Why did Oedipus blind himself?


The tale of Oedipus is well known within Greek Mythology. Born to King Laius and Queen Jocasta of Thebes, Oedipus was destined to be damned all his life. Upon birth, a prophecy surrounding him foresaw that he would murder his own father and marry his own mother. The prophecy led him to be abandoned, and later, saved and adopted by the childless king and queen of Corinth.

Later in life, Oedipus reigned over Thebes, not knowing that he has fulfilled the prophecy until a plague strikes the city. His determination to find a cure and the reasons behind it led to the shocking truth that he had, in fact, killed his own father and married his own mother. This truth led to the demise of his wife and mother and brought Oedipus to blind himself using two golden pins from Jocasta’s regal dress. Metaphorically, this is an act of punishment that Oedipus put on himself because he is ashamed of what he has done.

Early Life

King Laius and Queen Jocasta had been longing to have a child of their own. Seeking the advice from the oracle in Delphi, they were upset upon the answer given to them.

The oracle prophesied that if they bore a child, a son from their blood and flesh, he will grow up and later kill his own father and marry his own mother. This came as a shock to both King Laius and Queen Jocasta. Hearing this, King Laius tries to stay away from Jocasta to not sleep with her, but eventually, Jocasta was pregnant with a child.

Jocasta gave birth to a son, and Laius decided to abandon the child upon the mountains and leave it to die. He ordered his servants to pierce the child’s ankle so that it would not be able to crawl, and even later in the child’s life, to inflict harm unto him.

Laius then gave the child to a shepherd who was ordered to bring the child to the mountains and leave him there to die. The shepherd was so overwhelmed by his feelings that he could not do it, but he was also afraid of disobeying the king’s order. Coincidentally, another shepherd, a Corinthian, passed by the same mountain with his flocks, and the Thebes shepherd handed over the child to him.

Oedipus, the Corinthian Prince

The shepherd brought the child to the court of King Polybus and Queen Merope of Corinth. Both king and queen were childless, so they decided to adopt him and raise him as their own upon being presented with the child. And with that, they named him Oedipus, which means “Swollen Ankle.”

As Oedipus grew up, he was told that both King Polybus and Queen Merope were not his birth parents. And so, to learn about the truth about his parents, he ended up in Delphi, seeking answers from the Oracle.

Instead of being presented with the answer that he was looking for, he was told that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Upon hearing this, he was horrified and didn’t want the prophecy to come true, so he decided to flee from Corinth.

As he wandered, he crossed paths with a chariot carrying King Laius, his birth father. An argument arose as to whom should pass first, which resulted in Oedipus killing the charioteer and his father, King Laius. However, one of Laius’ servants managed to escaped from Oedipus’ wrath.

Meeting with the Sphinx

Soon after, Oedipus met with the Sphinx, who was gate-guarding the entrance into Thebes’ city. The Sphinx presented Oedipus with a riddle. She would let Oedipus pass if he managed to solve her riddle, but if not, he would be devoured.

The riddle goes like this: “What walks on four feet in the morning, two in the afternoon, and three at night?”

Oedipus gave careful thought and answered “Man,” and the answer was correct to the Sphinx’s dismay. Defeated, the Sphinx then hurled herself off the stone she was sitting on and died.

Following his victory in defeating the Sphinx and freeing the city from it, Oedipus was rewarded the hand of the queen as well as the throne of Thebes.

Strikes of the plague

Several years passed, and a plague hit the city of Thebes. Oedipus sent Creon, his brother-in-law, to Delphi to consult with the Oracle. Creon returned to the city and told Oedipus that the plague was divine retribution for killing the former king that has never been brought to justice.

Oedipus swore to get to the bottom of the matter. He had no idea that the killer was actually himself. He consulted the blind seer, Tiresias, on the matter, but Tiresias pointed out that Oedipus was, in fact, the one who was responsible for the killing.

Oedipus refused to believe that he was the one responsible. Instead, he accused Tiresias of plotting with Creon to dethrone him.

The truth unravels


Jocasta tried to comfort Oedipus and informed him about what had happened to her late husband during the process. To Oedipus’ dismay, it sounded similar to what he had encountered years ago that led to the argument with the unknown charioteer.

Eventually, Oedipus figured out that he had killed his own father and married his own mother soon after. After hearing and learning about the unsettling truth, Jocasta decided to take her own life by hanging herself in her chamber. Oedipus found Jocasta’s lifeless body, and took two golden pins from her regal dress and pricked both of his eyes out.

Creon exiled Oedipus, who was accompanied by his daughter, Antigone. Soon after, both of them ended up in a town outside Athens, called Colonus. According to a prophecy, this is the town that Oedipus was supposed to die in, and there he was buried in a grave dedicated to the Erinyes.

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