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oedipe and sphinx

Œdipe and the Thebean Sphinx

The most famous Grecian sphinx was the terrifying child of Echidna who bore many other mythical monsters including Cerberus the three-headed dog, the Hydra, and a two-headed dog named Orthros with whom she conceived the sphinx.

An oracle warned Laius, king of Thebes, that there was danger to his throne and life if his newborn son should be suffered to grow up. He therefore committed the child to the care of a herdsman with orders to destroy him; but the herdsman, moved with pity, yet not daring entirely to disobey, tied up the child by the feet and left him hanging to the branch of a tree. In this condition a peasant, who carried him to his master and mistress, by whom he was adopted and called Oedipus, or Swollen-foot, found the infant.

Many years afterwards Laius being on his way to Delphi, accompanied only by one attendant, met in a narrow road a young man also driving in a chariot. On his refusal to leave the way at their command the attendant killed one of his horses, and the stranger, filled with rage, slew both Laius and his attendant. The young man was Oedipus who thus unknowingly became the slayer of his own father.

Shortly after this event the city of Thebes was afflicted with a monster sent by Hera toguard the pass to the city. It was called the Sphinx. It had the body of a lion and the upper part of a woman. It lay crouched on the top of a rock, and arrested all travellers who came that way, proposing to them a riddle, with the condition that those who could solve it should pass safe, but those who failed should be killed.

Not one had yet succeeded in solving it, and all had been slain. Oedipus was not daunted by these alarming accounts, but boldly advanced to the trial. The Sphinx asked him, "What animal is that which in the morning goes on four feet, at noon on two, and in the evening upon three?". Oedipus solved the riddle, saying that man crawled on all fours in his infancy, walked on two legs as a man, and walked with a third leg, his cane, in old age Oedipus replied, The Sphinx was so mortified at the solving of her riddle that she cast herself down from the rock and perished.

The gratitude of the people for their deliverance was so great that they made Oedipus their king, giving him in marriage their queen Jocasta, the widow of Laius. Oedipus, ignorant of his parentage, had already become the slayer of his father; in marrying the queen he became the husband of his mother.

These horrors remained undiscovered, till at length Thebes was afflicted with famine and pestilence, and the oracle being consulted, the double crime of Oedipus came to light. Jocasta put an end to her own life, and Oedipus, seized with madness, tore out his eyes and wandered away from Thebes, dreaded and abandoned by all except his daughters, who faithfully adhered to him, till after a tedious period of miserable wandering, purchased by the Erynies, he found the termination of his wretched life.

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