The next text is translated from
& Dr. H.H. Knippenberg
The indented text comes from other sources:
Hanneke Korteweg-Frankhuisen & Jaap Voigt,
The ancient Greeks believed some humans could be forced by fate to act wrongly, even if they didn't want to. Nevertheless, the gods sometimes punished such unintentional wrongdoing.
Laios, son of Labdakos, from Kadmos' ancient family, the king of Thebes, was married to Jokaste. Because this marriage was childless, Laios consulted the Oracle of Delphi, who replied: "You ask for a son, Laios. You will get one. But you have to know that you will die by the hand of your own child. This is because Zeus granted the anathema of Pelops, whose son Chrysippos was carried off by you during the Nemesis Games."
In order to avert his fate, he had tied his just-born son with drilled-through feet to a tree in the woods, expecting that the wild animals would devour him. However, the boy was found by a shepherd of the Corinthian king Polybos. He took pity on the infant and brought him to his king, who was childless and gladly adopted him. He gave him the name Oedipus, which means 'with swollen feet', because his drilled feet.
Oedipus prospered, growing up to be a strongly-built youngster. But at a banquet, a drunken Corinthian told him that Polybos was not his genuine father. Oedipus questioned the king and the queen, but they side-stepped the answer.
His doubt made him restless. He wanted certainty and he went to the Oracle of Delphi. Here, he also did not receive a direct answer. The oracle said to him that Oeidipus should kill his father, marry his mother and father a damned generation.
This message filled him with untold misery and fear. Still believing the fallacy that Polybos and his wife were his genuine parents, he decided to avert his fate and to not return to Corinth. Instead, he choose the way to Thebes.
On a road he came across a wagon on which were an unknown old man, his herald, two servants and a wagoner. In a harsh voice, the wagoner commanded Oedipus to swerve. Being a hothead, Oedipus hit the man instead. This annoyed the old man, who then started a fight with the impudent youngster. Furious, Oedipus raised his cane against the old man. The latter fell backwards off the wagon. A fight arose, in which Oedipus had to defend himself against all of the strangers. He killed four, among which the old man - his father Laios. Only one servant could escape.
In those days, the Thebans were very afraid of a winged monster with the body of a lion and the face of a young woman. Its name was The Sphinx and it lay on a rock, from which it confronted every passer-by with an enigma. Those who could not resolve the enigma were killed.
This happened just when the news about the king's death was spread. The brother of Queen Jokaste, Kreon, became head of the government. His son fell prey to the Sphinx. So, Kreon suffered heavily. He declared that the person who could free the city from the monster would be the next king and might marry his sister Jokaste. As that declaration was proclaimed, Oedipus arrived at Thebes.
Immediately, he went to the Sphinx and asked for the enigma. It was: "Which creature walks in the morning with four feet, in the afternoon with two, and in the evening with three feet? But the more feet it uses, the less are its power and speed."
"The human being." replied Oedipus, "In the morning of his life he creeps on hands and feet. When he reaches the afternoon of life as a man, he walks proudly with raised head. As an old man, in life's evening, a supporting stick is his third leg."
The Sphinx, furious at the solution to the enigma, fell down from the rock into the ravine and Oedipus re-entered Thebes as the victor. He became Queen Jokaste's husband. Four children were born from this marriage: two sons, Eteokles and Polynices, and two daughters: Antigone and Ismene.
During a long time, Oedipus reigned over Thebes as a righteous and beloved king for a long time.
Then, suddenly, a plague broke out. Oedipus sent Kreon to the Oracle of Delphi to ask the cause of the divine punishment. He brought back the answer that the wrath of the gods was upon the people, because the murderer of Laios had not been punished and exiled.
Oedipus commanded everyone who knew anything about the case to tell him and decreed heavy punishment for whoever willingly kept silent or whoever would be found guilty for forced silence. He called for the most gruesome plagues to befall the culprit. In addition, he sent two messengers to the seer Tiresias.
Tiresias appeared in Thebes' community meeting. Oedipus asked him to point to any clue that could lead to the discovery of the king's murderer. Tiresias, however, gave a loud cry. He stretched out his hands out inspuplication to the king and said: "Gruesome is the knowledge, which only brings disaster to the knower! Let me go, oh king!"
These words were like gasoline on the fire. Even more insistently, Oedipus commanded him to speak. But Tiresias kept silence. Then the king scolded the blind seer as being an accessory to the evil outrage. Tiresias did not put up with the accusation.
"Oedipus," he said softly and somberly, "you, yourself are to blame for the disaster that has hit the city, because you are the king's murderer and you are living in great shame."
Furiously, thinking that a game was being played on him, Oedipus flew at Tiresias. He accused him of preying on his throne and seeking his ruin in cooperation with Kreon. But the seer predicted to him the disasters which would yet come over him. Wrathful, the blind old man left the meeting.
There occurred a quarrel between Oedipus and Kreon, which Jokaste vainly tried to stop. She was also embittered at the seer. "What value have such prophecies?" she scornfully cried. "I was once forecast that my first husband Laios would be killed by the hand of his son. Well, what happened? He was killed by robbers at the crossroads by the ravine. Our only-born son with his drilled feet became the prey of the wild animals in the woods. He would have lived only a few days."
Oedipus grew pale
"What did you say, wife?" he asked with doubting voice. "Has Laois died at the crossroads? But how did he look? How old was he?"
Not understanding Oedipus' emotion, she answered: "He had a tall body and his hair was becoming grey."
"But in that case, Tiresias has said the truth!" exclaimed Oedipus.
Even so, at once new doubt pressed in on him. 'No, this could not be true, this was not possible.' He immediately started a careful investigation concerning the case. He heard that a servant who had been present in the woods still was alive. When Oedipus became king, the servant had asked permission to leave the town and since then he had lived in the country. He was immediately summoned to court.
However, before he arrived, a messenger came from Corinth to report to Oedipus the death of his father Polybus and to ask him to ascend the vacant throne.
"Another example of not trusting the prophecy!" said Jokaste triumphantly. "Oedipus should kill his father? See, he has died by the infirmity of old age!"
The result of these words was soon negated by the admission of the Corinthian servant. He assured Oedipus that Polybus was his adoptive father. "When Laios' son was abandoned, it was me who got the infant from a king's shepherd on the Cithaeron," he declared, "and it was me who saved his life by giving him to Polybus and his wife, who lovingly cared for him."
All doubts were gone. Despair overpowered Oedipus.
Like a madman, he ran through the palace. He looked for a sword with which to kill Jokaste, his wife and also his perverted mother. Entering her room, he found her corpse. She had killed herself.
Deranged, Oedipus fell upon the corpse, crying and moaning. He snatched some golden pins from her clothes. Then, he draw himself up to full length and, damning his his eyes, stabbed his irises, so that the blood from the hollows streamed along his pale cheeks.
He wanted his servants to take him outside, to show him to the people as a horror of earth and a curse of heaven. This they did. However, instead of horror, his folk expressed compassion for their monarch. Even Kreon reconciled with him. Moved by those expressions of real love, he renounced the throne in favor of Kreon. He asked an honorable funeral for the unfortunate Jokaste and recommended his daughters to the favor of the new ruler. For himself, he requested exile to the mountain Cithaeron.
Poor and lonesome as a beggar, the once mighty monarch quit his palace, stumbled out of the city's gate, lead by his daughter Antigone, who wanted to share her father's exile and to soften, as much as possible, his fate by her love. Ismene stayed at Kreon's court with her brothers, to, if necessary, be able to look after Oedipus' interests.
Initially wanting to go to Cithaeron, Oedipus still wished to consult the Oracle of Delphi about which abode the gods would see him to. The Pythia did not give a direct answer. He only got the promise that his penalty would not be eternal, because he unwillingly had violated nature's laws. He should be reconciled to the gods as soon as he, after long and painful roaming, should arrive in the region by fate foretold, where the severe Eumenides would grant him a refuge.
Thus he roamed, from town to town, begging and living by the gifts of generous people, being content with the few he got and suffering for what he had done.
Antigone heard from a passersby that they had set foot on holy ground. He warned the strangers to go away from that place as soon as possible, to prevent the gods' wrath. They had ended up at Kolonos, in the region of the Eumenides. Oedipus heaved a sigh of relief at hearing this. Finally, he had reached the end of his long, fearful journey. His redemption was near.