Oedipus and the Intransitive

This question was prompted by a private conversation, but the question is so interesting (at least, to me) that I wanted to throw it open to my other beloved readers to hear their counsel on the matter.

Do or do not the choices of Oedipus “matter” in OEDIPUS REX?

The question is worth asking because we are apt to conflate two separate and distinct concepts under this heading.

Because the word “matter” is a transitive verb, and we tend to use it as an intransitive.  Matters for what? Matters to whom? Matters why?

I will ask specifically: when Oedipus kills Lais, it is because the two men quarrel over who should cross a ford of a river first. To settle the matter, they fought a duel. In the eyes of the law, killing a man in a duel is murder, and one cannot raise “self-defense” to excuse the crime.

Oedipus made a choice to kill the man. There is no evidence of intoxication or insanity or anything else which hindered his capacity to make a decision. He was aware of the moral consequences. The only thing of which he was unaware was that the man he slew was a blood-relative, which, because we owe a duty of love and care to our relatives, aggravated the crime.

In that sense his choice mattered.

However, the point of the story is that fate is inescapable. It was the fate of Oedipus to kill his father. That fate could not be avoided, and this is shown by the fact that what Lais did to avoid the fate, and what Oedipus did to avoid the fate, by the more horrid irony of all Greek tragedies, brought about the fate.
In that sense his choice did not matter. All forks in the road lead to paths that reach the same destination, long or short.

In such a condition live mortal men. The curse of Adam makes us doomed to die. Some live longer than others, and some things, such as prudence in minding one’s health, can add years to the grace period before the sentence is carried out, or decades. But the jury has already decided on the verdict from before you were born: and the sentence is death. Even Lazarus, whose death was reversed and hence postponed by a pardon from the Governor, so to speak, is not now walking the earth.

Do the choices of Oedipus matter? He could have vowed never to touch a weapon or never to wed. One assumes fate would have invented an even more torturous and indirect way to bring about the inevitable result. The murder was still a murder, even if the fact that it was parricide was hidden at the time. The choice certainly mattered in the sense of it being a morally significant act with significant consequences.

But if the playwright is to be believed, that is, if we are willing to accept that fatalism is a logically coherent worldview, whether it applies to the real world or not,  the choices of Oedipus do not matter in so far as changing the predicted outcome is concerned. It would have happened anyway, presumably by other means.