Prophecy to Purgatory

by Michael

A few more P’s in the Discreet Dictionary. Not a great batch, if I’m honest, but that’s inevitable, I suppose.

However, the definition of Prophecy is ‘nomen est omen’, which I think is the simplest, most elegant aphorism I’ve come across. Translations? I’m guessing something like ‘The name is the sign’. ‘Your name dictates your fate’. All a bit nominative determinism (see New Scientist passim) so maybe applies more consistently in literature and drama….

I’m just burbling now. There’s a play I want to write about prophecy wherein two characters lose their names and are given new ones that (like, nomen est omen, man) determine their future, the point being that the names they got could have been apportioned the other way around. But what I really love about prophecies in Greek tragedy is that even if you did everything differently, the outcome would have been the same – you can’t escape fate.

So Oedipus’s parents hear the prophecy that he will kill his father. They decide to kill him first by leaving him on a mountainside but he is found and raised by a different Royal family, and so becomes possible the fulfillment of the prophecy. If Jocasta and Laius had just kept the boy at home, it wouldn’t have happened that way. (Except it would, because this is a Greek tragedy and it was a prophecy; but then it wouldn’t have made such good drama, perhaps.) And in a brilliant extra twist, Oedipus gets himself a prophecy and, hearing that he is destined to kill his father and sleep with his mother, promptly leaves the Royal adoptive parents so as not to end up doing that, and of course ends up back in Thebes where he fulfils the inescapable prophecy. Beautiful.