Museo Gregoriano Etrusco, Oedipus and the Sphinx of Thebes,  Red Figure Kylix, c. 470 BC, Inv. no. 16541, from the so-called Oedipus Painter

Oedipus or Œdipus, less commonly Oidipous, Οιδίποδας, was the mythical king of Thebes, son of Laius and Jocasta, who, unknowingly, killed his father and married his mother.

Greek Mythology

The childhood of Oedipus, Periboea and Hermes and the nymph Euboea

Laius once raped one of his students, Chrysippus and was in turn cursed by Pelops, the father. The weight of this curse bore down onto Oedipus himself. At his birth, it was prophesied that he would kill his father. Seeking to avoid such a fate, Laius had the infant's ankles pierced with a pin (oedipus means "swollen feet" in Greek) and had him exposed (placed in the wilderness to die). His servant, however, betrayed him, handing the boy instead to a shepherd who presented the child to King Polybus and Queen Merope (or Periboea) of Corinth, who raised him as their own son.

Greek Mythology

Euphorbus with young Oedipus, Cabinet des Medailles 372

Later, warned by the Delphic oracle that he was fated to kill his father and marry his mother, Oedipus, not knowing his real parentage, vowed never to return to Corinth. During his travels, he came to the area around Thebes, where he killed a stranger in a roadside argument, not knowing the man was his father and the king. Oedipus then saved Thebes by answering the riddle of the Sphinx and was rewarded with the now-vacant throne of Thebes and the widowed queen's hand in marriage, with whom he had four children. Divine signs of misfortune and pollution began to appear in Thebes, which caused the king to seek out their cause. Finally, the soothsayer Tiresias revealed to Oedipus that he himself was the source of the pollution. Oedipus discovered he was really the son of Laius and Jocasta and that all of the prophecies had indeed come to pass. Jocasta committed suicide and Oedipus blinded himself by forcing her brooch pins into his eyes.


Oedipus with his dead daughter Antigone.

When Oedipus stepped down as King of Thebes, he gave the kingdom to his two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, who both agreed to alternate the throne every year. However, they showed no concern for their father, who cursed them for their negligence. After the first year, Eteocles refused to step down and Polynices attacked Thebes with his supporters (the Seven Against Thebes). Both brothers died in the battle. King Creon, who ascended to the throne of Thebes, decreed that Polynices was not to be buried. Antigone, his sister, defied the order, but was caught. Creon decreed that she was to be buried alive, this in spite of her betrothal to his son Haemon. Antigone's sister, Ismene, then declared she had aided Antigone and wanted the same fate. The gods, through the blind prophet Tiresias, expressed their disapproval of Creon's decision, which convinced him to rescind his order, and he went to bury Polynices himself. However, Antigone had already hanged herself rather than be buried alive. When Creon arrived at the tomb where she was to be interred, Haemon attacked him and then killed himself. When Creon's wife, Eurydice, was informed of their death she too took her own life.

Laiades, a patronymic of Oedipus, son of Laius (Ovid, 18).


This painting was produced by Salvador Dali after his dream of Jean-François Millet's painting The Angelus (1857-1859), a black figure before the couple has a swollen foot a symbol of the etymology of the name Oedipus. ( ) ( )

Greek Mythology

Oedipus the King, 1967 GB Philip Saville

This legend inspired Sigmund Freud to come up with the Oedipus complex. It has also inspired several works of art, such as the plays Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles, and Stravinsky's opera Oedipus Rex, as well a song by Tom Lehrer with the same name.

Theban Cycle

Greek Mythology

Oedipoda Miniata

Greek Mythology

Oedipus Stamp

Greek Mythology

Oedipus and the Sphinx, Louvre G417

Euryganeia (according to Pausanias a wife of Oedipus)

Sophocles, Oedipus King

Titos Patrikios Oedipus Poem

Oedipus (from Loxias)

Eleftheria A. Bernidaki-Aldous, Blindness in a Culture of Light: Especially the Case of Oedipus at Colonus of Sophocles (American University Studies; Series XVII : Classical Langua) (Hardcover) Publisher: Peter Lang Pub Inc (May, 1990) 0820410241

Greek Mythology

See also : Greek Mythology. Paintings, Drawings

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