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Oedipus and the Riddle of the Sphinx


Oedipus was born to Queen Jocasta and King Laius in the city of Thebes. When Oedipus was born, the gods told Laius he would be killed by his own son. The son would then marry his own mother. Laius felt he had to get rid of the boy. So he sent the baby Oedipus up to a mountain. There he was left to die. But Oedipus did not die. He grew to be a man. He lived his life alone and sad.

One day he heard about something called the Sphinx. This was a monster with the head of a woman, the body of a lion, the wings like a bird. Near Thebes, the Sphinx lay in wait for people to walk by. Then she would ask them a riddle. If they could not answer the riddle, she would eat them. No one got past because no one could give the right answer.

Oedipus decided to try the riddle of the Sphinx. On his way, he came across a band of four men.  At last he reached the monster. “Here is a riddle,” the Sphinx said. “What goes on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and tree at night?” “That’s easy,” answered Oedipus. “The answer is a man. As a child he crawls on hands and knees. When he grows up, he walks on two legs. And when he is old he walks with a cane.” This answer was right. The sphinx let Oedipus pass. After that the Sphinx ate no more people. The people of Thebes were saved. When Oedipus got to Thebes, King Laius had just died. The people made Oedipus the king, and he married Queen Jocasta. Years later, Thebes had more trouble. There was not enough food and not enough water. Many people got sick. Many of them died. The people asked the gods for help. “You must find the person who killed King Laius,” they were told. “When that person is out of Thebes, all will be well again”.

As king, Oedipus wanted the killer to be found. So he asked the wisest man in Thebes to help him find that person. “That person is you,” the old man said. “That’s a crazy idea!” said Queen Jocasta.” Laius was killed by a robber. It happened at the place where three roads come together”.

“When did it happen?” asked Oedipus. “Not long before you came to Thebes,” said Queen Jocasta. “Laius was with three other men. All but one of them were killed. The one who got away came back to tell the story. “The place where three roads come together?” cried Oedipus. “That is where I killed three of four men.” Then they put it all together. What the gods had said when Oedipus had killed his father and married his own mother. He did not mean to do either. But that is what happened.

Oedipus stepped down as King of Thebes. Queen Jocasta’s brother took over the throne and the country. And so Oedipus had not only answered the riddle of the Sphinx. He had found the answer to the puzzle of his whole life.

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