The Tragedy of Oedipus

After their marriage, King Laius of Thebes and his wife Jocasta were warned by the Delphic Oracle that should they have a son that son would kill Laius and marry Jocasta. It was not long after this warning that Jocasta gave birth to a son. Fearing the prophecy Laius pierced and bound the infant's feet and left him to die on a mountain side. A shepherd found the child and brought him to his king, King Polybius of Corinth. Polybus raised the child as his own, naming him Oedipus, which means "swollen-foot".

Oedipus had a happy childhood, and when he came to adulthood he decided to consult the Oracle of Delphi to find out about his future. The Oracle told him the dreadful prophecy that had been told to his father. Still believing that Polybus was his real father, Oedipus decided to go to Thebes so he would not be near Polybius, effectively escaping the prophecy. On his way he met up with pilgrims on their way to Delphi. Oedipus asked them to move out of his way, but they would not yeild. He killed all of them, not knowing that their leader was his real father, Laius. Thinking nothing of killing the pilgrims, he continued on his way.

Now, Thebes had troubles of it's own: the Sphinx had stationed herself outside the gates and was asking everyone who tried to enter a riddle: "What has four legs in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three in the evening?" If they guessed correctly she would leave. If they guessed incorrectly she got to eat the unfortunate person. So far no one had solved her riddle. Having nothing to lose Oedipus took a stab at the riddle, and guessed the correct answer: a man. The sphinx left, and the people were so overjoyed that they made Oedipus their king, and he married Jocasta, the queen.

Oedipus and Jocasta lived happily for many years, and had four children: Etocles, Polynices, Ismene, and Antigone. Then, a plague hit the city, which would not end until Lauis murder had been avenged. Oedipus swore to kill those responsible, not knowing that he was the guilty party. They could not solve the puzzle until the great seer Tiresias came to tell them the truth. In horror of what had happened, Jocasta hung herself, and Oedipus blinded and bannished himself, with only Antigone as company. Oedipus died in Attica, because king Theseus of Athens was the only one who would take in the cursed man. This brought great prosperity to the city, as the land that Oedipus was burried on would be blessed by the gods forever.


The stories of Oedipus vary somewhat in their details. The version I have comes from the plays of Sophocles: Oedipus Rex and Oedipus at Colonus.

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