Oedipus is a prominent figure in Greek mythology and is the central character in one of the most famous Greek tragedies, “Oedipus Rex” (also known as “Oedipus the King”), written by the ancient Greek playwright Sophocles. The story of Oedipus has been a subject of fascination and study in literature and psychology for centuries.
Oedipus is the son of King Laius and Queen Jocasta of Thebes. His story is known for the Oedipus complex, a term coined by Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, to describe a child’s feelings of desire for their opposite-sex parent and rivalry with their same-sex parent. The term is derived from Oedipus’ story, as he unwittingly fulfilled a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother.
Here’s an overview of the main elements of the Oedipus myth:
- The Prophecy: At Oedipus’s birth, an oracle foretold that he would one day kill his father and marry his mother. To prevent this prophecy from coming true, his parents, King Laius and Queen Jocasta, decided to abandon him on a mountainside. However, Oedipus was found and raised by another king, Polybus, and his wife, Merope, in the neighbouring city of Corinth.
- The Journey to Thebes: As a young man, Oedipus learned of the prophecy and, believing that Polybus and Merope were his biological parents, decided to leave Corinth to avoid harming them. On his journey, he encountered his real father, Laius, in a dispute and unknowingly killed him.
- The Riddle of the Sphinx: Oedipus continued on his journey and arrived in the city of Thebes, which was plagued by a terrible curse. He encountered the Sphinx, a mythical creature, and answered its riddle, thereby saving the city and becoming its king.
- The Marriage to Jocasta: Oedipus, unaware of his true parentage, married Jocasta, the widow of King Laius. They had children together, including Antigone, Ismene, Eteocles, and Polynices.
- The Revelation: As the play “Oedipus Rex” unfolds, Thebes faces another crisis, and Oedipus seeks to uncover the truth behind the curse afflicting the city. Through his investigation, he gradually comes to realize the horrifying reality of his past and how he fulfilled the prophecy by killing his father and marrying his mother.
- Tragic Downfall: Upon discovering the truth, Jocasta takes her own life in despair, and Oedipus gouges out his own eyes in a fit of anguish and self-blame. He is subsequently exiled from Thebes.
The story of Oedipus is a classic example of a tragic hero, a character who possesses noble qualities but is ultimately brought to ruin by a tragic flaw. In Oedipus’s case, his tragic flaw is his unwittingly fulfilling the prophecy, despite his best efforts to avoid it. The myth of Oedipus has been the source of inspiration for countless works of literature, drama, and psychological analysis, and it continues to be studied and interpreted in various contexts to this day.