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Oedipus

Oedipus (ĕdˈĭpəs, ēˈdĭ–) [key], in Greek legend, son of Laius, king of Thebes, and his wife, Jocasta. Laius had been warned by an oracle that he was fated to be killed by his own son; he therefore abandoned Oedipus on a mountainside. The baby was rescued, however, by a shepherd and brought to the king of Corinth, who adopted him. When Oedipus was grown, he learned from the Delphic oracle that he would kill his father and marry his mother. He fled Corinth to escape this fate, believing his foster parents to be his real parents. At a crossroad he encountered Laius, quarreled with him, and killed him. He continued on to Thebes, where the sphinx was killing all who could not solve her riddle. Oedipus answered it correctly and so won the widowed queen's hand. The prophecy was thus fulfilled. Two sons, Polynices and Eteocles, and two daughters, Antigone and Ismene, were born to the unwittingly incestuous pair. When a plague descended on Thebes, an oracle declared that the only way to rid the land of its pollution was to expel the murderer of Laius. Through a series of painful revelations, brilliantly dramatized by Sophocles in Oedipus Rex, the king learned the truth and in an agony of horror blinded himself. According to Homer, Oedipus continued to reign over Thebes until he was killed in battle; but the more common version is that he was exiled by Creon, Jocasta's brother, and his sons battled for the throne (see Seven against Thebes). In Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus, Oedipus is guided in his later wanderings by his faithful daughter, Antigone.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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