|Greek and Roman Mythology > The Sphinx
danger to his throne and life if his new-born son should be
suffered to grow up. He therefore committed the child to the
care of a herdsman, with orders to destroy him; but the herdsman,
moved to pity, yet not daring entirely to disobey, tied up the
child by the feet, and left him hanging to the branch of a tree.
Here the infant was found by a herdsman of Polybus, king of
Corinth, who was pasturing his flock upon Mount Cithaeron.
Polybus and Merope, his wife, adopted the child, whom they called
OEdipus, or Swollen-foot, for they had no children themselves,
and in Corinth OEdipus grew up. But as OEdipus was at Delphi,
the oracle prophesied to him that he should kill his father and
marry his own mother. Fighting against Fate, OEdipus resolved to
leave Corinth and his parents, for he thought that Polybus and
Merope were meant by the oracle.
Soon afterwards, Laius being on his way to Delphi, accompanied
only by one attendant, met in a narrow road a young man also
driving in a chariot. On his refusal to leave the way at their
command, the attendant killed one of his horses, and the
stranger, filled with rage, slew both Laius and his attendant.
The young man was OEdipus, who thus unknowingly became the slayer
of his own father.
Shortly after this event the city of Thebes was afflicted with a
monster which infested the high-road. It was called the Sphinx.
It had the body of a lion, and the upper part of a woman. It lay
crouched on the top of a rock, and stopped all travellers who
came that way, proposing to them a riddle, with the condition
that those who could solve it should pass safe, but those who
failed should be killed. Not one had yet succeeded in solving
it, and all had been slain. OEdipus was not daunted by these
alarming accounts, but boldly advanced to the trial. The Sphinx
asked him, "What animal is that which in the morning goes on four
feet, at noon on two, and in the evening upon three?" OEdipus
replied, "Man, who in childhood creeps on hands and knees, in
manhood walks erect, and in old age with the aid of a staff."
The Sphinx was so mortified at the solving of her riddle that she
cast herself down from the rock and perished.
The gratitude of the people for their deliverance was so great
that they made OEdipus their king, giving him in marriage their
queen Jocasta. OEdipus, ignorant of his parentage, had already
become the slayer of his father; in marrying the queen he became
the husband of his mother. These horrors remained undiscovered,
till at length Thebes was afflicted with famine and pestilence,
and the oracle being consulted, the double crime of OEdipus came
to light. Jocasta put an end to her own life, and OEdipus,
seized with madness, tore out his eyes, and wandered away from
Thebes, dreaded and abandoned hy all except his daughters, who
faithfully adhered to him; till after a tedious period of
miserable wandering, he found the termination of his wretched