Oedipus

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In Greek mythology, Oedipus was a king of Thebes who killed his father and married his mother.

Before the birth of Oedipus, an oracle had warned his father Laius that his son would kill his father. However, Oedipus was accidentally conceived while Laius was drunk. After the birth of Oedipus, Laius had his ankles pierced and ordered a sherpherd to kill him. The shepherd abandoned Oedipus on Cithaeron but he was discovered by the subjects of Polybus, the king of Corinth and he adopted Oedipus as his son giving him the name because of his swollen feet. Later, when someone had suggested to Oedipus that he was not the true son of his father, he went to inquire about the matter from Delphi. The oracle only predicted that he would kill his father and marry his father.

Oedipus immediately left Corinth. On the way he met with Laius whose herald Polyphontes ordered him to make way and killed one of his horses when he refused. Enraged, Oedipus killed both Polyphontes and Laius. Near Thebes Oedipus met the Sphinx who had been sent by Hera to trouble the city. She sat on Mount Phicium and asked everyone a riddle she had learned from the Muses, "What is that which has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed", killing anyone who failed to answer. Oedipus figured out that the answer was man, who walks on four limbs as a child, on two legs as an adult and supported by a staff when he is old, and the Sphinx threw herself from the mountain and died. Oedipus was made the king of Thebes and married the widowed Queen Jocasta. They had two sons named Polynices and Eteocles and two daughters named Antigone and Ismene.

Later a plague came to Thebes and it was predicted that it would last as long as the murderer of Laius remained in the city. Oedipus ordered an investigation to find the murderer but it was eventually discovered that it was him and that he had married his mother. Following the discovery, Jocasta hanged herself and Oedipus put out his eyes. He cursed his sons and went to exile in Colonus where he eventually died.

Oedipus is the subject of two tragedies by Sophocles, Oedipus Rex and Oedipus at Colonus.


Trivia

Freud derived the term for Oedipus complex from this myth.

References

  • Apollodorus. The Library.
  • Sophocles. Oedipus the King.
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