You’ve heard about the Oedipus Complex (being in love with your mother in a less-than-generally-acceptable-way). Now, ‘tis time to learn the original story.
Once upon a time, there was a king names Laius. Being That Sort of king, he consulted the oracle at Delphi to find out if his wife, Jocasta, and he would have children. Really, you’d think people would have learned better than to talk to oracles, because—as we know—oracles are always right but they tend to confuse the issue.
The oracle said that they would be paying a visit to the maternity ward, but that their son would kill Laius.
So did they practice safe sex? They did not. Once Jocasta had popped the baby boy out, Laius and Jocasta rethought the whole being-killed-by-his-son thing. Jocasta gave the baby to a shepherd and told him to leave the baby out in the mountains to die. The shepherd didn’t follow directions and the baby ended up being adopted by King Polybus and Queen Merope in Corinth.
Eventually, someone told Oedipus he was adopted. Rather than searching the internet for info on his parents, Oedipus went to Delphi to Learn More.
At Delphi, Oedipus learned that he was destined to kill his father and marry his mother. Oedipus thought that meant Polybus and Merope so rather than heading back to them in Corinth, Oedipus hopped in an Uber Chariot and went in the other direction, toward Thebes.
When will they learn? The oracle is always, always right.
On the way to Thebes, guess who he ran into? No, don’t guess, I’ll tell you. He ran into Laius, only sort of literally. There ensured An Argument about which charioteer had the right of way (road rage, ancient Greek style), and Laius and Oedipus got into a fight. Guess who won? No, don’t guess, I’ll tell you. Oedipus killed Laius.
Parents: 0; Oracle: 1.
Continuing his travels, Oedipus came upon the Sphinx (this was before she was turned to stone in Egypt). The Sphinx asked all travelers a question; if they could answer it, they were allowed to continue on; if they couldn’t, she ate them. Yum.
The Sphinx asked Oedipus the same question: What walks on four feet in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three at night? (I’ll give you a minute if you want to think about your answer.) Oedipus answered the question correctly, saying: Man (who crawls on all fours as a baby, walks on two legs as an adult, and uses a cane in old age). The Sphinx threw herself off her rock because she was an Extremely Poor Loser.
When Oedipus got to Thebes, news of him defeating the Sphinx had already reached them (good news traveled fast even before Twitter) and Oedipus was welcomed with open arms, named King, and wed to the widow Jocasta (who you may remember was his momma and was now a cougar).
Parents: 0; Oracle: 2.
Years past, babies were born, and famine hit Thebes. A messenger was sent to Delphi to find out what had gone wrong. According to the oracle, the land was suffering because King Laius’ killer hadn’t been caught and prosecuted.
Oedipus (who was now the King) cursed the killer and swore to exile the villain. Only they had no idea who the villain actually was. So they called in Tiresias, the old blind prophet. Tiresias told Oedipus not to ask questions. Oedipus insisted (and as King he could be quite insistent). During the ensuing argument, Tiresias provoked Oedipus into revealing that he was the killer in question and that Oedipus didn’t know who his birth parents were.
Then in burst the proverbial messenger, with the news that King Polybus was dead. At first, Oedipus was relieved because it meant he couldn’t have killed his “father”. Oedipus refused to attend the funeral so that he wouldn’t see Merope and somehow make the second part of the oracle come true (remember, Oedipus couldn’t see the scoreboard from his vantage point).
Finally catching up, Jocasta realized that Oedipus was her son, so she did the only reasonable thing and hanged herself. As Oedipus learned the whole truth (that he had in fact killed his father and married his mother), he did the only reasonable and appropriate thing: he took the brooch from Jocasta’s gown and stabbed his eyes out.
Following that, the now blind ex-king (you knew they’d get rid of him, right?) fled, and went to Athens guided by his daughter, Antigone, so that Sophocles could write plays about them.