Oedipus Rex or Oedipus the King

Oedipus Tyrannus

In Oedipus Tyrannus, What is the riddle of the Sphinx? Why is Oedipus alone able to solve it? From what curse does he, for a time, save Thebes? What aspect of the curse does he miss, and why?

Asked by
Last updated by jill d #170087
Answers 1
Add Yours

The Sphinx's riddle echoes throughout the play, even though Sophocles never quotes her actual question. Audiences familiar with the myth would have known the Sphinx's words: "What is it that goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at midday, and three feet in the evening?" Oedipus's answer, of course, was "a man." And in the course of the play, Oedipus himself proves to be that same man, an embodiment of the Sphinx's riddle. There is much talk of Oedipus's birth and his exposure as an infant - here is the baby of which the Sphinx speaks, forced, in this instance, to crawl on four feet as his ankles are pierced. Oedipus throughout most of the play is the adult man, standing on his own two feet instead of relying on others, even gods. And at the end of the play, Oedipus will leave Thebes an old blind man, using a cane. In fact, Oedipus's name means "swollen foot", presumably because of the pins thrust through his ankles as a baby. Oedipus is more than merely the solver of the Sphinx's riddle - he embodies its solution.

Oedipus is blessed with the gift of perception; he was the only man who could "see" the answer to the Sphinx's riddle. Yet he cannot see what is right before his eyes, blind to the truth, for all he seeks it. Teiresias's presence in the play, then, is doubly important. As a blind old man, he foreshadows Oedipus's own future, and the more Oedipus mocks his blindness, the more ironic he sounds to the audience. Teiresias is a man who understands the truth without the use of his sight; Oedipus is the opposite, a sighted man who is blind to the truth right before him. Soon Oedipus will switch roles with Teiresias, becoming a man who sees the truth and loses his sense of sight. In the end, Oedipus has become the very blight he wishes to remove from Thebes, a monster more terrible than the Sphinx that must be cast out in order to save the kingdom.