Oedipus - Greek Mythology - Myth of Oedipus and Jocasta

Oedipus - Greek Mythology - Myth of Oedipus and Jocasta

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Oedipus and the Sphinx
Attic cup 5th century BC

History tells us how in the city of Thebes, King Laius and his wife Jocasta lived happily like all their population. Bad luck would have it that one day ilre decided to interrogate the oracle of Delphi to ask him if he would ever have children. The oracle at the king's request was very clear: he predicted that he would beware of having a son because, if he were born, he would bring a great disaster to all the Theban people, killing the blood of his own blood and uniting with the one who had generated him. Laio, hearing those words shivered so much that when, some time later, Jocasta became pregnant gave birth to a child, by mutual agreement with his wife she decided to abandon him on the slopes of Mount Citerone after having pierced the soles of his feet, sure that fairs and hardships would have killed him. In this way, the two rulers thought they had circumvented the prophecy.

Unfortunately, however, the child was found by Forba, a shepherd who, hearing the cries of the child, helped him and brought him to Polybus, king of Corinth. In fact, the shepherd knew that the king, having had no children, would have welcomed as a gift from heaven that infant to whom he gave the name Oedipus which meant "with swollen feet".

Years passed and Oedipus grew up strong and vigorous surrounded by so much love, but one day a peer of his age during a banquet mentioned his dark origins by telling him that Polybus and his wife Peribea were not his real parents. from the oracle of Delphi to find out the truth, and once he got what he heard it was terrible: he should never have returned to his homeland under pain of an ancient curse.

Here is how Sophocles tells the story in Oedipus:

«Apollo, however, did not answer my question openly, and instead predicted tears and horrible misfortunes: it would be my destiny to mingle in love with my mother, and to have nefarious offspring from her; besides I would have killed my father ».

Oedipus et Sphinx (Oedipus and the Sphinx)
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingre, 1808

Oedipus shocked by that response, he decided never to return to Corinth, convinced that this was his true homeland and thus began to wander around the world, a soul in pain in search of a place to stop.

His wandering brought him near the city of Thebes. Arriving in the vicinity of a gorge he met other travelers, with whom he began an altercation with increasingly bright tones that end with the killing of an old man by Oedipus.

Here is how Sophocles tells the story in Oedipus:

«For fear that the prophecy would come true, I abandoned Corinth and, letting myself be guided by the stars, I came here (to Thebes). I had just entered a crossroads when from the opposite direction I came forward preceded by the herald, a chariot in which an old man was. The old man and the charioteer demanded that I let go; outraged, I struck the charioteer and the old man, treacherously, hit me on the head with a two-pronged whip: the punishment he suffered was not identical, a blow from the club. this hand of mine made him fall from the chariot. '

Continuing his journey Oedipus arrived in Thebes where he meets Jocasta who, due to the mysterious death of her husband, reigned with her brother Creon. Oedipus faced a city on the brink of destruction due to a very great threat: a sphinx, a being half man and half winged lion, sent by an era to which the people of Thebes had done offense, which decimated the population because no man or woman was able to answer his puzzles. When Oedipus arrived deciding that this would be a beautiful city to be able to spend the rest of his life, he decided to face the Sphinx. When Oedipus was in front of the winged creature, he listened to the enigma that recited: "Who is that animal that walks on all fours in the morning, in the afternoon with two and in the evening with three?" Edipofu's reply quickly: "The man." Thus Thebes was freed from the curse.

Great was the joy of the whole population and of Jocasta herself who, falling in love with the young man, proposed that he marry her and reign with her over Thebes. From their marriage they had four children: Eteoclo, Polynice, Antigone and Ismene. Shortly after, however, a terrible plague occurred in Tebesco so that the population was decimated without any mercy. Not knowing what to do, Oedipus decided to go to Delphi to consult the oracle, which gave such an obscure response that no one understood its meaning. In fact, he said that the pestilence would cease only when the responsibility for the death of Laius, the old king of Thebes, would be punished.

Oedipus, who did not understand the meaning of those words, then called Tiresias, the greatest of the soothsayers of the time who, however, was reluctant to reveal the meaning of the words of the oracle so much that in the end Oedipus was forced to threaten him in order to tell the truth. Thus it was that Oedipus learned that his homeland was not Corinth but Thebes and that he was not an old traveler whom he had killed before arriving in the city but Laius, his father and that he should not have joined Jocasta because she was his mother, therefore it was he, the unwittingly responsible for the misfortunes that afflicted Thebes.

Jocasta, not believing those words, tried to convince Oedipus that the child, born many years ago, was now dead. But fate would have it that in those days a messenger from Corinth came to Thebes who, questioned by Oedipus, revealed that he was not the natural son of Polybus but that he had been adopted because he was found, still infested, among the Citerone mountains. At the same time the herald who had accompanied Laius was summoned to court and asked to provide clarifications on the death of the old king and he revealed to Oedipus that the traveler he had killed along the road to Thebes was actually Laius.

At those words Jocasta's mind wavered and she hanged herself out of pain and shame (according to other versions she was killed after her sons Eteocles and Polynice died in a duel).

Oedipus, unable to bear so much pain, blinded himself and chased away from Thebes, cursed his children and began a journey that would lead him to distant lands until he was forgotten by every person and thing of creation (according to other versions he was accompanied by his daughter Antigone).

Oedipus and the Sphinx, Moreau Gustave, 1864,
oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

This is how Stazio tells us the facts (Tebaide, I 49 et seq. Translation Cornelio Bentivoglio)

«(...) showing to the sky
the empty hollows of the blind brow,
perpetual pain in the unhappy life,
and with the blood-red hands the ground beating,
the horrible voice in such sayings and the melted:
- O raw gods of the eternal night,
that the black abyss and the alme you choose
with supplicants you hold; and you, stagnant
lakes of Styx, which still eyeless
I also see; and you from me often,
Tesifone, invoked, to the proud sayings
lend your ear and the second guilty vote.
If you deserve, if you worthy of you
I'm; if they leave the maternal age
you picked me up; if the infirm foot
you healed me; if to the bicorne yoke
and you escorted me to the Cirrea wave;
(although better I lived happy
of Phocis in the crossroads and in the fortress
of Polybus believed to be my father);
if for you alone with this impious hand
the unknown old father killed,
and I explained the dark senses of the Sphinx;
if sweet furies in the maternal bed
for you savors and more nefarious nights,
and you will have my children; if the eyes
I quickened in front of and the unhappy mother
I threw forward: now listen to my prayers,
and grant me what you would do for yourself.
My wicked children (and who senses the way?)
that I will generate, not that of the afflicted father,
of the soulless light and its kingdom,
pity take them or care, and his pain
temprin co i sayings: they are already Kings in ours
throne sitting in spiteful mockery
they have our darkness, and they have disdain
the paternal complaints. To these again
am i in hate? And even if he sees Jupiter?
And do you still suffer from it? But if it doesn't fall to him,
at least make a bitter revenge, and pass
also to the sons of the sons the rio scourge.
Gird the hair of the ominous wreath,
than with putrid blood still soaked,
once kidnapped he was by my hand;
and instigated by paternal vows
go among the wicked brothers: hostile iron
blood trunks the sacred knots; and be it
Such is the excess you weave, oh goddess of Avernus,
that I sigh to have the light that I see.
Come as you agree, and ready
in every way the wicked will follow you,
nor can you doubt that they are my children. (...) "

The gods, moved to pity for the fate that had raged against a man, who was not the architect of his destiny, allowed him to find peace in the city of Colonus, in Attica, where he died.

Oedipus to Colonus, accompanied by Antigone
painting by Fulchran-Jean Harriet, 1798.

According to Homer and Pausanias, the story unfolded in a different way: Oedipus had no child from Jocasta and the latter killed herself as soon as she learned of the incest and Oedipus at that point would marry Euriganea from whom he would have four children and reigned over Thebes until end of his days.

This myth has been much studied and interpreted by psychoanalysis and in particular by Sigmund Freud who inspired Carl Gustav Jung who coined the term Oedipus complex, to explain the maturation of a child through identification with the parent of their own sex and desire for the opposite parent.

Dr. Maria Giovanna Davoli

Video: Oedipus Rex Story Animated


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