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The Legend of Oedipus
Three of Sophocles' plays, Oedipus, the King, Oedipus At Colonus, and Antigone, are based on the old Greek legends about Oedipus and his family. Each of these plays can be better read and more fully understood when one understands the tragic consequences that dogged the ruling family of Thebes from the times of its founding father, Cadmus. Although essentially regarded as myths, the incidents in the three plays may have had some basis in facts drawn from ancient Greek history many centuries before Sophocles' time. Such facts, however, are often distorted by the passage of time and the oral tradition by which they were passed from one generation to the next. Thus, they become part of folklore or legends.
Oedipus was a direct descendant of Cadmus through his son, Polydorus. The latter begot Labdacus, whose son Laius was the father of Oedipus. (That is, Oedipus was the grandson of Labdacus who, in turn, was the grandson of Cadmus). All the generations of the Cadmus family suffered a tragic fate in one way or another.
When Laius, great-grandson of Cadmus, loses his kingdom to Amphion and Zethus, the sons of Zeus and Antiope, he finds refuge with Pelops, the son of Tantolus. Laius, however, repays Pelops' kindness in a rather cruel way -- by kidnapping his son, Chrysippus. His ungratefulness brings a curse upon Laius and his whole family over the next two generations. Laius gets back his kingdom of Thebes when Amphion and Zethus dies. He then marries Jocasta, sister of Creon. However, Apollo warns Laius that his son will kill him one day as punishment for his abduction of Pelops' son.
As Oedipus grows up, he hears rumors that he is not the real son of King Polybus. After consulting the Delphi oracle about his true parents, he hears the same prophecy told to his real parents, Laius and Jocasta. Mistaking his true parents to be Polybus and Merope, Oedipus leaves Cornish forever and wanders towards Thebes. On the way, by sheer coincidence, he meets his real father, Laius, at a place where three roads meet. A quarrel erupts over who has the right of way. Laius, not being known for his prudence, insults and strikes Oedipus, who promptly kills him.
Traveling on to Thebes, Oedipus hears that the city is being plagued by the Sphinx; a monster who poses riddles to travelers and kills those who cannot answer them. Oedipus confronts the Sphinx, solving the riddle; subsequently the Sphinx destroys herself. Hearing of the Sphinx's death, the people of Thebes are overjoyed and hail Oedipus as their hero. He is crowned the new king of Thebes and marries the then-widowed queen, Jocasta, who is actually his mother. During his early years of reign, he and Jocasta conceive two sons, named Eteocles and Polyneices, and two daughters, named Antigone and Ismene.