The Myth of the Birth of the Hero: A Psychological Interpretation of Mythology

By Otto Rank; F. Robbins et al. | Go to book overview
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ŒDIPUS

The parents of Œdipus, King Laios and his queen, Jocaste, lived for a long time in childless wedlock. Laios, who is longing for an heir, asks the Delphic Apollo for advice. The oracle answers that he may have a son if he so desires; but fate has ordained that his own son will kill him. Fearing the fulfilment of the oracle, Laios refrains from conjugal relations, but being intoxicated one day, he nevertheless procreates a son, whom he causes to be exposed in the river Kithairon, barely three days after his birth. In order to be quite sure that the child will perish, Laios orders his ankles to be pierced. According to the account of Sophocles, which is not the oldest, however, the shepherd who has been intrusted with the exposure, surrenders the boy to a shepherd of King Polybos, of Corinth, at whose court he is brought up, according to the universal statement. Others say that the boy was exposed in a box on the sea, and was taken from the water by Periböa, the wife of King Polybos, as she was rinsing her clothes by the shore.32 Polybos brought him up as his own son.

Œdipus, on hearing accidentally that he is a foundling, asks the Delphian oracle for his own parents, but receives the prophecy that he will kill his father and marry his mother. In the belief that this prophecy refers to his foster parents, he flees from Corinth to Thebes, but on the way unwittingly kills his father Laios. By solving a riddle, he frees the City from the plague of the Sphinx, a man-devouring monster, and in reward is given the hand of Jocaste, his mother, as well as the throne of his father. The revelation of these horrors, and the subsequent misfortune of Œdipus, were a favorite subject for spectacular display among the Greek tragedians.

An entire series of Christian legends have been elaborated on

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32
According to Bethe, "Thebanische Heldenlieder", the exposure on the waters was the original rendering. According to other versions, the boy is found and raised by horse herds; according to a later myth, by a countryman, Melibios.

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