A-Z: General definitions: Oedipus


The name means 'swollen-foot'; he was so-called as a result of the spike driven through his feet when he was left to die as an infant; he was destined to kill his father Laius and marry his mother Jocasta. On reaching manhood, Oedipus learned of a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. To avoid this fate he left his home in Corinth for Thebes. On the way there, he killed a man at a cross-roads following an argument. Arriving in Thebes, he eventually married the widowed Queen Jocasta and became king. Having ruled happily for several years, Oedipus discovered the awful truth: his parents were not the king and queen of Corinth who had brought him up, but Jocasta, now his wife, and her previous husband Laius; they had heard the same prophecy and so had left Oedipus for dead at birth. It also transpired that the man killed at the cross-roads was Laius, Oedipus' father. Horrified at the fulfilment of the prophecy, Jocasta hanged herself. Oedipus blinded himself and went into exile.

Related Topics

Laius; Jocasta; Thebes

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