Who is Oedipus?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Oedipus is the well-known Greek mythic figure who was doomed to kill his father and marry his mother. To the modern audience, Oedipus’ plight was used by Freud to describe his theory of the Oedipal Complex, the desire of boys and men to surpass their father and be sexual equals to their mothers.

The Oedipal Complex, developed by Sigmund Freud, suggested that a child might idealize the opposite-gender parent while wanting to eliminate the same sex parent.
The Oedipal Complex, developed by Sigmund Freud, suggested that a child might idealize the opposite-gender parent while wanting to eliminate the same sex parent.

It is important to point out that psychologically speaking, Oedipus did not have a complex. He absolutely did not want to kill his father or marry his mother. Further, he worked his complex out by doing just that with tragic results.

In Greek mythology, the Fates create an inescapable destiny for everyone.
In Greek mythology, the Fates create an inescapable destiny for everyone.

According to Greek mythology, when Oedipus was born, an oracle prophesied that Oedipus would ultimately destroy his father and marry his mother. This so disturbed his father, Laius, that he forced his wife Jocasta to agree to abandon the baby to die on the mountains.

A shepherd pities Oedipus and he is ultimately adopted by the childless King and Queen of Corinth. As a young man, Oedipus seeks out the oracle at Delphi and hears the wretched truth about himself. He resolves to never return to Corinth to avoid his fate.

Thus he heads to Thebes and encounters his birth father on the way. They argue and Oedipus kills him. Often in myth, the meeting of Laius and Oedipus is described as taking place where three roads meet. Thus either man could have technically given way to the other, hence avoiding the fate. Both are driven by their surety that they have outwitted fate, an example of hubris. Their violence toward each other cannot, in their minds, be the enactment of the oracle’s prophecy.

Oedipus then proceeds to Thebes and soon marries his mother Jocasta. With Jocasta, he has four children. As the account is carried on in mythology and by Sophocles' great play Oedipus Rex, the kingdom of Thebes seems to suffer from misfortunes, and Oedipus visits the oracle to seek the cause. He disbelieves the oracle, but news of his foster-father’s death confirms the truth.

Jocasta learns the truth and hangs herself. Oedipus blinds himself in what can be read as a symbolic representation of his blindness to fate. The story is a sad one, which reiterates the Grecian concept that fate is inescapable. It is a fatalist concept repeated in many Grecian myths, and was perhaps a way to account for tragic occurrences that could not readily be explained in the everyday life of the Ancient Greek. By personifying fate, there is at least, someone or something to blame for the resultant horror.

Although at one time the concept of the Oedipal complex was widely accepted in psychology, differing schools of thought have since refuted it. Instead, many now lead toward the explanation that children may specifically identify with one parent at a time. For example a nursing child may be especially close to a mother, while a teen boy might be more interested in spending time with his father. Naturally this may lead to a little jealousy on the part of the neglected parent. Most recognize this is a passing phase and dismiss it without fear that a dangerous psychology lurks behind it.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


@snowywinter: Yes, Oedipus was the King. Sophocles was a playwright and “Oedipus the King” is considered to be his most representative work. Oedipus is the most played tragedy of all Greek theater.

As the article stated, the oracle predicted that King Laius would be “doomed/to perish by the hand of his own son.” Laius decided to deliver his son to a servant with orders to kill him. The servant cannot fulfill the king’s orders and, instead, leaves the baby in a field. A shepherd who gives the baby to another shepherd rescues Young Oedipus. It ended up that Oedipus was raised in the court of childless King Polybus of Corinth.

Oedipus was curious as to who his real parents. The Delphic Oracle tells him he is destined to mate with his mother and kill his father. He goes off to try to find his birth parents and meets Laius, his real father, along the way. He has no idea that this was his father. They argue and he kills Laius.

He arrives at the kingdom in Thebes, which is protected by the curse of the Sphinx. Oedipus has to solve a riddle. The curse of the kingdom is overthrown and Oedipus’s reward is to have the kingship and the hand of the queen Jocasta, his biological mother.


This was an interesting article but I'm still a little confused about what it's all about. Is this Oedipus the same person as Oedipus the King?

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