Great Book: Oedipus the King, by Sophocles

And now, for the rest of the Oedipus story.

Oedipus is now known to most modern readers through Freud's Oedipus Complex, "a male child's unconscious desire for the exclusive love of his mother. This desire includes jealousy towards the father and the unconscious wish for that parent's death.". Colloquially it's most often used in a salacious context to indicate sexual desire for a parent.

Oedipus killed his father and married his mother. But he didn't do it on purpose. Perhaps that makes the use of his name in this context, for those unacknowledged shameful drives, even more appropriate. As a youth Oedipus was told he would kill his father and marry his mother; horrified, he fled his home and his adoptive parents. On the road he encountered Laius, his father, and slew him after an argument. Proceeding to Thebes, he saved the city from the Sphinx and was rewarded with the hand in marriage of the recently widowed Queen, Jocasta - his mother.

The first play of Sophocles tells the story of the discovery (the big REVEAL!) of this sin. Oedipus' ignorance is played to the extreme. He doesn't know that he was adopted, he doesn't know that the man he killed on the road was the king of Thebes, and he doesn't know that he's the biological child of his Jocasta and Laius.

When the play opens, Thebes has been struck by a plague. An oracle tells Oedipus that the citry is being punished because the murderer of Laius has not been brought to justice. Oedipus, silly fool, promises loudly that the evildoer will be found and punished. He has opportunities to take the hint and drop the whole thing, but he just has to keep asking questions. Let the snowball begin!

First he realizes that he is the murderer. Then he finds out that he was adopted. THEN he finds out that he is the baby boy that was supposed to be exposed by that shepherd - the son of Laius and Jocasta. Woops, he actually DID murder his father and marry his wife. Then Jocasta hangs herself and Oedipus puts out his eyes with her jewelry. The end.

He didn't know. He didn't know! Oedipus didn't mean for this to happen. He left home because he was trying to prevent it. But his path was set, and there was nothing he could do to avoid his fate.

Although we're less likely to marry our mothers these days, family curses are still around. Children act out their parents' sins, abusers abuse in their turn and the cycle continues. And huge weight, dragging each generation down.

So where did it start? I knew there had to be a reason. Who earned the curse for Thebes?

Laius, Oedipus' murdered father. He was famous in anitquity for raping his (male) student, Chrysippus. As punishment, the gods sent the Sphinx to Thebes and forbade him to have children.

Laius disobeyed the command in a drunken stupor and thus Oedipus was born. Given the discalimer 'in a drunken stupor', and Jocasta's age (probably early teens, if she was young enough to bear Oedipus four children later?), I assume this was another rape. After consulting an oracle, Laius ordered the infant exposed in the woods to die.

So rape is the crime that Oedipus is working under. He was probably conceived in rape and his father was a famous rapist.

Poor guy never had a chance.

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