Picture of Oedipus and the Sphinx
The Myth of
The mythical story of Oedipus
by Josephine Preston Peabody
The Myth of Oedipus
Behind the power of the gods and beyond all
the efforts of men, the three
Fates sat at
No one could tell whence these sisters were,
but by some strange necessity they spun the
web of human life and made destinies without
knowing why. It was not for Clotho to decree
whether the thread of a life should be stout
or fragile, nor for Lachesis to choose the
fashion of the web; and Atropos herself must
sometimes have wept to cut a life short with
her shears, and let it fall unfinished. But
they were like spinners for some Power that
said of life, as of a garment, Thus it must
be. That Power neither gods nor men could
There was once a king named Laius (a
grandson of Cadmus himself), who ruled over
Thebes, with Jocasta his wife. To them an
Oracle had foretold that if a son of theirs
lived to grow up, he would one day kill his
father and marry his own mother. The king
and queen resolved to escape such a doom,
even at terrible cost. Accordingly Laius
gave his son, who was only a baby, to a
certain herdsman, with instructions to put
him to death.
This was not to be. The herdsman carried the
child to a lonely mountain-side, but once
there, his heart failed him. Hardly daring
to disobey the king's command, yet shrinking
from murder, he hung the little creature by
his feet to the branches of a tree, and left
him there to die.
But there chanced to come that way with his
flocks, a man who served King Polybus of
Corinth. He found the baby perishing in the
tree, and, touched with pity, took him home
to his master. The king and queen of Corinth
were childless, and some power moved them to
take this mysterious child as a gift. They
called him Oedipus (Swollen-Foot) because of
the wounds they had found upon him, and,
knowing naught of his parentage, they reared
him as their own son. So the years went by.
Now, when Oedipus had come to manhood, he
went to consult the Oracle at Delphi, as all
great people were wont, to learn what
fortune had in store for him. But for him
the Oracle had only a sentence of doom.
According to the Fates, he would live to
kill his own father and wed his mother.
Filled with dismay, and resolved in his turn
to conquer fate, Oedipus fled from Corinth;
for he had never dreamed that his parents
were other than Polybus and Merope the
queen. Thinking to escape crime, he took the
road towards Thebes, so hastening into the
very arms of his evil destiny.
It happened that King Laius, with one
attendant, was on his way to Delphi from the
city Thebes. In a narrow road he met this
strange young man, also driving in a
chariot, and ordered him to quit the way.
Oedipus, who had been reared to princely
honors, refused to obey; and the king's
charioteer, in great anger, killed one of
the young man's horses. At this insult
Oedipus fell upon master and servant; mad
with rage, he slew them both, and went on
his way, not knowing the half of what he had
done. The first saying of the Oracle was
But the prince was to have his day of
triumph before the doom. There was a certain
wonderful creature called the Sphinx, which
had been a terror to Thebes for many days.
In form half woman and half lion, she
crouched always by a precipice near the
highway, and put the same mysterious
question to every passer-by. None had ever
been able to answer, and none had ever lived
to warn men of the riddle; for the Sphinx
fell upon every one as he failed, and hurled
him down the abyss, to be dashed in pieces.
This way came Oedipus towards the city
Thebes, and the Sphinx crouched, face to
face with him, and spoke the riddle that
none had been able to guess.
"What animal is that which in the morning
goes on four feet, at noon on two, and in
the evening upon three?"
Oedipus, hiding his dread of the terrible
creature, took thought, and answered, "Man.
In childhood he creeps on hands and knees,
in manhood he walks erect, but in old age he
has need of a staff."
At this reply the Sphinx uttered a cry,
sprang headlong from the rock into the
valley below, and perished. Oedipus had
guessed the answer. When he came to the city
and told the Thebans that their torment was
gone, they hailed him as a deliverer. Not
long after, they married him with great
honor to their widowed queen, Jocasta, his
own mother. The destiny was fulfilled.
For years Oedipus lived in peace, unwitting;
but at length upon that unhappy city there
fell a great pestilence and famine. In his
distress the king sent to the Oracle at
Delphi, to know what he or the Thebans had
done, that they should be so sorely
punished. Then for the third time the Oracle
spoke his own fateful sentence; and he
Jocasta died, and Oedipus took the doom upon
himself, and left Thebes. Blinded by his own
hand, he wandered away into the wilderness.
Never again did he rule over men; and he had
one only comrade, his faithful daughter
Antigone. She was the truest happiness in
his life of sorrow, and she never left him
till he died..
The Legend and Myth of Oedipus
Picture of the Greek Sphinx
The Myth of Oedipus
The story of Oedipus is featured in the book
entitled Old Greek Folk Stories by Josephine
Preston Peabody, published in 1907 by
Houghton Mifflin Company, New York.