Greek mythology has spurned on for centuries. The tales of heroes, gods, war, and love make a good reading for lovers of literature. It is interesting to note that most Greek literature follows a repeated pattern. A Greek myth cannot be complete without the above-mentioned themes and motifs. These themes and motifs inform us about the culture of the Greek. By analyzing two texts, ‘King Oedipus’ by Sophocles and ‘Macbeth’ by Shakespeare, this essay is going to look at the motif of Prophecy in Greek myths and how it informs my knowledge of Greek culture.
Prophecy forms a huge part of Macbeth’s life and future. It is the prophecy of the witches that drives the plot of the play to a very complicated and unfathomable stage. From this, we learn about the centrality of prophecies in the Greek mythology. According to the Greek mythology, supernatural beings delivered prophecies. These prophecies emanated from different gods. It is clear from the mythology that human beings could do nothing to change the fate of prophecies. These aspects of the prophecies are seen to dominate Macbeth’s life from the word go.
The play Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces. The play highlights the life and events of Macbeth. This man was brave and had fought to victory. His victory in the war led to his promotion and honor. Macbeth’s heroic acts please the gods, and they reward him with a greater price. Although his family was not in the line of attaining power, he was favored, and his lineage was chosen for the throne.
This information is delivered by the three witches to Macbeth on his return journey to his kingdom after conquering and saving the king’s son.
However, as the Greek mythology clearly stipulates, a simple mistake can cause a great ship to sink (David 4). The way Lady Macbeth receives the news of his husbands causes her sleepless nights. She begins to forge a plan that would later see Macbeth ascend to power way before his time. The presence of Lady Macbeth is seen as an obstacle for Macbeth’s success. This aspect presents the reality of the Greek mythology where women were thought to be weak vessels.
Macbeth’s prophecy also opens the reader to the Greeks culture and beliefs. Among the cultural aspects of the Greeks that have been brought out in this play are power and leadership. In the mythology, leaders were special and honored. The handling of kings and their affairs was also a matter of importance and utter secrecy. The kingship was supposed to be honored and respected too. This nature of the kingship is seen in the way King Duncan is received at Macbeth’s estate. There was an array foods and decorum was observed on the eve of the king’s visit.
The prophecy in this play was delivered just like all the other Greek’s prophecies. The witches were instrumental in letting Macbeth know his future (David 12). This was after his performance in the war was extemporary. In his return, the witches tell him of the possible promotion to the Thane of Cowdar. This information reaches Lady Macbeth, who starts drawing up a strategy that they would later follow and ascent to power.
Macbeth is a strong and brave warrior. This continues for a long time until when the woman of his life turns things around. Lady Macbeth seems to carry the weight of the prophecy and delivers it right at the doorstep of his husband. Prophecies from the gods castigated against greed and misuse of power. In this play, Lady Macbeth appears as a greedy with an insatiable appetite for power. Critics of the play remark that she longed for the queen’s throne (David 43). This longing and lust shrouded her thoughts and thus landed Macbeth in the murky waters, which was not the wish of the gods in the beginning.
King Oedipus’ life centers on a prophecy that the gods had given at his birth. King Oedipus was born to King Laius and queen Jacosta of Thebes. Upon his birth, the gods prophesied that Oedipus would kill his father and marry his father. King Laius decided to kill his son to avert the prophecy. He orders his soldiers to kill Oedipus. He and his wife bask in the knowledge that they are safe from the prophecy.
Oedipus survives the death that his father had planned for him. The soldiers pinned his ankles together and left him to die. Oedipus, who grew up to become King, did not know of the prophecy given at birth. However, his life took turns that ensured he followed his destiny. Although he does not know it, his life moves steadily in the direction that the prophecy had predicted (Austin 34). He has a permanent scar on his foot as a constant symbol of the prophecy. At the end of the tragic play, King Oedipus unknowingly, slays his biological father and takes his biological mother as his wife. He fulfills the prophecy that his father had tried to avert.
This tragedy by Sophocles reflects the role of prophesies and gods in the Greek society. As with the case with many literary pieces, the playwright observed the society of the time and drew inspiration from the culture of the people. The playwright gives the impression that prophecies were god given, and not even kings and noble men could change the words of the prophets (Austin 54). King Oedipus had all the power and influence at his disposal, but this did not erase the prophecy from the gods.
The use of prophecies also reflects the power of religion in the Greek culture. The Greek society imbedded itself in beliefs about gods and supernatural beings. All the sectors of life revolved around the religious calendar. The planting, harvesting even the athletic seasons were all dependent on the religious calendar (Austin 28). Philosophers cite that the religion was rampant at the time because science had not yet taken root in the Greek society. Science had not yet grown to the levels where people could look up to science for answers. Therefore, people looked to religion to answer questions that they had no answers.
‘King Oedipus’ and ‘Macbeth’ both have prophecy as a recurring motif. This shows the importance that the Greeks accorded to gods and prophecies. The motif also shows that religion controlled the Greek culture. Most people depended on gods, prophecies, priests and even witches to learn about the will of the gods. The Greek also used religion as a way of programming their lives. If the gods gave a prophecy on a person’s destiny then they had no choice but to live their lives accordingly.
Austin, Malibbard. The Greek Culture: Lessons from ‘King Oedipus’ . New York: NightOwl, 2011.
David, Elloway. Macbeth by William Shakespear. New York: MacMillan, 2005.