Oedipus (myth)

   Oedipus, in Grecian legend, a prince of Thebes. He was the son of King Laius and his wife Jocasta. Laius, having been informed that his son would put him to death, caused the child's feet to be fas­tened together by thrusting a pin through them, and ordered him exposed on the mountain to die. A herdsman, to whom the unwelcome task was committed, took compassion on the infant and gave him into the care of a shepherd who belonged to the household of the king of Corinth.
   Through the schemes of the shepherd, the young man was adopted by the Corinthian king and grew up to regard himself as heir to the crown. He was called Oedipus, which means swollen foot, from the condi­tion of his feet when brought to the king. Being taunted with low birth, he con­sulted the oracle at Delphi. The only an­swer received was that he was fated to slay his father and marry his mother. To avoid such a course he left his supposed father and mother at Corinth and set out for Thebes.
   On the way he met his real father in a chariot accompanied by servants. He was ordered roughly to get out of the road and in a scuffle that followed he slew his father, Laius, as had been foretold.
   In the course of his journey he came to Thebes. He found the city harassed by a monster called the Sphinx. Creon, the brother of Laius, the uncle of the stranger Oedipus, offered the hand of the widowed Jocasta, the young man's mother, as well as the throne itself, to anyone who would slay the sphinx. The sphinx was a monster who crouched on a rock and propounded a riddle to every traveler who passed. If he solved the riddle the traveler might go on in safety; if he failed, he was put to death. So far all had been slain. Oedipus sought the sphinx and listened to the riddle.

Tell me, what animal is that
Which has four feet at morning bright,
Has two at noon, and three at night?

   Oedipus at once replied, "Man, who in infancy creeps on hands and knees, in man­hood walks erect, and in old age uses a staff." The sphinx, overwhelmed with mor­tification, cast herself from the rock and perished.
   Having thus fulfilled the condi­tions, Oedipus married his mother Jocasta and was made king of Thebes. At the end, a pestilence was sent upon the land. It was then made known by an oracle that Oedipus had slain his father. Jocasta hanged herself. Oedipus, the unfortunate and innocent victim of circumstance, went forth a wanderer, led by the hand of his faithful daughter Antigone. Reaching Athens he entered a sacred grove in which he was called without pain or struggle to another world.
   The tragic story of Oedi­pus, the man of misfortune, the toy of fate, was made the subject of three plays by the Greek tragedian, Sophocles: Oedipus Tyrannus, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone. The theme has been worked over by French and English tragedians.