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Oedipus



Oedipus was a king in Greek mythology, ruling over the city of Thebes. He was the son of King Laius and Queen Jocasta. Not knowing, he married his mother and had four children with her, Polynices, Eteocles, Antigone, and Ismene.

It all started when King Laius decided to consult the Oracle at Delphi to learn if he and his wife would ever have children. The prophecy given was that any son that was born out of their union would kill them. After a while, Jocasta got pregnant and eventually gave birth to a baby boy.

To avoid the prophecy, Laius told his servants to pierce the baby's ankles, so that he would not be able to crawl; that's how the baby got the name Oedipus, meaning swollen foot. Jocasta then gave the baby to one of their shepherds, telling him to leave the baby in the mountains to die.

The shepherd, unable to do this, handed the baby over to another shepherd, who then brought it at the court of King Polybus and Queen Merope of Corinth.

The royal couple, also childless, decided to adopt the poor baby and raise him as their own. When Oedipus grew up, he was told by someone that Polybus and Merope were not his real parents. Deciding to investigate this matter, Oedipus ended up in Delphi, to consult the Oracle.

There, he was told that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Upon hearing this, Oedipus thought that the prophecy meant Polybus and Merope, and decided not to return to Corinth. Instead, he started walking towards the city of Thebes.

On his way there, he came across King Laius, his biological father, on a chariot, as he was on his way to the Oracle once again. Oedipus and Laius' charioteer started quarreling over who had the right of way. The quarrel ended up with Oedipus killing the charioteer and his father, thus unknowingly fulfilling the first half of his prophecy.

Later, he met a monster called Sphinx, who plagued the region of Thebes, destroying crops and killing travellers who did not answer its questions. The Sphinx asked Oedipus the same question it asked the rest; what walks on four feet in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three at night?

No one had ever answered the question correctly before, and the Sphinx had killed and eaten all of them. Oedipus thought carefully and eventually gave the correct answer; man, who crawls on all fours as a baby; he walks on two legs as an adult; and needs a walking stick when old.

The Sphinx, not bearing that its riddle had been answered correctly, killed itself by falling off the rock it was sitting on.

When Oedipus reached Thebes, he was accepted with honours by Creon, Jocasta's brother and his uncle, who served as a temporary king after Laius' death. Creon had said that anyone who would kill the Sphinx would become king and would marry Jocasta. Thus, the second part of the prophecy was fulfilled and Oedipus rose to the throne of Thebes, marrying his mother.

Oedipus and Jocasta had four children, Eteocles, Polynices, Antigone and Ismene. Years later, pestilence was brought upon the city of Thebes, so Oedipus sent Creon to the Oracle at Delphi to get a consultation. Creon learned that it all happened because the killer of Laius had not been taken to justice.

Oedipus cursed the killer of Laius, and asked the prophet Tiresias to find out who the killer was. Tiresias was forced to say that it was Oedipus who killed the former king, and that he also did not know who his true parents were. Oedipus and Creon went into a heated argument, and Jocasta intervened and recounted the story of her son and how he had supposedly died.

At that moment, a messenger from Corinth entered the court and informed everyone that Polybus had died. Oedipus was initially relieved, thinking Polybus was his real father and that the prophecy had failed to become true, but he said he would not attend the funeral, in order to avoid meeting his mother and maybe causing the second part of the prophecy to materialise.

The messenger then explained to him that he was in fact adopted and that Polybus and Merope were not his biological parents.

This was the revelation moment for everyone; Oedipus realised that he had in fact killed his father years ago, and that he had married his mother. Oedipus tried to find Jocasta who had fled moments earlier, only to find she hanged herself.

He then took a brooch from her gown, and using the pin, he pricked his eyes and blinded himself. He fled the city, guided by his daughter Antigone, and reached the court of King Theseus of Athens, where they were both welcomed. He died there some time later.

After Oedipus' death, his sons Polynices and Eteocles decided to share the throne, but when Eteocles refused to give the throne when his time was over, Polynices left Thebes and returned with an army. This caused the events of the story called Seven Against Thebes, which resulted in both brothers dying on the battlefield.

[1]

Sources

[1] "Greek Mythology"




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