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Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Freud’s Analysis of Oedipus Complex

Updated on June 28, 2013
Oedipus and his mother-wife Jocasta, production still from Oedipus by Aarohan Theater Group
Oedipus and his mother-wife Jocasta, production still from Oedipus by Aarohan Theater Group | Source

Oedipus is one of the most important and famous figures in Greek mythologies. Oedipus The King is a Greek tragedy based on this myth, written by Sophocles in 430 BC. Sigmund Freud coined the term Oedipus complex in his Interpretation of Dreams in 1899 from the legend of Oedipus. Before that nothing was heard of Oedipus complex, however, Oedipus the King was considered seminal work by Sophocles and one of the best Greek tragedies. In psychoanalysis, Oedipus complex means love for mother and enmity for father. According to the myth, Oedipus had killed his father and married his own mother and fathered children.

Oedipus and the Sphinx (in public domain) from wikimedia commons via Project Gutenberg
Oedipus and the Sphinx (in public domain) from wikimedia commons via Project Gutenberg | Source
Saugat Malla as Oedipus in the play performed in Kathmandu, Nepal
Saugat Malla as Oedipus in the play performed in Kathmandu, Nepal | Source

Production stills, photographed by Dipendra Bajracharya – courtesy of Aarohan Theater Group – are from the play Oedipus. The play was produced and performed by Aarohan Theater Group, Nepal, and directed by Sunil Pokharel.

The Myth of Oedipus

When Laius, the king of Thebes, was ousted from his kingdom by Amphion and Zethus, the sons of Antiope from Zeus, he took refuge with Pelops. (Zethus had married the nymph Thebe, hence the city got the name Thebes)

Lauis regained his kingdom after Amphion and Zethus died. He then married Jocasta. Even though Pelops had given refuge to Laius, Lauis had kidnapped Pelops’s son. This kidnapping case brought a curse on Lauis. Apollo warned Laius that his own son from Jocasta would kill him.

In order to escape his death, Laius sent his child to be killed. The little Oedipus was left to die in the mountain, however, a shepherd discovered the child. He took baby Oedipus to the King Polybus of Corinth and Merope, his Queen. They raised Oedipus as their own child.

Oedipus left Corinth, when he discovered from the Delphic Oracle that he would kill his own father and marry his own mother. He believed Polybus and Merope were his father and mother. Traveling through the wilderness, one day he met Laius. After a quarrel, a fight ensued between the two over the issue of ownership of the road. Oedipus killed Laius without knowing Laius was the king of Thebes.

When Oedipus reached Thebes, the city was at the mercy of Sphinx. Creon, brother of Jocasta and the regent of Thebes, had announced whoever answered Sphinx’s riddles and get rid of the monster would get the kingdom. Oedipus solved Sphinx’s riddle, became the king of Thebes, and married Jocasta. They had four children, two sons and two daughters.

Many years later, Thebes was plagued by famine and epidemic. There was an Oracle, according to which, the disaster would be averted only when the murderer of King Laius was ousted from Thebes. Oedipus sent men to look for the murderers. The findings came as a tragedy. Upon knowing that she had mothered children from her own son, Jocasta hung herself to death, and Oedipus on seeing his mother-wife dead, blinded himself.

One version of the myth says Oedipus was dethroned and shut up in Thebes, while another version says: Oedipus was banished from Thebes and went to Colonus attended by his daughter Antigone, where he was protected by Theseus.


Incendies (2010) is a movie which tells a tragedy very similar to that of Jocasta and Oedipus. The myth of Oedipus and Oedipus complex is wonderfully handled in Incendies. A twin goes in the search of their father and brother only to discover that they are the children of their own brother. Incendies was nominated as the Best Foreign Movie in Academy Awards. It was adapted from Wajdi Mouawad's play Scorched, and directed by Denis Villeneuve. According to New York Times, Incendies is one of the 10 best films of 2011.

Sigmund Freud By Max Halberstadt (1882-1940) [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Sigmund Freud By Max Halberstadt (1882-1940) [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Sigmund Freud and Psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)analyzed myths from a psychological standpoint. He coined Oedipus complex from the myth of Oedipus and Electra complex from the myth of Electra. The phenomenon called the Oedipus complex first appeared in Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams (1899). In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud proposed that in a male child there is a subdued desire for his mother, and wishes to supersede his father. The Interpretation of Dreams is Sigmund Freud’s seminal work, where he proposed theories of psychoanalysis. The equivalent of Oedipus complex for girls is the Electra complex.

Sigmund Freud’s readings of Greek mythologies is considered controversial, however, his theories like Oedipus complex and Electra complex have influenced hordes of writers, scholars, psychiatrist, doctors and general public.

Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986), French writer and feminist, in her book The Second Sex (1953), has said a teenager gets sexually aroused when he sees his mother's body, especially the exposed parts. Simone de Beauvoir has illustrated Oedipus complex and Electra complex phenomena in her seminal work The Second Sex.

Oedipus Separating from his wife-mother Jocasta by Alexandre Cabanel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Oedipus Separating from his wife-mother Jocasta by Alexandre Cabanel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Oedipus, Jocasta and Creon In Oedipus by Aarohan Theater Group

Click thumbnail to view full-size

What is Oedipus Complex?

Oedipus complex, according to psychoanalytic theory, is a desire for sexual involvement, during the crucial stage of development in a man, with his mother and an affiliated sense of rivalry with his father. Oedipus complex has root in Greek myth about Oedipus. Oedipus complex is so strong in human beings that it conceives the superego while overcoming this phenomenon. Superego is the moral factor that dominates the conscious adult mind.

Sigmund Freud believed Oedipus complex develops in children aged three to five, and this is the time which determines how the child will behave with his father and mother later in this adult life. According to Freud, if the father treated his son with humility and love, the child will develop normal behavior with the father, while mistreatment and harsh attitude will result in severe complication in the child’s mind. Infantile neurosis can occur when there is traumatic experience, which will have significant impact during the child's adult life.

Oedipus complex becomes strong in a child mistreated by his father. As a child grows old, he loses interest in his mother’s breast and fixates on other woman’s breast. However, his rivalry against his father becomes deeply rooted in his mind.

Sigmund Freud’s Analysis of the Myth of Oedipus

Sigmund Freud proposed the reaction against the Oedipus complex is the most important social achievements of human mind. He believed Oedipus complex and Electra complex were detectable in myths, legends, fairy tales, and folktales. Sigmund Freud even went further saying jokes and humors, and the dreams have streaks of this psychological phenomenon. According to Freud, myth was the distorted wish-dreams of human beings. In Totem and Taboo (1913), Freud suggested the Oedipus complex as a memory of a real episode in primordial time that passed through generations.

Though Freud’s anthropological theories have been refuted for his too much dependence on repression of conscious mind as the explanations of the myths, he is regarded highly by the social scientists.


Troy (2004) is a movie based on Greek myth about seize of Troy, directed by Wolfgang Petersen. The story of Troy is based on Homer's Iliad. Even though, the central character in Troy is Achilles (Played by Brad Pitt), it tells the story of Paris (Orlando Bloom), Helen (Diane Kruger) and Agamemnon (Brian Cox).

Chorus in the Oedipus The KIng
Chorus in the Oedipus The KIng | Source
Statue of Sophocles in the Lateran Museum(Rome) I, Sailko [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Statue of Sophocles in the Lateran Museum(Rome) I, Sailko [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Oedipus The King by Sophocles

Oedipus The King, also called Oedipus Rex, is a play written by Sophocles, which illustrates human impotence in the face of destiny, and describes how the fate hurls man and woman into the terrible miseries, for no fault of his/her own. Oedipus The King is one of the masterpieces of Greek tragedy.

Sophocles: Life and Works

Sophocles (496 – 406) was born in Colonus, on the outskirts of Athens. During his lifetime he witnessed great events in the Greek history such as Persian invasion, growth of Athens as an imperial power, and the wars with Sparta and her allies. As a child, Sophocles was trained as a musician and at the age of 16, he led a choir as harper.

Sophocles was born into a prosperous family, his father owned arms factory. He was twice elected as a military commander and was assigned as Special Commissioner. Herodotus and Euripides were his friends. Though Sophocles lived a respectful life and was loved by the ruler and the ruled, he had some difficulties at the end of his life because of his illicit affair with a woman named Theoris.

Sophocles as a Dramatist

Sophocles was a prolific playwright, highly acclaimed in his life time. He introduced scene painting in theater. It is also believed that Sophocles wrote treatise on the art. Structuring of plots and atmosphere build-up are superbly handled in his plays. His analysis of characters and events are wonderfully handled, his language skill is superb, and his lyrics are subtle. In his plays, Sophocles avoided exaggerations and arranged the scenes tactfully.

Sophocles came into limelight when he first won drama contest in 468 BC, defeating the great Aeschylus, when he was just 28-years-old. Sophocles came first in as many as 24 dramatic contests (Aeschylus won 13 times, and four wins for Euripides). It is believed that Sophocles wrote more than 120 plays, during the 60 years of his writing life; however, only seven tragedies have survived.

1. Oedipus Rex (430 BC)

2. Oedipus at Colonus (401 BC)

3. Antigone (442 BC)

4. Electra

5. Ajax

6. Trachiniae

7. Philoctetes (409 BC)

The Myth of Oedipus is also briefly mentioned in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Sophocles wrote three plays based in Oedipus legend: Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone (Antigone was Oedipus daughter from his mother-wife Jocasta)

Major Characters in the Oedipus The King

Oedipus: Son of Laius and Jocasta

Jocasta: Mother and consort of Oedipus

Teiresias: The aged Prophet, who reveals to Oedipus that he is the husband to his own mother.

Creon: Brother of Jocasta


Oedipus The King has been performed numerous times in Kathmandu, Nepal, by Aarohan Theatre Group.

Oedipus and the Prophet Teiresias in Aarohan Theater Group's Production

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Sophocles’ Oedipus the King On Stage

Literature and theater, as we know today, sprouted in Ancient Greece. Even after passing of eons, Greek Tragedies are still fresh with allegory and symbolism. Contribution of Sophocles and his tragedies in World Drama is immense. Sophocles tragedies are studied and performed around the world even today.

Oedipus the King has been performed more than 100 times in Nepal by Aarohan Theater Group.

Aarohan Theater Group performs Proscenium Theater, Forum Theater and Street Theater. Aarohan Theater Group has adapted and performed Les Justes by Albert Camus, A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, and worked in tandem with international directors like Morten Krogh from Norway, Deborah Merola from United States and Max Webster and Mia Theil Have from Denmark. Aarohan Theater Group not only performs regularly shows in Nepal, but has also performed in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, South Korea, Thailand, Norway, Denmark and Russia.

Currently, AarohanTheatre Group is working for the third installment of Kathmandu International Theater Festival.

To participate in Kathmandu International Theater Festival 2012, contact:

Jeebesh Rayamajhi

Kathmandu International Theater Festival Coordinator

Aarohan Theater Group

G.P.O. Box: 12819

Kathmandu, Nepal.



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    • profile image

      Tabi George 

      7 years ago

      Sigmund Freud is a psychoanalytical Doctor from the standpoint in which he appreciates the Human mind. Sophocles has done great in publishing his play Oedipus Rex. I do enjoy seing a child who is pre destined to act the way he acts.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Vin, you have answers to many questions.

      This is wonderfully written articles. I loved the pictures. This article reminds me when we had watched the play in Gurukul.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile imageAUTHOR

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      7 years ago from Nepal

      Dear Maria, I consider Freud as one of the influential men in our world. Thanks for reading and leaving appreciative comments.

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 

      7 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Dear Vinaya,

      I am grateful that you posted this as I had missed it the first time around.

      I am always fascinated by the subject of Freud and you tackled it with your usual thorough, meaningful and professional approach. The photography adds a fabulous compliment to your work, which I voted UP & UABI.

      Have a great week. Hugs, mar.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile imageAUTHOR

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      7 years ago from Nepal

      Hello Martie, I appreciate your inputs.

      Thanks for reading and leaving appreciative comment.


    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      7 years ago from South Africa

      Well-written and well-researched, Vinaya. We should however not confuse the normal and wealthy hero-worship of children for their parents - when they consider their parents as role models - with the Oedipus- and Electra complexes. These complexes are dangerous and leads to severe personality disorders.

      Voted up and excellent :)

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile imageAUTHOR

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      7 years ago from Nepal

      Hi Audrey, thanks for reading and leaving appreciative comment.


    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 

      7 years ago from California

      What a great hub Vinaya!

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile imageAUTHOR

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      7 years ago from Nepal

      Hi alocsin,

      Aarohan performs Nepali plays and Nepali adaptations of English plays.

      Thanks for reading and leaving comment.


    • alocsin profile image

      Aurelio Locsin 

      7 years ago from Orange County, CA

      You're covering a deep theatrical subject -- thanks. The Aarohan Theater Group fascinates me. Does it perform in English or just Nepali?

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile imageAUTHOR

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      7 years ago from Nepal

      @mckbirdbks, thanks for your wonderful compliments.

      @ishwaryaa, thanks for reading closely and leaving in depth comment. Greek mythology, psychology and theater art are some of my subjects of interest.

      @Sueswan, you have marked the point, mama's boy is something related to Oedipus complex.

      Thanks for reading.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hi Vinaya

      A great read.

      I have never heard of Oedipus Complex then again I have not studied Sigmund Freud.

      "In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud proposed that in a male child there is a subdued desire for his mother, and wishes to supersede his father"

      Mama's boy comes to my mind.

      Voted up and away

      Take care :)

    • ishwaryaa22 profile image

      Ishwaryaa Dhandapani 

      7 years ago from Chennai, India

      A thought provoking hub! The title itself is intriguing and that is what made this whole hub engaging! I am very interested in Greek mythology. This streak of Greek mythology in this well-written hub has piqued my reading interest. Electra is new to me and now I learnt about this thanks to you. The details including the author of this tragedy, Kathmandu theatre and all is informative. Well-done!

      Thanks for SHARING. Useful & Interesting. Voted up.

    • mckbirdbks profile image


      7 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Vinaya, I guess all the easy subjects were taken, so you tackled something of this nature. Well written as always and a subject of such interest to so many.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile imageAUTHOR

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      7 years ago from Nepal

      @Sannel, it is a great to have you as a friend on HubPages. You have always honored mw with your appreciative comments.

      @Natashalh, so nice of you to read and leave a wonderful comment.

      @Made, thanks for always following my works.


    • Made profile image

      Madeleine Salin 

      7 years ago from Finland

      This hub is an outstanding combination of mythology, psychology and culture. Great and voted up!

    • Natashalh profile image


      7 years ago from Hawaii

      Having this hub would have made high school a lot easier for me! Thanks for all the great information and pictures. I always have trouble finding pictures I want to use, if I'm not using my own, but you have loads of great photos.

    • SanneL profile image


      7 years ago from Sweden

      What an outstanding piece of work! But then again, so are all of your work, Vinaya. The Greek mythology has always fascinated me, and more so since I spend so much time in Greece. Your combination of Greek tragedies and the Freudian interpretations are fantastic. It's well-researched and of much interest. Great read. Well done my friend!

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile imageAUTHOR

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      7 years ago from Nepal

      Hi onlooker,

      thanks for reading the article closely and leaving in depth comment.

      A +, wow!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thank you, Vinaya. This is an awesome and insightful read. It refreshed my college assignments all over again. A+ for you here. Freud is a genius and I do very much agree with his psychoanalysis and the part of ed, ego and super ego in human nature.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile imageAUTHOR

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      7 years ago from Nepal

      @Christy, thanks for appreciating my work. I'm blessed with a reader like you.

      @Tammy, thanks for inspiring me with wonderful idea.

      @Rosemary, thanks for always leaving wonderful comments.

      @Girish, we all are here to learn from others. You learn from me, I learn from you. Cheers

      @Jools, Antigone is one of my favorite Greek characters. Thanks for you comment.

      @Lovedoc, you are not the first one not to approve Freud's interpretation of myth. However, Freud's contribution to psychoanalysis is great. Thanks for always reading and commenting on my hubs


    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I've studied psychology and read a lot about Freud. I don't agree with some of his sexual analytic theories. The Electra and Oedipus complex seem very strange to me. Great hub as usual. keep writing. lol.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools Hogg 

      7 years ago from North-East UK

      Vinaya, great hub. I had to study this play during my degree and I really like Sophocles' other play, Antigone too (which I also studied). The Greeks certainly knew how to create great (if a little bit twisted!) stories.

    • girishpuri profile image

      Girish puri 

      7 years ago from NCR , INDIA

      Thanks Vinaya, this is an addition to my knowledge, keep writing

    • Rosemay50 profile image

      Rosemary Sadler 

      7 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

      A professional and well set out hub as usual. The myths and Freudian interpretations of them is so very interesting. You did a great job here Vinaya

      Voting up

    • tammyswallow profile image


      7 years ago from North Carolina

      This is fabulous. Freud's theories make human beings uncomfortable, but there is some truth to them. It would be great to read a hub on Frued's analysis on the Wizard of Oz. (Hint, hint). You did some great research and created a very unique and insightful hub. Voting way up!

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 

      7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Wow, so much information here Vinaya. What a quality article that is well-researched. Thank-you for all of your knowledge shared here with us. Keep up the great work!

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile imageAUTHOR

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      7 years ago from Nepal

      @tillsontitan, Sophocles was a wonderful dramatist, and Freud's interpretation gives new dimension to the myths. Thanks for your comment.

      @Safa, I appreciate your reading and commenting.

      @B. Leekley, thanks for appreciating my work.


    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      7 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      This hub is a very good overview of the myths, their depictions in Greek tragedies, and the Freudian interpretations of them.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Valuable historical information...Awesome post

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      7 years ago from New York

      430 B.C. a time that seems incomprehensible to us now, yet it still affects society! You've really explained this well and added so much to the 'story'. From fiction to fact and back again, not to mention theater in Nepal. This was a really good hub with a tremendous amount of research. Voted up, interesting and awesome.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile imageAUTHOR

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      7 years ago from Nepal

      @radha, there are many people, including scholars, who do not agree with Freud regarding his interpretation of myths, mainly Oedipus and Electra. However, his contribution to the psychoanalysis is considered greatest achievement of humankind.

      Thanks for reading and providing valuable feedback.

      @Ruby, I did not study Freud in the university, however, I have been reading him since I was in High School.

      Thanks for reading and appreciating my work.


    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      7 years ago from Southern Illinois

      This is a great article!! Such a history lesson. The pictures are vivid and add to this piece beautifully. I studied Freud in a psychology course, this was a great refresher..Thank you..Your work is so complete and well done..Thank you..

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Interesting that this play was in Nepal. I studied psychology because I have a BSW (Bachelors of Social Work), so I studied this whole question. I got to be honest that few children would be thinking that way from 3 to 5 years of age. I do think you might look for a mate like your father or mother, depending upon your orientation. Or you might be attracted to someone the opposite. In Wholistic Social Work you look at the whole person, so you do look at the individual, family, community, culture, spirituality, etc. Myths do have some truths to tell us, though. Good blog and hope to hear more about the plays in Nepal. I just published my new blog.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile imageAUTHOR

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      7 years ago from Nepal

      @Frank, thanks for always reading and commenting on my works.

      @Angel, I'm honored and blessed with a writer friend like you. Thanks for reading closely and leaving wonderful comments.


    • Angelme566 profile image


      7 years ago

      Writer Vinaya is so clever enough that he was able to connect his main topic to the tourism of his country , bringing the whole concept in real life situation , this what makes him unique , amazing and brilliant and only him seems can do it. More power Sir !

    • Angelme566 profile image


      7 years ago

      What a very comprehensive psycho sexual analysis...while reading i feel like attending a psychology class , the teacher explains well why there is that close bond between father and daughter and why mom and son gets along well.

      This is a well worked hub ! As always this is an outstanding piece.

      Voted up !

      Good Morning !

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 

      7 years ago from Shelton

      VG as always what a great share :) Frank


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