O to Oresteia Orestes to Ozolian


The unfortunate king of the city of Thebes who inadvertently killed his father and married his mother.

Oedipus is one of the most well known names in Greek mythology; we hear his name today associated with a mental disorder which denotes the unhealthy attraction of a son to his mother and is called the Oedipus Complex.

The story of Oedipus begins with Oedipus’ father, Laius; when Laius was a young man he fled his home in the city of Thebes and took refuge with king Pelops; for unknown reasons, Laius kidnapped Pelops’ son; to be welcomed as a guest and then to violate that trust was one of the most serious crimes an ancient Greek could commit; as punishment for this crime, Apollon foretold that Laius would have a son that would kill him.

Laius was as arrogant as an adult as he was impulsive as a young man, so when he and his wife, Iokaste (Jocasta), had a son, they made one of their servants take the infant to Mount Kithaeron (Cithaeron), pierce and bind his ankles, and leave him for the beasts and elements to devour; they clearly wanted to defy the prophecy of Apollon.

The servant they chose to murder the boy could not carry out the murderous act and gave the child to a shepherd from a neighboring province; the child was finally presented to the king of the city of Korinth (Corinth) where he was named Oedipus and raised as part of the royal household; the name Oedipus means “swollen foot” and was derived from the injury to the boy’s ankles.

The king and queen of Korinth, Polybos and Merope raised Oedipus as their son but when he became an adult he was told by the oracle at Delphi that he would be the murderer of his father; Oedipus loved Polybos, who he assumed to be his natural father, and fled Korinth so that the prophecy could not be fulfilled.

While traveling, Oedipus encountered a nobleman and his guards; a confrontation ensued and Oedipus killed the nobleman, who was his true father, king Laius, and all but one of the guards; Oedipus apparently did not place any divine significance to the encounter and resumed his journey.

When he was near Thebes, Oedipus was stopped by the monster known as the Sphinx who demanded the answer to a riddle before he could pass; the Sphinx guarded the road into Thebes and was a curse to all travelers because if they could not answer her riddles, she killed them; no one had ever survived an encounter with the Sphinx until Oedipus arrived.

The riddle which Oedipus correctly answered was briefly referred to by Hesiod in Works of Days (line 533) and was presumably: What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon and three legs in the evening; the answer is Man, i.e. he crawls on all-fours as an infant, walks on his two legs in his prime and walks with a cane in old age; when Oedipus correctly answered her riddle the Sphinx killed herself thus lifting the curse from Thebes.

Oedipus was welcomed at Thebes as a hero and, since king Laius was dead, he was asked to become the new king and marry Laius’ widow, Iokaste; they lived for many years in peaceful prosperity and had four children, two boys and two girls.

When the children became young adults, a plague enveloped the land around Thebes; Oedipus sent his brother-in-law, Kreon (Creon) as an envoy to the oracle at Delphi hoping to find a remedy for the blight that threatened the countryside; when Kreon returned, he told Oedipus that the oracle had told him that until the people of Thebes exposed and exiled the murderer of king Laius, the plague would continue.

Oedipus desperately begged the citizens of Thebes to come forward with any information which might expose the murderer of Laius; the blind prophet, Teiresias, reluctantly told Oedipus that he, Oedipus, was cursed by the Immortals and that he was the cause of all their sorrows; Oedipus flew into a rage against Kreon and Teiresias but before he could vent his anger a messenger arrived from Korinth to inform him that his assumed father, Polybos, was dead; Oedipus was momentarily relieved because the prophecy of Apollon had not been fulfilled, he had not murdered his father.

The only bodyguard to survive the attack on Laius, now an old man, was brought forward and when he related the circumstances of Laius’ death, Oedipus realized that the nobleman he had killed on the road those many years ago must have been Laius; the messenger from Korinth also happened to be the same man who had taken the infant from Laius’ servant on Mount Kithaeron and given it to Polybos.

Iokaste confessed that she and Laius had plotted to murder their son but that she had no idea that the child had survived; with the entire story now exposed, Oedipus and Iokaste fully realized the utter hopelessness of their position; they had been manipulated by the machinations of the Immortals and there was no escape from the prophecies of Apollon; Iokaste retreated into the palace and hanged herself; Oedipus blinded himself and left Thebes as an exile; Oedipus’ oldest son, Eteokles (Eteocles) took the throne of Thebes and exiled his younger brother, Polynikes (Polynices).

Polynikes went to Argos and plotted revenge against his brother; one of Oedipus’ daughters, Antigone, accompanied him into exile but his other daughter, Ismene, stayed in Thebes; after years of wandering, Oedipus and Antigone came to the town of Kolonus (Colonus) near Athens; they took refuge in a sanctuary of the Eumenides (the Furies) and were confronted by a group of elders from nearby Athens; Oedipus refused to leave the forbidden sanctuary and begged for an audience with the king of Athens, Theseus; everyone in Greece had heard of the infamy of Oedipus but Theseus took pity on him and promised to protect him from all harm.

At this time, Ismene found her father and sister in the sanctuary and warned them that Kreon was plotting against Oedipus and that her brothers were insane with ambition; Oedipus was unmoved by the news of his troubled kingdom because of a premonition of his impending death; he sent Ismene to the nearby spring to fetch water so that he might cleanse himself and show proper respect for the goddesses of the sanctuary where he was determined to stay until his appointed hour with death.

While Theseus was busy at the altar of Poseidon (lord of the Sea), Kreon appeared in the sanctuary and kidnapped Antigone; he said that Ismene was already his prisoner and that if Oedipus did not accompany him back to the border of Thebes, the girls would not be allowed to see him again; Oedipus could not return to Thebes because of his banishment but Kreon insisted that Oedipus would be a symbol of his (Kreon’s) right to the throne; Oedipus denounced Kreon and cursed him for his outrageous behavior.

The cries of outrage from the Athenian elders did not stop Kreon but Theseus heard the commotion and sent soldiers to retrieve Ismene and Antigone; Kreon was unrepentant for his rashness but did not resist the authority of Theseus; at this time Polynikes entered the sanctuary and begged his father to give his blessing for his impending attack on Thebes; Oedipus did not give his blessing but instead cursed Polynikes and his brother, Eteokles, to an ignoble death.

Polynikes and Eteokles, unlike their sisters, had turned their backs on Oedipus while he had been in exile and so Oedipus had no sympathy for the ungrateful and self-serving behavior of his sons; the sound of thunder in the sanctuary of the Erinys was proof positive to the Athenian elders and Theseus that Oedipus was blessed by the Immortals and that he was to be treated with respect; they concluded that no man could be blamed for fulfilling the will and prophecies of Zeus or Apollon.

Oedipus promised Theseus that if he was allowed to die in peace that Theseus and his heirs would remain the unchallenged rulers of Athens for all time; Theseus and Oedipus went into the nearby forest and, with no other witnesses, Oedipus was taken into the Underworld.

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O to Oresteia Orestes to Ozolian


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