Beyond the Boundaries of Fantasia: An ancient imagining of the future of leadership

Outlines of Oedipus' Myths

A. Oedipus’ Basic Story
His Exile(s)

Oedipus’ name in Greek is Oidi-pous which means “swollen foot”. Oedipus’ parents Iocasta and Laios received an oracle that they shouldn’t have children because one would kill the father. When a son was born, Laius had his ankles pinned together and gave the son to a shepherd to have him exposed. Oedipus ended up in Corinth and was adopted by the king Polybos and his wife Periboia.
In Corinth, Oedipus was mocked by other youths about his parentage. He went to the oracle at Delphi to ask about his parents. The oracle told him not to enter his own country, or else he would kill his father and have sex with his mother.

His Return

Oedipus left Corinth and along the road he encountered and killed Laios in a dispute over giving way. When Oedipus arrived in Thebes, Creon, Iocasta’s brother, had taken up the throne while the city was besieged by the Sphinx (child of Echidna and Typhon) who had been sent by Hera. The Sphinx plagued the city with a riddle—she would ask everyone she passed “What is four-footed and two-footed, and three-footed” (or some variation thereof).
Creon declared that whoever answered the riddle would have Laios’ wife and the kingdom. Oedipus answered the riddle and became king, thus, unintentionally marrying his mother after killing his father.  Years later, a plague hits Thebes (the subsequent events are described in Sophokles’ Oedipus Tyrannos (Rex).

After his Fall

Oedipus had two daughters (Ismene and Antigone) and two sons (Eteocles and Polyneices).

According to early accounts, Oedipus cursed his sons for rather superficial reasons (either because they served him wine in a gold cup or gave him a bad bit of meat). Oedipus’ sons eventually made war against each other; according to Sophocles they couldn’t agree on who would rule.
After his blinding, Oedipus wandered the world and ended up at a place called Colonus (events of Sophokles’ Oedipus at Colonos). Creon tried to force Oedipus to return. Oedipus’ son Polyneices arrived to ask him for a blessing to attack his brother Eteocles. Oedipus disowned his sons for their behavior and cursed them again. Oedipus died without pain and became a cult figure in Colonus (outside Athens).
Eteocles and Polyneices

The brothers originally agreed to exchange ruling Thebes annually. Eventually, Eteocles refused to hand the kingdom and Polyneices went to Argos in exile. He took with him a special necklace and dress that had been given to Harmonia (the wife of Cadmos, the founder of Thebes) at her wedding by Hephaistos.
In Argos, Polyneices encountered another exile named Tydeus (the father of the Homeric Diomedes). The king of Argos, Adrastos, promised that if Tydeus and Polyneices married his daughters, then he would help them regain their kingdoms
Adrastos gathered an army with seven leaders (himself, Tydeus, Amphiarus, Capaneus, Polyneices, Hippomedon, and Parthenopaios; this is part of the tale told in Aeschylus’ Seven Against Thebes). Amphiaros heard a prophecy that everyone of the leaders would die except for Adrastos.  During the attack, Tiresias (working for the Thebans) prophesied that the Thebans would win if Menoecus, another son of Creon, sacrifices himself to Ares. Menoecus did, and the attack was repelled.
Once the army was repelled from the walls, they proposed a one-on-one combat between Eteocles and Polyneices; the brothers killed each other. The war continued; only Adrastos survived the slaughter.
Creon took over Thebes and buried Eteocles but refused to bury Polyneices because he was a traitor to his city. The central conflict of Sophocles’ Antigone is whether or not the outcast Polyneices deserves burial (by burying him, Antigone obeys the laws of the gods but disobeys the decree of her king). Antigone buried her brother and was then was killed by Creon; Creon’s son, Haemon, who was betrothed to Antigone, killed himself. Creon lost his only heir.
B. Sources (Apart from Sophokles)
•Pindar, epinician poet (Early 5th Century BCE; Greek)
•Palaephatus, mythographer (4th or 3rd Century BCE; Greek)
•Pausanias, ‘travel’ writer (2nd Century CE; Greek)
•Hyginus (4th or 5th Century CE; Latin)
•Apollodorus, scholar and chronicler (2nd Century CE; Greek)

C. Other Accounts

1. Hesiod’s Works and Days
–Wars around Thebes were important locations for the generation of heroes (paired with the sack of Troy)
2. Lost epic, the Oidipodea
–Told of the killing of the Sphinx
–Oedipus married his mother, but she killed herself
–He had his children with another woman named Euryganeia
3. Lost epic, Thebais
–Told the story that Oedipus cursed his sons
4. The motif of Oedipus’ exile and blindness may have been mentioned as early as the 7th century by a poet named Steisichorus
D. Oedipus in Homer’s Odyssey  (11. 271-280)
I saw the beautiful Epikaste, Oidipodes’ mother,
who in the ignorance of her mind had done a monstrous
thing when she married her own son.  He killed his father
and married her, but the gods soon made it all known to mortals.
But he, for all his sorrows, in beloved Thebes continued
to be lord over the Kadmeians, all through the bitter designing
of the gods; while she went down to Hades of the gates, the strong one,
knotting a noose and hanging sheer from the high ceiling,
in the constraint of her sorrow, but left to him who survived her
all the sorrows that are brought to pass by a mother’s furies.