Fate and Free Will Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
(Chorus): "You great powers of Fate, may Zeus grant an ending here
in which justice changes to the other side!" (306-308)
Here the Chorus prays to Fate to make Zeus bring justice over to their side. (Presumably, they also think that, with justice on their side, they'll start kicking some serious butt.) But does this really make sense? Doesn't fate tend to just go about its own business without listening to what people want it to do? In fact, the more we believe fate exists, the less sense you would think it makes to pray to it, right? What view of fate emerges from Aeschylus's play as a whole? Whatever that viewpoint may be, does it allow for the Chorus to be acting reasonably here? Or are they just giving vent to pure wishful thinking?
(Orestes): "Have you actually learned details of the dream, enough to give a true account?"
(Chorus): "She thought she gave birth to a snake, as she tells it herself."
(Orestes): "And the end of her story? Its culmination?"
(Chorus): "She laid it up in swaddling, like a child."
(Orestes): "What food was it wanting, this new-born monstrosity?"
(Chorus): "She gave it her own breast in the dream."
(Orestes): "What? How was her nipple not wounded by the abominable thing?"
(Chorus): "It was; it drew a clot of blood out with its milk."
(Orestes): "This vision should not prove idle, I am certain!" (526-534)
Here we run into another of your standard-issue Aeschylus-Brand Fate-Related- Ambiguities. Is it just coincidence that Clytemnestra had a dream about giving birth to something that is going to kill her at the same time that her son Orestes is coming to town to do just that? Or is it a sign that fate is behind the scenes, pulling all the strings? We think you could probably interpret it both ways; whichever way you cut it, the fact that Orestes learns about his mother's dream definitely throws off the experiment. For all we know, learning about that dream could have made it more likely that he would enact his revenge by convincing him that it was fated, right? These are just the sort of mental tangles Aeschylus wants to wrap us up in.
(Orestes): "I urge keeping these arrangements secret, so that for killing a man of high honour by trickery they may be caught by trickery too, dying in the same noose, exactly as Loxias declared, the Lord Apollo, in the past a prophet without falsity. I shall come in the guise of a stranger, complete with baggage, to the outer doors, together with this man here – he is Pylades, guest-friend and fighting ally of the house; and we shall both of us speak Parnassian, imitating the sound of the Phocian language." (555-564)
Can you guess where we're going with this? Yup, you got it: another Aeschylus-Brand Fate-Related-Ambiguity. How does it work in this case? Let's take a look. Orestes tells everybody his plan for sneaking into the palace to kill Clytemnestra and Aegisthus. He says he is doing this "so that […] they may be caught by trickery […] exactly as Loxias declared." Translation: "Let's do all this stuff so that the oracle comes true." Then Orestes points out how Apollo has "in the past" been "a prophet without falsity." Well, obviously, if every time he predicts something, people run around as fast as they can trying to make it come true. (Should we just come out and say it? Is the word of Apollo a self-fulfilling prophecy?)
But, before we jump to any wild conclusions and say there's no fate and it's all just free will all along, let's ask another question. Suppose there really were Fate pulling the strings: what would that look like? Would it look any different from what Orestes is doing right now? As you can see, these questions are always tricky.