Oedipus Rex or Oedipus the King


What is the historical context of this play? Go into detail about Oedipus’s childhood and the riddle of the Sphinx.

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Jocasta reveals that an oracle once came to Laius and told him that he would be killed by his son, though she too reiterates that Laius “was killed by foreign highway robbers / at a place where three roads meet” (715-6). She tells Oedipus that, three days after his birth, Laius pierced the ankles of the child and had him cast forth “upon a pathless hillside” (720). This news worries Oedipus, for some reason. He asks exactly where the crossroads was that Laius was killed – Jocasta tells him, and describes Laius. “I think I have / called curses on myself in ignorance”, says Oedipus (744-5), fearing he has killed his father. They send for the herdsman who escaped from the murder-scene at the crossroads.

Oedipus then tells Jocasta of Polybus and Merope, his father and mother and king and queen of Corinth. A drunken man, he says, accused him of being a bastard at a feast - and he confronted his parents with this to no avail. Eventually he went to an oracle, which did not tell him of his parentage, but warned him he would sleep with his mother and murder his father. Oedipus then fled Corinth, and at a crossroads, fell into an argument with an old man in a coach. Oedipus “struck him backwards from the car” (811) and killed him. Oedipus now fears that he has killed Laius, his father, and married Jocasta, his mother, but waits for the herdsman to arrive. Oedipus hopes that the herdsman will say that many people killed Laius - for he alone killed the man at the crossroads.