Key words£ºOedipus, Sphinx, Jocasta, Laius 
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Genre£ºmyth Topic£ºOedipus Words:500
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Oedipus answered that it was man,
who crawled on four legs as a baby, walked on two
as an adult, and used a stick during old age.


Author£ºUnknown Source£º
Nation£ºGreece Date£º2008-8-21

(Oedipus with the Sphinx,
from an Attic red-figure cylix from the Vatican Museum, ca. 470 BC)


Oedipus was one of the most unfortunate heroes of the Greek Myths. After his birth Laius and Jocasta, king and queen of Thebes, took their son Oedipus to an oracle, which gave them disastrous news. It said that he would marry his mother, kill his father, and ruin his family.

Laius was horrified and decided on a plan of action. He drilled holes into Oedipus' ankles and threaded a strap through, in order to tie them together. He then had the child abandoned on a mountain. Oedipus was found by shepherds who brought him to Polybus, the king of Corinth. The king had no children of his own, so he adopted the boy and gave him his name, meaning 'swollen foot'.

Oedipus grew up happy, believing that he was the son of Polybus. When he was full-grown he visited the Oracle at Delphi, which repeated the disastrous prophecy that had been made when he was born. Oedipus was horrified and left Corinth immediately, to get as far as possible away from the man he believed to be his father. He decided to travel to Thebes, but on the narrow road he met with King Lauis, who demanded that he be let past. The king insulted Oedipus and killed one of his horses, causing a fight, during which Lauis was killed, just as the oracle had predicted.

When Oedipus reached Thebes he found the city troubled by a monster named the Sphinx. She was half lion, half woman, and crouched on a rock which people needed to pass. Whenever someone went by she asked them questions, and if they could not answer correctly she would swallow them. When Oedipus arrived at Thebes no one had so far answered any of her riddles, but he needed to pass. The sphinx asked him a riddle:

What being walks on four legs in the morning,
two at noon and three at sunset,
and is weakest when it walks on four?

Oedipus answered that it was man, who crawled on four legs as a baby, walked on two as an adult, and used a stick during old age. The sphinx was so horrified that someone had answered her correctly that she threw herself off the rock to her death. Thebes was free of the sphinx, and Oedipus was declared a hero. The Thebans made him their king, and he married the queen - Jocasta, his own mother.

After many happy years of marriage, a message came from Corinth that Polybus was dead. Since Oedipus had not killed him, he believed that half the prophecy had failed to come true. He still worried about the other half, and confided in the messenger, who he had known when he lived in the palace at Corinth. The messenger revealed that he was adopted, meaning to comfort him. Oedipus, however, realised that he had married Jocasta and killed her husband, and that they, therefore, were his mother and father. He despaired, and put his eyes out with needles, while Jocasta killed herself upon being told the truth. Oedipus renounced the throne and was banished, wandering the earth with his daughter from the marriage, Anitgone, until he died at Colonis.



1. Why did Laius abandon his son Oedipus?

2. Why did Oedipus leave Corinth immediately?

3. What happened on the narrow road to Thebes?

4. How did the Sphinx trouble the city Thebes?

5. Why did the Thebans make Oedipus their king?

6. What did Oedipus do after he knew all the truth?


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