedom.
That freedom results from a clear and dispassionate awareness of our dependence upon
universal and divine laws is the cornerstone of Spinoza’s ethical teaching. He and his
disciples rejected the idea that everything, every act of will is the inevitable effect of causes.

Tomlin, E. W. F.(1959) Great Philosophers of the West.Essex: Arrow Books Ltd

Moreover, his theory of Substance holds that if there is a substance at all, it must both depend
upon itself and provide the ground of everything else and such substance must therefore be
equivalent to God, for only God possesses the characteristics of being at once self-caused and
the cause of everything. In a word, Spinoza holds that each event in man’s everyday life is
the will of a self-caused substance or God. So, if we do not surrender to Him we surrender to
chaos for he is the only cause of everything.


St Thomas Aquinas follows Aristotle in asserting that the “Form” is that which gives being to
a thing and makes it what it is; further that all forms are in some way linked with matter,
except the form of God, the Form of forms. St Thomas also holds that human life,
particularly human mind, is committed to a standard which prevents his intellect from being
converted into something different, and possibly mischievous. That standard is Reason. In the
same, according to him, the human will is committed to a standard which, as long as it
remains uppermost, preserves the will as a free instrument. That standard is the Good. The
onset on sin is due entirely to man’s natural and sensual nature rising up and suspending the
will’s operations.

St Thomas refused to entertain the paralyzing notion which Augustine came to embrace with
excessive fervor; namely that human souls are predestined to salvation or damnation. So
great was his respect for Reason, and so ample his conception of it, that he held the Divine
Will itself to be motivated by Reason. To him, if there were any predestination to sin, it was
not of the deterministic kind of St Augustine; it was a moral predestination. The sinner
ultimately comes to choose damnation. Otherwise, it is not his sin that condemns him, but
someone else’s. St Thomas fully rejects deterministic view of fate for a man may feel loss of
initiative on hearing that all his acts are determined by his acts. Sometimes confused with
determinism and fatalism is the logical doctrine that truth, including truth about man’s future,
is eternal (“What is to be is to be”). Another consideration is that St Thomas’s distinction
between perfect happiness for man and imperfect happiness fits on to another idea which he

had earlier exploited, that though man is at an infinite distance from God, his natural destiny
is to make progress Godward even if no one can tell him without revelation that there is any
prospect of his arriving. He says ‘Man is like Zeno’s tortoise; he will have much pleasure of
search and some partial pleasure of possession, but it is God’s secret that He is going to meet
man more than halfway.’


The idea of destiny was of course inseparable from Greek tragedy. Its prevalence was one of
the conditions that presided over art from its birth, and unlike Aeschylus who wrestles with
gods; Sophocles simply accepts it, both as a datum of tradition and a fact of life. But in the
free handling of Sophocles even fate and providence are adminicular to tragic art. They are
instruments through which sympathetic emotion is awakened, deepened, intensified. And,
while the vision of the eternal and unwritten laws was holier yet, for it was not the creation
on any former age, but rose and culminated with the Sophoclean drama, still to the poet and
his Periclean audience this was no abstract notion, but was inseparable from their
impassioned contemplation of life of man-so great and yet so helpless, aiming so high and
falling down so far, a plaything of the gods and yet essentially divine.

Sophocles believes that fate is something that no human being can run from, no matter what
they do or where they hide and that people do not understand that control is an illusion and is
nothing more than something for people to believe in so that they do not feel scared, while
living in this world that is based upon fate. People will always think that they control their
lives even though they do not. He argues that Freewill is also an illusion that is put out by
society; people believe that society gives them choices but really everybody’s life is set up
and is up to fate. Sophocles also thinks that fate is what tells a man how he is going to live
his life and how everything in his life is going to happen. Fate can either be on a person’s
side or against a person’s side and luck is what can weight fate towards a person or against a

Sophocles also asserts that “fate is a universal continuum, which holds no direct path, and
has few time constraints to limit its power and no amount of running, no decisions; no life
alterations can prevent it from coming into being for the Fates that rule the cosmos are
powerful and Mysterious, and we have no right to assume that they are friendly. The human
being who sets himself up to live life only on his own terms, as the totally free expressions of
his own will, is going to come to a self-destructive end.”18

In the end, Sophocles holds that to call a world view fatalist or to believe in fate is not
necessarily to characterize fate as having any particular form. So, for example, a fatalistic
world view might be extremely pessimistic, seeking in the non-human forces an irrational
and often malignant force or personality which has little love for human beings and who
takes a great delight in human suffering and death (or who, at least, permits it without much

Alternatively, a fatalistic world view might well hold that the controlling forces or
personalities of the cosmos are, on the whole, benevolent and friendly and that, if man
attends carefully to what they demand, he may lead a generally satisfying life, perhaps even
going on to some eternal happiness in the life hereafter.


There are conflicting on what fate should be though they all share the sense that there is no
human control over the rules and no method humans can devise or changing such rules, some
being much more pessimistic than others.

Sophocles (1972) The Theban Plays. New York: Viking Penguin Inc.


In psychology, will is the name given to a person’s ability to act purposefully. When you turn
on the light to see what is in the room, you may be said to have willed the action. This type
of act is called voluntary. But when you blink your eyes spontaneously at a flash of light, this
act is not willed, and is called involuntary. Psychologists often think of the will as a special
capacity by which the individual translates his ideas and desires into actions.

Thus, if you desire to improve your grades in school your will can keep you at your books
even though you might be tempted to go having fun. Many present-day psychologists prefer
to use the term will, not to refer to a capacity of mind, but as a name for several factors
within a person. These are the factors which go into the process of making a decision.
Prominent among these factors are our habits, interests, and desires. We often find a conflict
within ourselves because we want a variety of ideals-to personal integrity as well as to

We may be undecided and feel frustrated by our various needs. The need we feel to make up
our minds often comes out of such indecision. The achievements of many of history’s
greatest men started as their reaction to a feeling of frustration. There need not to be a clash,
however, between the two views of will because they bring out different aspects. Taken as a
distinct power of man, the will signifies our basic and enduring tendency to obtain what
perfects and satisfies our whole nature. But the will does not act in isolation. It works in and
through our particular habits, interests and attitudes.

They enable the will to follow an intelligent and effective plan. And, in turn, our inclinations
and interests have to be brought to some decision and integrated with our basic needs and
desires. This is done through the will’s acts of choice. We might say that a person is what he
strives for. He can often be understood best through his wishes and ambitions. His will power
expresses his determination to achieve a certain goal. A person’s will power can often make
the difference between success and failure.

With regard to free will or freedom of will, it is “a prerogative which men have claimed and
disclaimed philosophically for many centuries.”19 The question is whether our conscious and
deliberate acts-which may or may not issue from a special faculty or agent, the will- originate
in us with a certain unique spontaneity or, on the contrary, result inexorably from antecedent
causes. There is here a persistent antinoMy, as Kant calls it. Common experience strongly
suggests the principle of determinism or sufficient reason: that “every event is due to causes
by which it could be explained and could have been predicted or prevented.”20

The actions of us and our fellows seem at least as open to influence as everything else and
the natural sciences and psychology can boast of systematically and precisely confirming this
impression. Theology sees the Divine Hand in the same natural order of things, and adds a
special supernatural determinism in the doctrine of predestination by which God decided our
salvation or damnation from eternity. Even the moralist depends on rigorous causation to
assure that acts spring intelligibly from one’s settled character; that they have consequences,
and that punishment and reward affect them.

From the point of view of much recent thought, however, the old impasse seems due less to
the solidity of the arguments on both sides than to their inclusiveness, and to a need for more
evidence and especially for a better formulation of exactly what free will would mean. Many
philosophers and scientists concur that the general law of causation is at best only a broad
empirical generalization, perhaps only a postulate or hope, and that determinism is a matter
of degree.
Since in even the most chaotic world every event must evince some lawful connection with
events, the main question is how few and simple are the laws in this world. The tradition
problem of free will can be only roughly dissociated from that of nature of causation in
general. Whether the cause is only regularly associated with its effects, or is a veritable
transfusion of being to it, or logically entails it.
Encyclopedia Americana Vol.18(1961) New York : American Corporation

In Theology, predestination is an extreme form of the doctrine of election. “Predestination to

life is the everlasting purpose of God” (Ephesians 1: 11). Theologists believe that God can
and does rise up chosen persons (such as judges, prophets, and kings) to save his people, or a
whole nation to bear his name before the rest of mankind. In the New Testament, “Many are
called but few are chosen” (Mathew 22: 14) to be the special agents or instruments of divine
grace. All Christians are called, i.e. to be saints, holy (Romans 1: 7, 8: 28, I Corinthians 1:
21) members of God’s kingdom or of the church. But Paul tends to move further in the
direction of specific destiny: for example, “Those, whom he predestined, he also called”
(Romans 8: 30), he even uses the old oriental figure of the potter and the clay (Romans 9: 21-
24) and thus, at least leaves the impression that God’s choice is both arbitrary and final, for
salvation or damnation. John also writes as if a divine determination ruled human history,
especially the events in the life of Jesus (John 12: 37-40, 13: 1-2, 17-21).

In the Greco-Roman world, which since the 2nd century B.C. had been under the influence of
a growing fatalism (allied to astrology, which was viewed as a science), it was inevitable that
these ideas should be worked out logically to form the doctrine that God has arbitrarily
chosen some men and angels for eternal life and has left the rest to perish. The full
development of the doctrine is to be seen in the writings of St Augustine and John Calvin. A
similar doctrine is found in Islam whose philosophic thought had considerable influence on
European philosophy in the Middle Ages. The majority of Christians never have gone to the
length of accepting full predestination, although in the Calvinistic theology of colonial New
England Puritanism, it was viewed as a test of Christian devotion to be willing , for the
greater glory of God, to be damned to all eternity. Many theologians and thinkers toyed with
the alternative of a total annihilation of the wicked-the combination of eternal damnation
with the idea of hell-fire was too terrible to contemplate. But the majority of Christians never
have held this view, and even those churches which once were most strongly under the
influence of Calvin are now drawing back from complete adherence to his views and are
renouncing some of his rigorously logical tenets and inferences.

For example, the statements in chapter three and ten of the Westminster confession of faith,
based on Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion (1536), are now no longer authorized
doctrine of many Calvinist churches. The doctrine may seem to harmonize certain texts of
scripture and the facts of human experience, but it does not harmonize with the revealed
character of God as wise, just, merciful and loving.


“Determinism” is the name given to the theory that all events, even moral choices, are
completely determined by previously existing causes (Latin: Determinare, “to fix or settle”),
opposed to “indeterminism” or “free will”. On this theory an agent cannot be held responsible
in the determinist sense, according to which a man is responsible if and only if he could have
still acted differently, everything before, including his character, being what it was. The
indeterminist view is supported by the experience of remorse. It needs not to involve saying
that our actions are not affected by causes, only that they are not completely determined by
them. Determinists, however, have commonly claimed that their view is quite incompatible
with moral responsibility in any sense in which this is really needed for practical purposes.

Even if determinism is true, it remains a fact that some actions have bad consequences and
that most agents are in some degree influenced against an act by having its badness pointed
out to them, so that ethical argument and blame will still be useful as decreasing the number
of undesirable acts. Even punishment will have a point in so far as it prevents wrongdoing,
though the indeterminist will rejoin that it is unjust unless the action punished is free.

It has also been argued by determinists that a rational action must be determined by motives
but that, if a man’s wrong action is not due to something bad in his nature, he is not to blame
for it, so that it is indeterminism, not determinism, which is incompatible with responsibility.
The indeterminist would usually reply that a man’s nature is not something there already,
prior to and apart from his free actions, and that propositions about a man’s character are
simply generalizations about the kinds of free actions that he performs.

He cannot avoid admitting that a man causes his free actions in the sense of doing them, but
he would deny that they could even conceivably be predicted with certainty from events
which had occurred in the past together with properties of the agent and of his environment
existing prior to the action.

There is a lack of arguments outside ethics to settle the issue, and in the absence of a
generally accepted philosophical proof of universal causation it would seem best to accept
indeterminism if this is really entailed by ethics. For we know some ethical propositions as
well as we know anything. It may be doubted, however, whether determinism needs involve
more than a minor modification of ethics, and a world in which everything is causally
explicable would seem more rational.

By the second half of the 20th century indeterminism had come to be the more popular
doctrine among philosophers and even among physical scientists, but the issue remained
open and was clearly not to be settled in the sphere of science. It has been argued also that
determinism is incompatible with freedom only if we introduce illegitimately into causation
the notion of compulsion over and above sequence.
The question raises great theological difficulties: theologians have often agued that, if
determinism be true, the problem of evil is insoluble because God would then be responsible
for sin; but others (less numerous) have deduced determinism from the omnipotence and
omniscience of God.


As one may discover throughout this first chapter, the idea of fate as an impersonal force that
absolutely predetermines all events was, to the ancient world as it is to the modern, a
philosophical or theological conception rather than a popular notion. For some thinkers, the
nearest approach to such an idea was the concept of allotment made to an individual either by
the gods (fatum divum) and the individual could not escape the portion of misfortune
contained in it, though according to them, he might increase his own folly by deliberate
neglect of a divine warning.
For determinists, all events are predetermined by fate and man cannot choose how to act by
free will for every event that occurs in human life or in nature is something which must
happen as it does because it has been predetermined by previous causes which bring about
their consequences.

Alternatively, materialist scientists believe that the position is in some ways more extreme
than the ancient theologian fatalism. For, while the earlier writers thought that the incidents
of man’s life and fortune were inexorably regulated by an overwhelming power against
which it was useless as well as impossible to strive, they generally held the commonsense
view that our volitions do direct our immediate actions, though our destiny would in any case
be realized.
The last point to discuss upon is the theologian doctrine which holds that God has arbitrarily
chosen some men and angels for eternal life and has left the rest to perish. The full
development of the doctrine is to be seen in the writings of St Augustine and John Calvin. A
similar doctrine is found in Islam whose philosophic thought had considerable influence on
European philosophy in the Middle Ages.



We are discussing one of the world's most famous plays, Sophocles's Oedipus the King, and
our purpose here is to offer a general introduction to this famous and often puzzling work,
which, from the time of the Classical Greeks, has set the standard for a form of literature we
call dramatic tragedy. We shall be addressing that claim in some detail later on, but before
getting to that or to the text of the play itself, we would like to clarify Aristotle’s points on
view of tragedy, points which are going to be crucial parts of the interpretative remarks we
have to offer.

In his Poetics, Aristotle outlined the ingredients necessary for a good tragedy, and he based
his formula on what he considered to be the perfect tragedy, Sophocles's Oedipus the King.
According to Aristotle, a tragedy must be an imitation of life in the form of a serious story
that is complete in itself; i.e. through plot, setting, characters, focus or themes, action and
language. A good tragedy will evoke pity and fear in its viewers or readers, causing them to
experience a feeling of catharsis. Catharsis, in Greek, means "purgation" or "purification";
running through the gamut of these strong emotions will leave viewers’ or readers’ feeling

Aristotle also outlined the characteristics of a good tragic hero. He must be "better than we
are," a man who is superior to the average man in some way. In Oedipus's case, he is superior
not only because of social standing, but also because he is smart and he is the only person
who could solve the Sphinx's riddle.

At the same time, a tragic hero must evoke both pity and fear, and Aristotle claims that the
best way to do this is when he is imperfect. A character with a mixture of good and evil is
more compelling than a character who is merely good. And Oedipus is definitely not perfect;
although a clever man, he is blind to the truth and refuses to believe Teiresias's warnings.
Although he is a good father, he unwittingly fathered children in incest.

A tragic hero suffers because of his hamartia, a Greek word that is often translated as "tragic
flaw" but really means "error in judgment." Often this flaw or error has to do with fate, a
character tempts fate, thinks he can change fate or does not realize what fate has in store for
him. In Oedipus the King, fate is an idea that surfaces again and again. Whether or not
Oedipus has a "tragic flaw" is a matter that will be discussed later. The focus on fate reveals
another aspect of a tragedy as outlined by Aristotle: dramatic irony.

Moreover, in Sophocles' Oedipus the King, the themes of “fate” and “free will”, which are
the subject matter of our study, are very strong throughout the play. Only one, however,
brought about Oedipus' downfall and death. Both points could be argued to great effect. In
ancient Greece, fate was considered to be a rudimentary part of daily life. Every aspect of life
depended and was based upon fate. It is common belief to assume that mankind does indeed
have free will and each individual can decide the outcome of his or her life. Fate and free will
both decide the fate of Oedipus the King.


As Oedipus grows in terrifying self-knowledge, he changes from a prideful heroic king at the
beginning of the play, with a tyrant denial toward the middle, to a condemned fearful man,
humbled by his tragic fate by the end. At first, Oedipus appears to be a confident valiant hero.
This is especially true during the situation alluded to at the beginning of the drama, when he
solves the Sphinx’s riddle. Although Oedipus is not a native Theban he still chooses to
answer the riddle of the Sphinx despite her threat of death to anyone who fails to answer
correctly. Only a man like Oedipus, a man possessing a tremendous self-confidence, could
have such courage. When Oedipus succeeds, freeing the city from the Sphinx’s evil reign, he
instantly becomes famous and known for his bravery and intelligence. His actions seem to be
a blessing, a special gift from the gods, used to benefit the city as a whole. Soon, however,
Oedipus’s character changes to a man in denial- a man more like a tyrant than a king-as he
begins to solve the new riddle of Laius’s death. A growing paranoia seizes Oedipus when
Jocasta recounts the story of her husband’s murder, leading the king to suspect his past
actions. Yet Oedipus is not quick to blame himself for the plague of the city.

Indeed, he tries to place the burden onto others as he continues his investigation blindly
trusting his own superior ability while ignoring the damage evidence that surrounds him.
Sophocles portrays Oedipus as a tyrant of sorts; indeed the people’s greatest blessing
becomes their worst curse. Lastly, Oedipus becomes a man humbled with the pain and
discouragement of knowing the truth as the overwhelming evidence forces him to admit his
tragic destiny. The transformation of Oedipus’s character is most clearly demonstrated when
he chooses to tear out his eyes.


Perhaps the easiest way for a modern audience to approach Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex is to
look at it as a critique of man’s rationalism in front of fate. In fact, Oedipus as presented in
the play is certainly not a wicked man. He has ruled as a just king, and he has ruled with
great success. More than that, he is considered to be the savior of the Theban state, who, after
having been hailed as a hero, married the queen, and became the king of Thebes.

All this the Greek audience knew, and we must know it as well, if we are to understand the
import of tragedy. For what Oedipus had done in answering the Sphinx was to give an
impressive demonstration of the power of the unaided human mind to dispel the darkness of
irrationality. But the human intellect has its limitations. Fate is finally inscrutable. It is true
that man must use his reason as best he can as Oedipus has done though he has become too
confident in his success, too sure of his own power and of his own innocence as indicated in
most of his colloquies. All that Oedipus has done is natural though he exhibits a kind of
complacency with regard to his ability and good motives. In general, he shows himself as the
energetic and practical leader of the state, who will do anything and everything to throw light
on Laius’s murder, while fate had long decided upon his life. To put it in a nutshell, man’s
complete rationalism in the struggle with fate is depicted again and again in the play through
plot construction, setting, focus, action, and being the main theme of the play, through
dramatic irony.


If we tell a modern reader that the Greeks had certain ideas which made the guilt of Oedipus,
for them at least, adequate punishment, this would be to save the play (as a documentation of
Greek ideas and mores) at the price of robbing it of any significance which transcends Greek
parochialism. It is perfectly true that our understanding of a play may depend upon the
knowledge of the ideas and customs of the period in which it was written.

Our real problem, then, with Oedipus the King, is to relate the particular ideas and customs
utilized in the play to universal themes. In this connection, modern anthropology and
psychology have been of help. We do not refer to the fact that Sigmund Freud has used
Oedipus as a symbol for a complex of important emotional biases and attitudes.

We have in mind this: that modern anthropology and psychology have shown that more value
attaches to Myth than men in the recent past have been inclined to think; that the human
mind often works in devious ways; that the great symbolisms of the past are not exhausted in
any merely rational explanation of them.

Sophocles inherited the story of Oedipus, which had survived because it had captured the
imagination of the Greeks. For various Greek writers it perhaps meant various things, but
what did it mean to Sophocles? Of several things, indeed, we may be sure at the outset:
Sophocles was not interested in exploiting mere sensationalism, nor was he interested in
presenting some conventional message with a kind of mechanical piety.

On the one hand, Oedipus Rex is not merely a detective story. Suspense there is, and
beautifully handled suspense. But every Greek who saw the play, we must remember, knew
beforehand the Oedipus story and its outcome. The dramatist intended significance beyond
that of melodrama. But on the other hand, the dramatist’s meaning was not exhausted in
some special message of concern merely to his particular audience. Sophocles was
preoccupied with affirming the importance of the gods and of their oracles.

As such, the play would have little to tell modern man, who of course owes no allegiance to
the oracles but we must remember that Sophocles’ play makes a universal statement, that of
rationalism. The play gives an answer to the present period’s claims of man’s complete
rationalism in the struggle for life.



Oedipus's story, we have argued, focuses our attention on a very particular heroic character,
one who insists upon acting according to his own vision of experience, who persists freely in
the course of action he has not initiated, brushing aside or shouting down the objections or
alternative suggestions of other people. He imposes on his life his own views of what he
thinks is right, refusing to attend to what others are saying (he insists on agreement, rather
than listening to others and weighing what they tell him). Oedipus, in his freedom, sets in
motion a chain of events for which he accepts full responsibility and, even as disaster looms,
he continues as before, not flinching or assigning blame or tasks to anyone else.

It is worth noting that, even when he learns the horrific truth of his life, Oedipus himself
takes on the full responsibility for his own punishment. First, he stabs out his own eyes and
then he insists on banishment. At no time in the play does he compromise: what needs to be
done is what he decides needs to be done. And even in the face of the disastrous truth,
Oedipus does not bend or break or start asking advice. He will act decisively until the very
end. Oedipus remains at the end of the play, for all the total reversal of his fortune, still the
self-assertive man exercising full free control over his own life. If he is going to suffer, then
he will determine what form that suffering will take. Oedipus, of course, is more than just a
particular character: he is also a character type. In fact, his story helps to define a certain
heroic response to experience which we call tragic, and this play is commonly hailed as our
greatest dramatic tragedy.

One major component in Oedipus's personality which helps to define him as a character we
label as tragic is his attitude towards fate. Rather than aligning himself with it or learning
through experience to accept the Mystery of fate Oedipus chooses to defy fate. He will make
his own decisions in his own way, and he will live with the consequences those bring. He
will answer to his own sense of himself, rather than shape his life in accordance with
someone else's set of rules or an awareness of something bigger and more important than
himself. That's true of Oedipus at the start of the play, and he's doing the same thing at the
end. Some modern scholars will blame him for this determination, calling it his hubris or
tragic flaw that brings in his destruction. But one may ask himself whether, had Oedipus
stayed indifferent, his fate couldn’t be fulfilled. Sophocles is making a point with Oedipus
Rex. His point is that the more you try and control fate, the more it controls you. What does
this mean exactly? Do you control your fate by accepting it? Or do you just live your life
without trying to learn what your fate will be? Or is he just saying that no matter what you
do, your fate will fulfill itself with or without your help?

It seems likely that the point would be to just live your life and not worry what fate will bring
you because when you try to control the uncontrollable, you end up virtually painting
yourself into a corner. Throughout the play you see Oedipus get broken from fate and trying
to escape it. It would seem that he would lose all hope because no matter what he does, the
prophecies laid out for him keep coming true. Sophocles was probably trying to say to just
live your life. You can not change your fate, so why not just keep it a surprise? Don not waste
your time with oracles and don’t try to control your fate.


One needs to measure Oedipus's stature against the other characters in the play, taking into
account his capacity for decisive action in comparison to their inaction or unwillingness to
think through the need for action.

It is of course one of the major ironies of the play that it is Jocasta’s effort to reassure
Oedipus that shakes him with doubt. She argues that one need not pay attention to the
oracles. She illustrates her generalization by pointing out the complete failure of the oracle
which had stated that Laius would be killed by his own son. According to her, the son died as
an infant, and Laius was killed by a highwayman. But in saying this, she happens to describe
the place where Laius was killed, and Oedipus remembers too well that he had killed a man
of about Laius’s age at this spot and about the same time that Laius died. Jocasta tries to
discourage him from seeking additional information, but Oedipus cannot rest until he knows,
for better or worse, whether or not he is guilty.

What she is doing here, of course, is inviting Oedipus to be someone else, someone who has
no concern for living up to his reputation for knowledge and courage. And, of course,
Oedipus does not listen to her, just as he does not listen to anyone else.

If we have been correct in approaching the play as a critique of rationalism, then this theme
receives a strong reinforcement from the speeches and actions of Jocasta. Fate, she believes,
can be outwitted. Long ago, she and Laius tried to circumvent the oracle’s prediction
concerning their offspring, and she is sure they have succeeded.

We should notice, however, that Jocasta does not say that the gods are powerless. She is
careful to say of the oracle which she believes that she and Laius have circumvented: “I will
not say it was from Phoebus himself, but from his ministers….”


One needs also to measure Oedipus's stature against the Chorus. The contrast between
Oedipus and the Chorus, very prominent in a stage production, is perhaps less evident to a
reader. But it is important to note just how incapable they are of acting decisively. They
want something done, but they are all too aware of their own limitations, their fear in the face
of the unknown, typically addressing their fates with acknowledgements of their own terror
or fearful questions.

The Choral utterances are reminders of what we might call a normal response to experience
—hesitation, fears, hopes, questions. They want to believe in the benevolence of their gods,
but they know all too well that that may not be there. Confronting their fates with such
feelings, naturally they lack the assertive self-confidence to do anything significant at the
time of crisis, and they look to Oedipus to take actions because they not only have no idea
what to do but lack the self-confidence to do anything.


In the first place it is important to see that Sophocles might not have written his play so as to
put the principal focus on some decisive act by which the protagonist causes his own
downfall, for we can argue, if we like, that Oedipus actually performed such an act when he
ventured to kill Laius and another such act when he married Jocasta, still, these events took
place long before the action of the play. They are brought into focus only late in the play.Is
Oedipus the King, then, a play which lacks emphasis on some decisive act committed by the
protagonist, and which presents us, consequently, with what is essentially a passive


As Sophocles has actually focused the play, the action consists in Oedipus struggle for
knowledge (a struggle first for knowledge of the evil that besets the state) but ultimately a
struggle for self-knowledge. This knowledge does not overwhelm a passive Oedipus. He has
to strive actively for it-against the witnesses and against the pleas of well-wishers who try to
dissuade him from the quest.

The oracle does not simply announce that Oedipus is the murderer. Even the specific
accusation made by Teiresias as the instrument of the god is qualified by the obvious anger in
which it is spoken. The accusation does not convince the Theban elders as it does not
constitute proof so much as Oedipus has demanded it. We must note here that it is Oedipus,
more than any other person in the play, who manages to get together this proof which damns
him. So, knowing is a form of action.

The gaining of knowledge can be the most important thing which happens to a character, and
like other happenings it may either be stumbled upon the weak and essentially passive
character or it may be striven for heroically and tragically as Oedipus strives actively for the
damning knowledge.


Good tragedies are filled with irony. The audience knows the outcome of the story already,
but the hero does not, making his actions seem ignorant or inappropriate in the face of what
is to come. Whenever a character attempts to change fate, this is ironic to an audience who
knows that the tragic outcome of the story cannot be avoided.

Dramatic irony plays an important part in Oedipus the King. Its story revolves around two
different attempts to change the course of fate: Jocasta and Laius's killing of Oedipus at birth
and Oedipus's flight from Corinth later on. In both cases, an oracle's prophecy comes true
regardless of the characters' actions. Jocasta kills her son only to find him restored to life and
married to her.

Oedipus leaves Corinth only to find that in so doing he has found his real parents and carried
out the oracle's words. Both Oedipus and Jocasta prematurely exult over the failure of
oracles, only to find that the oracles were right after all. Each time a character tries to avert
the future predicted by the oracles, the audience knows their attempt is futile, creating the
sense of irony that permeates the play.

Even the manner in which Oedipus and Jocasta express their disbelief in oracles is ironic. In
an attempt to comfort Oedipus, Jocasta tells him that oracles are powerless; yet at the
beginning of the very next scene we see her praying to the same gods whose powers she has
just mocked. Oedipus rejoices over Polybus's death as a sign that oracles are fallible, yet he
will not return to Corinth for fear that the oracle's statements concerning Meropé could still
come true. Regardless of what they say, both Jocasta and Oedipus continue to suspect that the
oracles could be right, that gods can predict and affect the future and of course the audience
knows they can.

If Oedipus discounts the power of oracles, he values the power of truth. Instead of relying on
the gods, Oedipus counts on his own ability to root out the truth; after all, he is a riddle-
solver. The contrast between trust in the gods' oracles and trust in intelligence plays out in
this story like the contrast between religion and science in nineteenth-century novels. But the
irony is, of course, that the oracles and Oedipus's scientific method both lead to the same
outcome. Oedipus's search for truth reveals just that, and the truth revealed fulfills the
oracles' prophesies. Ironically, it is Oedipus's rejection of the oracles that uncovers their
power; he relentlessly pursues truth instead of trusting in the gods, and his detective work
finally reveals the fruition of the oracles' words. As Jocasta says, if he could just have left
well enough alone, he would never have discovered the horrible workings of fate.

In his search for the truth, Oedipus shows himself to be a thinker, a man good at unraveling
Mysteries. This is the same characteristic that brought him to Thebes; he was the only man
capable of solving the Sphinx's riddle. His intelligence is what makes him great, yet it is also
what makes him tragic; his problem-solver's mind leads him on as he works through the
Mystery of his birth.

In the Oedipus Myth, marriage to Jocasta was the prize for ridding Thebes of the Sphinx.
Thus Oedipus's intelligence, a trait that brings Oedipus closer to the gods, is what causes him
to commit the most heinous of all possible sins. In killing the Sphinx, Oedipus is the city's
savior, but in killing Laius (and marrying Jocasta), he is its scourge, the cause of the blight
that has struck the city at the play's opening. The Sphinx's riddle echoes throughout the play,
even though Sophocles never mentions the actual question she asked. Audiences would have
known the Sphinx's words: "what is it that goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at
midday, and three feet in the evening?" Oedipus's answer, of course, was "a man." And in the
course of the play, Oedipus himself proves to be that same man, an embodiment of the
Sphinx's riddle. There is much talk of Oedipus's birth and his exposure as an infant here is
the baby of which the Sphinx speaks, crawling on four feet (even though two of Oedipus's
are pinioned). Oedipus throughout most of the play is the adult man, standing on his own two
feet instead of relying on others, even gods.

And at the end of the play, Oedipus will leave Thebes an old blind man, using a cane. In fact,
Oedipus's name means "swollen foot" because of the pins through his ankles as a baby; thus
even as a baby and a young man he has a limp and uses a cane: a prefiguring of the "three-
legged" old man he will become. Oedipus is more than merely the solver of the Sphinx's
riddle, he himself is the answer.

Perhaps the best example of dramatic irony in this play, however, is the frequent use of
references to eyes, sight, light, and perception throughout. When Oedipus refuses to believe
him, Teiresias cries, "have you eyes, / And do not see your own damnation? Eyes, / And
cannot see what company you keep?” Mentioned twice in the same breath, the word "eyes"
stands out in this sentence. Teiresias knows that Oedipus will blind himself; later in this same
speech he says as much: "those now clear-seeing eyes / Shall then be darkened". The irony is
that sight here means two different things. Oedipus is blessed with the gift of perception; he
was the only man who could "see" the answer to the Sphinx's riddle. Yet he cannot see what
is right before his eyes. He is blind to the truth, for all he seeks is it.

Teiresias's presence in the play, then, is doubly important. As a blind old man, he
foreshadows Oedipus's own future, and the more Oedipus mocks his blindness, the more
ironic he sounds to the audience. Teiresias is a man who understands the truth without the use
of his sight; Oedipus is the opposite, a sighted man who is blind to the truth right before him.
Soon Oedipus will switch roles with Teiresias, becoming a man who sees the truth and loses
his sense of sight.

The vision of life here is very Mysterious and very cruel. Even the best and most innocent of
men, it seems to say, one who has striven to live the best life possible and who endures to
find out the truth of who he really is and what his life really amounts to will be horrified to
learn the truth.

Fate has not established a reasonable covenant here with some clear rules and a happier
future, nor does fate offer a secure and valued life in the community nor is there any sense
that Oedipus's fate is linked to some sin he has committed. Here fate punishes arbitrarily and
mercilessly those who choose to confront the Mystery.


To sum up this chapter, it is common to observe that Oedipus the King may well be a
prophetic insight into the nature of our human confidence in our ability to confront fate.
Perhaps we, in our scientific confidence, in the optimistic spirit with which we think we can
deal with fate, may turn out to be like Oedipus, going up against something much more
Mysterious and complex and malignant than we can imagine. I don't want to push this
interpretation here, but such an approach to the play might well help to generate some unease
about the self-assertive confidence with which we declare our own superiority over fate and
seek to solve all questions with those tools which seem to have served us so well in the past,
our intelligence and daring. Do we even fully understand our own swollen feet?



This last chapter seeks to establish the relationship that exists between Rwandan’s and
Greek’s views of fate, especially between Oedipus and genocide victims. It intends to assert
that the belief in an eternal giver of life is embodied in the Rwandan culture. The master of
events who is also the owner of the world governs it according to his rules. Whether fate is
also called destiny, necessity or nature, Rwandans perceive fate as people’s escort, standing
and moving beside human beings up to their final day. It is central as it directs and decides
upon people’s lives. Everybody is under the command of fate whose will is hidden to men.
To emphasize the fact that no human being can shape, guide, or direct his own destiny,
Rwandan society argues that “Iraguha ntimugura”21, “Ntawuburana na Nyamunsi”22, and so

The belief that no one is greater than the owner of the world persists in Rwandan society.
Whatever human beings can do, very often out of pride, it is a big mistake to proclaim one’s
achievements. Sophocles’s hero spends time and efforts to quest for truth and plan future
successes but this does not reach a positive end simply because personal plans, Rwandans
believe, do not always coincide with those of the one who controls the world. Rwandan
proverbs best illustrate the idea that man cannot shape his own destiny. They believe that one
has to achieve his duty where fate has placed him, that no matter how strong or great a man
can be, he should never challenge “Imana”(God) and that the best way of shaping one’s
situation is to work it out where destiny wants him/her to be.

Many Rwandan proverbs and tales as well as Greek legends, teach the futility of trying to
outmaneuver an inexorable fate that has been correctly predicted. Destiny may be seen as a
fixed sequence of events that is inevitable and unchangeable, or that individuals choose their
own destiny by choosing different paths throughout their life.

God offers you but never sells to you
Nobody challenges the Most High

Rwandans assert that “the choices we make, not the chances we take, determine our
destiny.” The following lines best illustrate similarities between the Rwandan view of fate
and the world view of it.


To both Rwandans and other societies “fate” refers to a predetermined course of events. It
may be conceived as a predetermined future, whether general or particular. It is a concept
based on the belief that there is a fixed natural order to the universe and may be envisaged as
fore-ordained by the Divine Will. Rwandans have their particular way of viewing fate, and to
deal with it. In this concern, Baributsa argues, “si la philosophie est effectivement une
réflexion sur les problèmes fondamentaux de l’homme dans son environnement physique et
social et dans son histoire, il est difficile de denier toute espèce d’activité philosophique à
tout ensemble de peuples.’’23If philosophy is effectively man’s thought about his basic
problems in physical, social and historical environment, it is almost impossible to refute any
type of philosophical activity to a variety of people. (Translation is mine)

In this connection, we are to posit that the Rwandan view of fate holds beliefs that are found
in other socio-cultural entities of different times and spaces. This is why key words that relate
to fate such as “Nyamunsi”, “Serupfu”, “Umugisha”, “Imana” (Destiny, Death, Chance,
Divinity) which are characteristics of the Greek society are found in Rwandan proverbs and


“Icyagenwe kuba kigomba kuba” (what is to be is to be) is an idea that is rooted in the
Rwandan philosophy. Rwandans believe that man proposes and God disposes. Fate,
according to them, is used in regard to the finality of events as they have worked themselves
out, and that same finality is projected into the future to become the inevitability of events as
they will work themselves out.

Baributsa, M. (1985) Les Perspectives de la Pensée Philosophique Bantu Rwandaise après Alexis KAGAME.
Butare : Université Nationale du Rwanda.

This idea of fate brings about a pessimistic view of life because man witnesses his interior
cemetery as he gets the awareness of his inability to achieve his deep wishes. Proof to this
pessimistic view of life is a good number of Rwandan Tutsis who, dispossessed of their
fundamental reason to live simply because they are bound to a particular ethnic group lineage
they belong to, committed suicide.

Even most Rwandan genocide survivors believe that the future does not offer any guarantee
of salvation to them, for, as depicted in a Rwandan song “Abandi barushywa no kuvuka naho
jyewe nduha buri munsi kugeza gupfa, navukanye amaraso mabi” (others face troubles in
their birth, but I face misery up to death, My blood is cursed), they cannot change the course
of events of the allotment set for them in their birth.

Moreover, Rwandans view fate in terms of predestination and chance; in which no man can
alter the course of events. With this regard, they share Sophocles’s belief that fate is
something that no human being can run from, no matter what they do or where they hide and
that people do not understand that control is an illusion and is nothing more than something
for people to believe in so that they do not feel scared, while living in this world that is based
upon fate. In their own words,

“Umugisha burya uravukanwa, umugisha burya ni nk’ingabire

abo Imana yahaye barawuvukana bakazarinda bawusazana,
Chance is born with; chance is like a gift,
Those whom God endows chance remain with it till they pass away
We need not fight to have chance. (Translation is mine)

Some will tell you that “Agasozi kagusabye amaraso ntuyakarenza”24, to mean that no matter
what you do, you will not even brush away one letter from the allotment posited on your life.


The hill that thirsts for your blood ends in having it.

“You will die tomorrow no matter what you do”. Such a statement asserts that divine
fatality is absolute and incontestable and it illustrates man’s weakness vis-à-vis divine
fatality. Under its various forms, this type of fatality is manifested in Rwandan beliefs and
is based on docile submission to divine will. Rwandans believe in the Christian doctrine
which holds that “nobody knows what a day can bring forth”25. They assert that man’s
power and efforts are reduced to nothing and that both his worries and awareness about the
future are vain vis-à-vis divine will, for “Ntawurenga umunsi Imana yavuze” (no man goes
beyond God’s decreed time).

They also believe that man’s life is submitted to a cosmic law which mechanically
underlies his existence and that man is impotent in front of that law. Through their saying,
“Iyo Serupfu yaje Semiti ntaharara” (when Death gets in Medicine gets out). They confirm
that to he who must die, anything hurries death.

Rwandans, moreover, think that nothing can alter the course of events predetermined by
Imana(God) and that no man can shape his own destiny the way he wants to:
“Nyamwirukira gushimwa yatanze umugisha wamutanze imbere” (chance precedes one
who seeks exaltation), and that, no matter what you do you cannot challenge fate laid down
by Divine Power. Proof to this is Rwandan proper names such as “Ntawuhiganayo”
(Nobody challenges God). They suggest, on the contrary, that one must delight himself in
what Divine Hand preserved him: “Ayingeneye” (what He offers me), “Mbonimpa” (I just
receive from Him).

These proper names and many more others reveal to which extent Rwandans prefer to obey
cosmic power decreed by Divine Hand, to avoid any challenge that would result in a
punishment from above; just because “Iraguha ntimugura” (God offers but never sells). In
this connection, they believe that God’s favor is arbitrary: “Hari abo Imana iha nk’ibahonga
n’abo yima nk’ibahora” (God upholds some while rejecting others). Rwandans, though,
witness particular beliefs which help them take a position vis-à-vis fate.

Proverbs, chapter 27, verse 1

Being aware of man’s power limitation and avoiding challenging the divine decreed law,
they do prefer to passively surrender to the irrevocable and uncontrollable partition to
actively rebel and manifest their revolt against it.

Unlike Jocasta and Laius who believed to circumvent a divine long-laid fate, Rwandans do
believe that fate is an absolute and incontestable partition to which man must surrender and
that fate is something that no human being can run from, no matter what they do or where
they hide.


As it is entailed within Sophocles’ play, every Greek believed beforehand that no human
being can go against the oracles and that divine prophecies must be fulfilled at all costs, no
matter what happens to hinder their achievement. Rwandans, likewise, believe that
whatever your strength, wealth and fame, you cannot shape your own destiny for no one is
greater than the holder of lives. As stated very earlier, no man is brought to a better and
higher position because of his personal achievements or efforts but because of the
“Isumbabyose’s” will.26Being complete disciples of fatalism, they believe that one cannot
choose how to act by free will and that man has to accept every event which occurs in his
life as something which must happen as it does since it has been predetermined: “Akaje
karemerwa”, “Ayingeneye”, “Mbonimpa”.27


The ‘Most High’
‘Accept whatever befalls you’, ‘What God offers me’, ‘I just receive from Him’

The Rwandan belief that the world is a mixture of joy and sorrow, hardship and reward,
laughter and tears, ups and downs entails their belief in the passive surrender to fate.
Religion, pessimism and death are their only attitudes towards destiny. Since they think that
the course of events in human life is inexorably fixed beforehand by fate. They refute the
idea of free will or liberty and prone passive surrender.

Religion, thus, becomes their inspirational source from which they draw guiding lines of
their life and therefore serves as their lighthouse. Some believe in Muslim’s resignation
before fate: “Inch’Allah” (If God wills), “Mekhtoub” (what is to be is to be) for “man
carries his destiny on his neck.”28 Others believe in the biblical statement that:

Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city the watchmen stand guard in vain.
In vain you rise early and stay up late toiling for food to eat-
for he grants sleep to those he loves29


To best relate fate and genocide, Spinoza cites:

What greater misfortune for a state can be

than that honorable men should be sent into exile
,because they held diverse opinions which
they cannot disguise? What, I say, can be more hurtful
than that men who have committed no crime or wickedness
should, simply because they are enlightened,
be treated as enemies and put to death…30

As stated earlier, the theme of fate was applicable to Rwandan Tutsi ethnic group as far as
their planned extermination is concerned. The question rises here, whether what befell them
before and in 1994 is man-made or a divine allotment decreed beforehand for them.


Coran, Chapter 14, Sourate XVII
Psalms, Chapter 127, verses 1-2
Tomlin, E. W. F.(1959) Great Philosophers of the West.Essex: Arrow Books Ltd

Anti-Tutsi ideology is a recent phenomenon. Its birth was not accidental; it is steeped in
history, and it has political and racist dimensions. Are the Tutsi not different from the Hutu
who are true natives (Allusion here is made to Oedipus as a stranger in Thebes whose
“origin” is said to be Corinth)? Did they not come from Ethiopia?

So many slogans emphasized the propagandistic discourse of the perpetrators of genocide

against the Hutu from 1959 to 1994. To this issue, it is noteworthy that marginalization
preceded genocide, carrying it in its feathers.

As long as the colonial administration considered Tutsi chiefs as natural allies to its policy,
all the chiefs were considered in the colonial discourse as belonging to a “race” other than
Hutu or Twa, even if they were not separated from the other groups by language, or by
culture, or by their way of life.

During the great periods of colonial forced labor and of Ubuhake, the Rwandans appealed
to authorities against the outrageous treatment they received, not as Tutsi or Hutu, but as
citizens. This was before the associations in charge of defending the interests of only the
Hutu were created.

And, as an irony of fate, the Hutu social revolution was achieved only when contested
injustices had been abolished: Ubuhake (1954)-which, in fact, concerned those who raised
livestock, for the most part Tutsi of modest means- and Akazi (colonial forced labor)

However, everything changed after the Hutu revolution. Toward the end of 1950s, Hutu
movements excluded from their claims the Tutsi peasants who had endured the same
suffering as Hutu peasants during the hard times of forced labor and of Ubuhake. Due to
political propaganda, the Hutu considered the Tutsi as a “race of arrogant lords”. This anti-
Tutsi ideology, which was born in the 1950s, was not accidental. It imparted to the Tutsi-
Hamite and to the Hutu-Bantu stereotypes, which were born of colonial discourse, a new
political coloring based, as we have already noted, on the principle of the inversion of
values. On the foundation of this racism without races was born PARMEHUTU, founded

by a former seminarian Grégoire KAYIBANDA. He defined Hutu and Tutsi as two

opposed “races”, of which one, the Tutsi, had always dominated the other, the Hutu.

Based on this racist ideology without any races, modern Rwanda would experience five
genocides of Tutsi, unequal as to the number of victims, but with the same type of
organization. Each time the state machinery organized the pogrom in an overt way,
provoked or did not interfere with a population permeated with racist propaganda.

Semujanga best described this phenomenon reviewing “the tragedies of 1959-1960, 1963-
1964, 1973, 1990-1994.”31 Kangura’s words fueled the collective hysteria prevalent in the
Rwandan political circles, which, until then, had hidden from the population the menace of
war which had hung over the country for several years. In the context of an “international
Tutsi plot”, Kangura published a kind of “Protocole des sages de Sion” (Protocol of the
Elders of Zion), “Ten commandments for the Hutu”. 32

1. Every Muhutu must know that a Mututsikazi (woman or girl from the Tutsi ethnic group),
whoever she is, works for the Tutsi ethnic group. Therefore, any Muhutu who weds a
Mututsikazi, who makes a Mututsikazi his concubine, who makes a Mututsikazi his
secretary or his protégée, is a traitor.
2. Every Muhutu must know that our Bahutukazi (women or girls from the Hutu ethnic
group) daughters are more worthy and more aware of their roles as women, spouse, and
mothers. Are they not prettier, good secretaries, and more honest?
3. Bahutukazi, be vigilant, and bring your husbands, sons, and brothers to reason.
4. Every Muhutu must know that every Mututsi is dishonest in business. His only aim is to
enhance the supremacy of his ethnic group. Therefore, every Muhutu is a traitor:
 Who makes an alliance with Batutsi in his business;
 Who invests his money or state money in the enterprise of a Mututsi;

Semujanga, J. (2003) The Origins of Rwandan Genocide. New York: Humanity Books
“Appel à la conscience des Bahutu” in Kangura 6 (December 1990). pp. 6-8

 Who grants Batutsi favors in business (granting of import licenses, bank loans,
plots for building, or public markets).
5. Strategic positions-political, administrative, economic, military, and security-must be
entrusted to Bahutu.
6. The sector of education (students and teachers) must have a majority of Hutu.
7. The Rwandan Armed Forces must be exclusively Hutu. The experience of October 1990
war is a lesson for us. No member of the military may marry a Mututsikazi.
8. The Hutu must stop feeling any pity for the Tutsi.
9. Bahutu, whoever they are, must be united with, in solidarity with, and preoccupied with
their Bahutu brothers. Bahutu from inside and outside Rwanda must constantly seek friends
and allies for the Hutu cause, beginning with their Bantu brothers. They must counter Tutsi
propaganda. Bahutu must be firm and vigilant against their common Tutsi eneMy.
10. The 1959 social revolution, 1961 referendum, and Hutu ideology must be taught to every
Muhutu at all levels. Every Muhutu must widely disseminate this ideology. Any Muhutu
who persecutes his Muhutu brother for having read, spread, and taught this ideology is a

The general message of this argument is to bring the Hutu to hate the Tutsi and, on the
formal level, “Ten commandments for the Hutu” are divided into two types: those
providing knowledge to be acquired by the Hutu (cognitive process) and those defining
action based on knowledge (pragmatic process).

The appeal part of the commandments is especially marked by verbs of cognition,

essentially the verb “know” followed by the modality “must-do” that constitutes a leitmotiv
emphasizing action: “Every Muhutu must know…” The response part, constituting the
Hutu’s pragmatic process, is especially marked by many verbs of action and words alluding
to the exclusion of the Tutsi from the public and private sectors in Rwanda. The charges
against the Tutsi are numerous (their Aristotelian “hamartia” or flaw of character). The text
evokes the recurring stereotype of the Tutsi who is power-hungry, wicked, deceitful, an
eneMy to be quarantined; the text also recommends solidarity among the Hutu in order to
fight their common eneMy. The figure of traitor, profusely used in political discourse in

Rwanda, is also found. The pejorative adjectives overwhelm the Tutsi by defining him as
the dregs and vermin of the society. Moreover, the semantic configuration of betrayal is
developed from the theme of the Tutsi women.

Besides, the text was understood as the expression of a rejection of nay contact with the
Tutsi: the Hutu were prohibited from physical contact by sexual relations with Tutsi
women-whether in marriage or as a concubine- and were prohibited from political and
economic contact by associations.

By refusing these rights to the Tutsi, the very concept of humanity is refused to them. They
are branded as blemished. In this regard, the Hutu murderers showed two types of behavior.
First, militiamen carried out very well-disciplined killings to punish the guilty. Second,
peasants fueled by emotions, killed randomly and in a disorderly fashion to eliminate the
dregs and vermin of the society.


The government's military structure was clearly seen and its creators had an overall strategy
that it implemented with scrupulous planning and organization, control of the levers of
government, highly motivated soldiers and militia, the means to kill vast numbers of
people, the capacity to identify and kill the victims and tight control of the media
(specifically RTLM) to disseminate the right messages both inside and outside the country.
When the genocide ended little more than 100 days later, perhaps as many as a million
women, children and men, the vast majority of them Tutsi, lay dead.

Thousands more were raped, tortured and maimed for life. Victims were treated with
sadistic cruelty and suffered unimaginable agony.


Aristotle outlined the characteristics of a good tragic hero. He must be "better than we are,"
a man who is superior to the average man in some way. In Oedipus's case, he is superior
not only because of social standing, but also because he is smart and he is the only person

who could solve the Sphinx's riddle. At the same time, a tragic hero must evoke both pity
and fear, and Aristotle claims that the best way to do this is if he is imperfect. The only
term for these Aristotelian positive values to the Tutsi ethnic group, whatever the
communication, was “IMFURA”, the quality of the first born through which wisdom,
courage and generosity come together in the human being.

As Kalibwami states, European missionaries witness Tutsi’s distinguishing qualities:

I had not yet met such interesting young people
as the one who visited our tents for the two days
we spent at Yuhi’s. Almost all of them were the Batutsi,
ten to thirty years old, well built, tall for the most part,
wit an intelligent look, and alert, curious, yet discreet, and
decent in their bearing.33

To the distinguishing qualities of Tutsi fatalistic heroes, Semujanga emphasizes that in

both Rwanda and Burundi, the best schools opened by colonial administration, admitted
princes first, then Tutsi, and finally Hutu. Some Tutsi from the great lineages were also
recruited as assistants and were granted favors, for example instruction leading to a career
as an assistant in colonial administration and in the embryonic Rwandan Catholic church.

On the other hand, Aristotle states that fatalistic heroes do not try any outlet but completely
and passively surrender to what fate has in store for them. Attitudes of Rwandan genocide
victims fulfill Aristotelian norms of fatalistic heroes.

Their death in numbers illustrates their passive submission to fate allotted to them: killers
would come today, kill a few Tutsi from a big group in refuge and go away promising to

Kalibwami, J. (1991) Le Catholicisme et la Société Rwandaise, 1900-1962. Paris : Présence
Africaine.P. 152

come back the next day; and they would indeed come back to find their victims in the same

Attitudes of some genocide survivors on the one hand and of genocide ideology holders on
the other are also fatal. On the one hand, some genocide survivors think that they live to die
as though their fate has been decided upon by Hutus who demonized the Tutsi as having
inherently evil qualities, equating the ethnic group with 'the enemy' and portraying its
women as seductive enemy agents. On the other hand, the genocide ideology holders’
calling for the extermination of genocide survivors as a response to Hutus’ liberation
persists up to now, despite the teaching from government about unity and reconciliation.


Based on the stereotype of the Tutsi as “best for command” and from the beginning of
colonization, the Hutu were a minority in the management of the country. However, from
1959 to 1994, it was the Tutsi who were systematically excluded. During these two periods
the mechanisms of racial prejudice worked in the same way, and its causes are multiple and
complex. Here is the most meaningful and the most used in the discourse of exclusion. Of
the causes of racial prejudice, the political motive was the most determining. Indeed, if
theoretically the colonialists kept the monarchic structure in place, in reality traditional
power quickly became a simple means for the transmission and execution of the orders of
colonial administration.

It is in this way that during the 1930s, Kagame notes, the triple political chieftaincy in
Rwanda, which had made the traditional regime flexible, was suppressed, and the sub
chieftaincies governed by the Hutu were eliminated for the benefit of the Tutsi. Indeed,
“under Resident (Governor) Mortehan in 1926, the functions of the prefect of the soil, of
the prefect of pastures, and of the army chief were suppressed”34

Kagame,A.(1958) Un Abrégé de l’Ethnohistoire du Rwanda .P. 183

Later on, after abrogating the triple chieftaincy of pre-colonial Rwanda, the administration
took a step backward by replacing the Tutsi chiefs with Hutu chiefs.

Kalibwami and Antoine Mugesera analyzed “the reversal of alliances between Tutsi
governing fraction, on the one hand, and colonial administration and the church, on the
other. In an original article, Mugesera presents a cutting analysis of PARMEHUTU strategy
and of its relationships with the church and the colonial administration.

He shows that this party, obsessed by its will to reverse in its own favor the ethnicist
premises of colonial discourse and social conflict originating from this orientation, used
propaganda to the limits of tolerance in a society: the ideology of hatred of the Tutsi. Of
this reversal Semujanga testifies

Sacred, the 1959 Revolution had as its aim the noble

official goal of liberation and independence,
which supposes the promotion of national identity,
of the citizen’s rights and duties within the rule of law.
Also sacred, paradoxically, was the ideological machinery
of anti-Tutsi hatred, in the name of which one’s Tutsi
neighbors or relatives were killed for the social promotion
of the Hutu people. Not a single day passed in Central and
Eastern Africa without hateful acts of violence against men
and women because of their ethnic membership.
The sentences ordering rape, humiliation, and death
started with this supreme invocation:
‘In the name of the Hutu people, I kill you.35

Abandoned by fate, the Tutsi could not find any rescue: heaps of corpses in churches,
hundreds of victims neglected by whites who returned home to tell what they saw.

Semujanga, J. (2003) The Origins of Rwandan Genocide. New York: Humanity Books


Sophocles's Oedipus the King, some have argued, is making precisely the point that the
controlling forces of the world are much more Mysterious and powerful than we can
imagine, that we may be deluding ourselves about our own powers, that what we are up
against may be a great deal more complex and unknowable than we can imagine. Severe
natural disasters or new outbreaks of massive lethal epidemics and similar occurrences are
often unpleasant reminders that, even if we don't like to think about fate, we may not have
put our fates as much under our control as we might wish.

Jocasta and Laius tried to hinder their destiny and that of their son from achieving,
forgetting that whatever they may do, they cannot even rub down an iota on what had been
decreed a long time before. In the same way, some Tutsi have tried to escape fate allotted to
them through the phenomenon of “ukwihutura” (ennoblement through riches).

This phenomenon took place over a period of at least three generations and it is noteworthy
that, through economic and matrimonial alliances and mixed marriages, it allowed an
individual to start a new real lineage, of which he became the eponymic ancestor.

The new lineage stocks, frequent in ancient Rwanda, claimed to put a rhythm in the tempo
of social life instead of setting oppositions of the Mythic type (Hutu, Tutsi, Twa)
constituting the Munyarwanda (man of Rwanda).

On the contrary, after a period of calm during which there was an increase in the number of
mixed marriages, the ethnic question became more acute at the beginning of the 1970s
under the rule of Grégoire Kayibanda. A quota was imposed on the Tutsi who were allotted
only 10 percent of the places in the schools and universities and in civil service posts.
Kayibanda’s anti-Tutsi offensive continued the practice of listing ethnic group membership
on identity cards which could be used in a campaign against the Tutsi, an offensive that
aimed at uniting the Hutu in his support and that targeted to annihilate mixed marriages. It
is in the 1994 genocide that Kayibanda’s goal was achieved, when a Hutu husband killed
his Tutsi wife who had searched refuge into him.


According to Sophocles, the guilt of Oedipus has been decided upon by gods. The wicked
undergoes a frightening malediction, a fatality predetermined beforehand by Zeus through
his oracles. The general opinion relies on the idea that a great misfortune entails another
(“un grand Malheur n’arrive jamais seul”) and it is a prelogic idea affirmed by many
cultures that, when misfortune occurs, people complain “le destin m’en veut” (destiny/fate
is against me) to mean “Imana yankuyeho amaboko”.

Oedipus, some argue, deserves what he undergoes because of his “hamartia” or flaw of
character, but as for the Tutsi the question rises here: what had they done to deserve such an
abominable end? Did they hold an Oedipus’s hamartia which, according to Bellancille,
entailed a punishment? :

A son passif nous enregistrons l’impulsivité liée

au tempérament primaire. Ceci se manifeste par exemple
lorsqu’il se rue sur un vénérable vieillard, aveugle de surcroit
et devin respecté, après s’être permis de lui adresser des menaces.
Oedipe nous choque aussi par la vantardise dont il fait preuve
à propos d’une devinette trouvée. ” (P.28)36
As to his passive character, we notice impulsivity linked
to his primary behavior. This is true, for instance,
when he confronts a venerable old man,
blind by birth and honored prophet, after threatening him.
Oedipus also chocks us by his pride about the Sphinx’s riddle
he had answered. (Translation is mine)

Bellancille also argues that the hero’s punishment is due to his error of judgment which
pushes him to go beyond the prohibited. The question also rises here, whether the Tutsi had
gone beyond a prohibition or an injunction which brought about their downfall or whether
their life was a transgression to an interdiction. On the other hand, had the oracle not
alerted long before his birth that Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother? Is,
then, Oedipus not a victim of misfortune he did not call himself? As to his “flaw of
character”, wasn’t it predetermined beforehand so that the prophecy be fulfilled?

Likely, did the Tutsi choose to be born Tutsi? To answer to these series of questions, people
will tell you, “Imana niko yabishatse” (It is God’s will). This refers to the idea that, if
misfortune befalls an individual a malfeasant divinity must be behind it. Greeks affirm that
it is the gods who guide, shape and direct man’s destiny, Zeus and Apollo, who are
omniscient and fully instructed about his fate. It is true that fate always weighs upon man
and that that fatality is willed and guided by divinities. It is meant for real human beings
(Tutsi) as for heroes in tales (Oedipus).

Uwizeyimana, B. (2003) Des Oracles au Destin dans La Machine Infernale. Butare : Unpublished
BA Memoir


The tragic drama, in Sophocles especially, tends to end with the community's
reflections upon the significance of the life which has just come to an end. In
this respect, genocide survivors reflect each day of their life upon the meaning
of life and upon what the future has in store for them.

The carrying out of the corpses, traditionally the final episode in a tragedy, is a
reconstituting of the community, but not in a way that emphasizes the joyful fun
of community standards. Rather, the citizens are united by a new awareness of
the Mystery of life, something they, in their daily lives, rarely think about and
never discover for themselves. It is given only to the greatest of heroes to take
on the intense Calvary journey, and its end typically confers upon these
extraordinary individuals the awed respect of a community which has benefited
from their willingness to live life to the extreme.


To sum up this point about fate in Rwandan context, it is worth to note that
genocide in Rwanda followed a kind of protocol in its inspiration, linked to a
tense sociopolitical situation in its development and consequences which were
more or less culturally determined many years before. We may even say that it
was an institution if we observe the recurring massacres since 1959.

It was sociologically established and it did not result from the blind instincts of
vulgar extremists, as asserted by some. The great moments of mass killings
were accompanied with cries, songs, and similar gestures, executed at the same
moment: “death to the eneMy”. Indeed, the Tutsi, who had been presented in
political discourse for four decades as “eneMy” to be got rid of, finally became
one in the collective psyche: killing a Tutsi is killing the “eneMy” of Hutu


To put it to nutshell, it is worth noting that the study of Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex aimed the
analysis of the theme of fate, the power that guides, directs and shapes the course of events
in man’s life and its relationship with Rwandan genocide victims. Oedipus, the protagonist
of Sophocles’s play is the best illustration of man’s known reality: man’s happiness never
lasts long. Sophocles tries to illustrate that man cannot provide himself with long lasting
happiness for, if he claims to be self-reliant, happiness changes into bitterness. Sophocles
shows that nobody claims to be happy before his last hour for, as Rwandans say, man
proposes and fate disposes.

Whether we consider the fate of such innocent people as the Tutsi in Rwanda or that of
Sophocles’s “arrogant and proud” hero-Oedipus-, nature is not sentimentalist. Fate is more
powerful than human beings. It is also ready to act at any time and nobody can resist nor
fight it. Nobody dares escape fate for “tu chasses la nature et elle revient au gallop” (you
chase nature and it comes back galloping). To emphasize that no man can shape or escape
his own destiny, Achebe argues:
A man may go to England, become a lawyer
or a doctor, but does not change his blood.
It is like a bird that flies off the earth and
lands on an ant-hill. It is still on the ground. 37

The idea that man has to achieve his duty where fate has placed him is fruitful in this study.
Oedipus’s down fall is linked to his ambition to self-realization and search for truth. The
best way of shaping one’s situation is to work it out where destiny wants him to be, for,
Rwandans like to say, “Ntawuhiganayo” (nobody challenges the Almighty).
Those who try their own ways end in deceiving the Holder of everyman’s destiny and the
reward to their misbehavior costs them life. To this issue Achebe argues:

What a man commits…follows him, comes back to take its toll.

Whatever we see following a man, whatever fate comes to take
revenge on him, can only be what man in some way or another,
in a previous life if not in this, has committed.

Achebe, C. (1960) No Longer at Ease. London: Heinmann Educational Books. P. 145

The guilty suffers; the sufferer is guilty. As for the righteous,

those whose arms are straight, they will always prosper!38

Sophocles’s hero is more likely someone who confronts fate in a very personal
manner and whose reaction to that encounter serves to illuminate for us our
own particular condition. Most of us, Rwandans after all, live in a community
where we don't have to think about the implications of a fatalistic vision of the
universe very much because our social group has educated us in a particular
way of understanding the world and has provided, in addition to that education,
all sorts of stories, rituals, institutions, and so on to reinforce our common
approach to experience. We are all, to a great degree, creatures of habit in this
respect. And so we don't constantly explore the basis for our belief or (if we
stay more or less within our community) have to cope with any challenge to it.

The story of Sophocles’s hero-Oedipus- and of Rwandan heroes-genocide

victims and survivors-who challenge or encounter fate and have to respond can,
on the contrary, force us to confront some basic truths about life and about how
what we like to believe rests on some fundamental assumptions. It is in this
connection that I find My study less exhaustive in the study of fate, and I
encourage future researchers or researches to set their emphasis on this
complex notion our world today fear to face, for when we read stories that deal
with it, we have to confront a challenge: Who does control our lives? What sort
of relationship do we have to that divine force? Does an acknowledgement of a
fatal divine presence impose any moral obligations on me relative to my fellow
believers? And so on.

Achebe, C. (1988) Anthills of the Savannah. London: Heinmann Educational Books. P. 203