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Oedipus (Greek Οιδίπους, Oidipous, "swollen-foot"; Latin Oedipus) was the mythical king of Thebes, son of Laius and Jocasta, who, unknowingly, killed his father and married his mother.

Laius, Oedipus' father kidnapped and raped the young boy Chrysippus, and was then cursed by Chrysippus' father, Pelops. 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 nails (hence the Greek name oidipous, "swollen-foot") 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.

When an oracle prophesied that he would kill his father and marry his mother, he fled the kingdom. 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 real 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 seer Teiresias 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.

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 (as portrayed in the Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus and the Phoenician Women by Euripides). 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 Teiresias, 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 deaths, she too took her own life.

This legend has inspired several works of art, such as Sophocles' Oedipus trilogy, the so called Three Theban plays (Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone).

The story gave Sigmund Freud the name for the "Oedipus complex", a primal desire on the part of a young child to completely possess the mother and "kill" the father (despite the fact that Oedipus actually tries to avoid this).

See also

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