Greek mythology- the story of Oedipus

greek mythology

Our word "myth" is actually a derivative of the greek word "mythos" which originally was taken to mean "speech" but over the centuries it has come to mean "story". (This is a simplistic explanation as I am no Greek scholar). Stories were told in the theatre, often comedies or tragedies which were based on myths. The actual stories differed lightly depending where you heard them, so one interpretation may be different to another- its not wrong, just different.

The tradgedy of Oedipus

Perhaps one of the most well known myths is the tradgedy of Oedipus, perhaps because it mirrors the story of Hamlet, written by English playwright, William Shakespeare in the seventeenth century.

The myth starts with a prophecy- this from the Delphic Oracle- It prophesied that the King and Queen of Thebes would have a son. That son would, when he came of age kill his father and sleep with his mother. King Laius and Queen Jocasta were shocked and when the Queen gave birth to a son they took him to the mountains and left him to die! Just to make sure he would die they pierced his feet and bound them together- drastic action to take with an immobile newborn baby.

Statue of Oedipus
Statue of Oedipus | Source

The baby is rescued

Oedipus was found by a shepherd who took him to Corinth where he was adopted by the King and Queen. He was named Oedipus because that meant "swollen foot". The baby grew strong in the court of King Polybus and Queen Merope and developed into a fine young man. When he was alone one day Oedipus was visited by a stranger who told him he was not the King's son. This was a body blow to the young man so he consulted the Delphic Oracles to see if the story was true. The oracle would not tell him but did tell him that he was destined to kill his father and sleep with his mother. Thinking that this must mean King Polybus and Queen Merope, he left Corinth immediately so that no danger could befall the couple who had loved and cared for him.

Prophecy comes true

Oedipus takes to the road and travels towards Thebes. Whilst on the road he meets a stranger with whom he argues, and after a torrent of insults are received, he kills him. Unbeknown to Oedipus, the stranger is his father, King Laius.

The trouble at Thebes

Thebes was being attacked by a sphinx- the traditional Egyptian figure with the head of a woman and the body of a lion. When she came across someone she would ask them for the solution to a riddle,

"what is it that walks on four legs in the morning, on two at noon, and on three in the evening"? Anyone who could not answer, which was everyone asked, was strangled to their death and eaten if the sphinx felt hungry. When asked the riddle, Oedipus answered clearly "MEN" he said as a man shortly after birth crawls on all fours, when older he stands straight and tall but when his days are nearly over he uses a stick to keep him upright, hence the three legs. The sphinx was beside herself with anger and threw herself to her death. The Kingdom of Thebes was safe again and its citizens were so happy that they made Oedipus their King. He then married the widowed Queen Jocasta and thus fulfilled the prophecy by killing his father and sleeping with his mother.

The terrible truth becomes known

For a while the city of Thebes prospered but soon it was struck down with plague, drought and famine. Oedipus again consulted the Delphic Oracle and was told that only after King Laius' murderer was expelled from Thebes would the good times return. Oedipus ordered that enquiries be made and the shepherd who had saved him as a child presented himself and told him of his birth history.Once the news had been received Queen Jocasta hanged herself rather than live with the knowledge, Oedipus gouged his eyes out so that he would never see what he had done, and left Thebes for destination unknown.

My thoughts

Reading this made me think of the contrast to Ancient Egyptian myths where to marry a sibling or a parent was really part of the story and quite normal, what a contrast!

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Comments 11 comments

CASE1WORKER profile image

CASE1WORKER 5 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM Author

TicksProfessional- thanks for stoppin by. I guess the different endings would depend on who was telling the story- a dramtic playwright would have embroidered and made the story more interesting whilst an orator, passing the story on would have done it verbatim. I guess this is why the stories are basically the same but differ in the crucial parts!


TicksProfessional profile image

TicksProfessional 5 years ago from Lucknow India

yet another fabulous Greek story! I've read another version which does not mention sphinx. When Oedipus arrives in Thebes, people are looking for another king after their king's death and he is chosen. This one's more interesting though.


CASE1WORKER profile image

CASE1WORKER 5 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM Author

christopheranton- thanks, indeed poor oedipus- but they were tragic times, just amazes me that the tradgedy of the story can be appreciated almost two thousand years later


christopheranton profile image

christopheranton 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

Thanks for retelling that tragic story so well. Poor Oedipus.


CASE1WORKER profile image

CASE1WORKER 5 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM Author

yes CM Hypno- but it wouldn't have made such a good story!


CMHypno profile image

CMHypno 5 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

Would probably have been easier for his birth parents to have kept and raised him right! After all, you don't usually kill your father by accident and sleep with your mother. I think that the moral of the story is that you can't escape your fate, so you might as well just stay put and face up to it.


CASE1WORKER profile image

CASE1WORKER 5 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM Author

Nell - thanks, its not often that i keep things short!, but yes simple and clear is the order of the day!


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

Hi, I love these myths and legends, I have been reading p.c. casts Goddess books, I may have already told you? sorry, brain like a sieve! ha ha but this was great, enough story to go into my memory, but not too much to get me confused! rated up! cheers nell


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

Yes, I can understand that.


CASE1WORKER profile image

CASE1WORKER 5 years ago from UNITED KINGDOM Author

i would agree but it might be more that the nature of the "crime" was something you could not live with even though you didn't realise you were doing it?


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

In my own mind I would not feel a person guilty when he did something when he was unaware of what he was doing.

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