Oedipus (classical Greek: Οἰδίπους; romaniz.: Oidipous, "swollen feet") is a hero of Greek mythology who killed his father, solved the riddle of the sphinx that attacked the Greek city of Thebes, and married his mother. As a result of this incest, he was both father and brother to Aetocles, Ismenia, Antigone, and Polynices.
Oedipus was a descendant of Cadmus, founder of Thebes. His great-grandfather was Polydorus and his grandfather Labdacus, also kings of the city.
Oedipus is the central character in the Greek tragedy Oedipus the King, written by the playwright Sophocles (496 BC - 406 BC), as part of a trilogy that also contains the dramas Antigone and Oedipus in Colono.
The Oedipus legend has been retold in many versions and was used by Sigmund Freud to name and give mythical precedent to the Oedipus complex.
Oedipus was born a prince of the city of Thebes, the son of King Laius and Queen Jocasta. At birth, he was taken to the oracle at Delphi where it was prophesied that Oedipus would become a hero after killing his father and marrying his mother, setting off a chain of misfortunes, which would cause the ruin of the royal house.
According to the versions of Aeschylus and Euripides, however, the oracle preceded the conception to prevent Laius from having a son; Laius disregarded the warning, and Oedipus was born.
Terrified and wanting to thwart the prophecy, Laius and Jocasta decided to entrust a servant to leave their son on the mountainside of Kinteron, with his feet tied and pierced by a strap at the ankles, to be devoured by wolves.
The servant, however, took pity on the baby and gave him to a shepherd who took the child to the city of Corinth. Upon arrival, Oedipus was welcomed and adopted by King Polybus, for Queen Mehrope had recently given birth to a stillborn child. Oedipus grows up as a prince in Corinth, believing himself to be a legitimate son.
Years later, as an adult, Oedipus went to the Oracle at Delphi to learn more about his parentage. The oracle repeated the prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Without knowing his true parentage, Oedipus believed that he was destined to murder Polybus and marry Mehrope.
Seeking to avoid his fate, Oedipus left Corinth and set out toward Thebes. On a narrow stretch of road, he met King Laius, who was going to Delphi to consult the oracle again, for he had sensed omens that his son was returning to kill him.
Laius' minions ordered Oedipus to give way to the king's chariot. As Oedipus refused, Laius struck him with his whip. Overcome with rage, Oedipus killed Laius and all but one of his men, believing them to be a band of evildoers.
Upon arriving in Thebes, Oedipus learned that the king of the city had recently been killed and that the city was at the mercy of the Sphinx, a monster that devoured all who could not solve its riddle. Oedipus answered correctly the two questions posed by the Sphinx and thus defeated it. For this feat, he conquered the throne of the dead king, and was entitled to marry his widow.
Years later, to put an end to a plague in Thebes, Oedipus tried to investigate who had killed Laius and ended up discovering, through the fortune-teller Tyrethias, that he himself was responsible.
Jocasta, realizing that she had married her own son, hanged herself. In desperation, Oedipus took two dress pins from his mother's dress and with them pierced his own eyes, claiming to have been blinded for not recognizing the true omen announced by the oracle.
This passage from the myth is the best known, but Oedipus' life goes on, with him becoming a beggar and begging around Thebes, guided by his daughter Antigone. Later the blind man watches his sons Aetocles and Polynices fight over the throne of the two cities, Thebes and Corinth.