Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome

Page: 141

[271]received the promised reward. He became king of Thebes and the husband of Jocaste, the widow of his father, king Laius.

For many years Œdipus enjoyed the greatest happiness and tranquillity. Four children were born to him—two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, and two daughters, Antigone and Ismene. But at last the gods afflicted the country with a grievous pestilence, which made terrible havoc among the people. In their distress they entreated the help of the king, who was regarded by his subjects as a special favourite of the gods. Œdipus consulted an oracle, and the response was that the pestilence would continue to rage until the land was purified of the blood of king Laius, whose murderer was living unpunished at Thebes.

The king now invoked the most solemn imprecations on the head of the murderer, and offered a reward for any information concerning him. He then sent for the blind old seer Tiresias, and implored him, by means of his prophetic powers, to reveal to him the author of the crime. Tiresias at first hesitated, but yielding to the earnest solicitations of the king, the old prophet thus addressed him: "Thou thyself art the murderer of the old king Laius, who was thy father; and thou art wedded to his widow, thine own mother." In order to convince Œdipus of the truth of his words, he brought forward the old servant who had exposed him as a babe on Mount Cithæron, and the shepherd who had conveyed him to king Polybus. Horrified at this awful revelation Œdipus, in a fit of despair, deprived himself of sight, and the unfortunate Jocaste, unable to survive her disgrace, hanged herself.

Accompanied by his faithful and devoted daughter Antigone, Œdipus quitted Thebes and became a miserable and homeless outcast, begging his bread from place to place. At length, after a long and painful pilgrimage, he found a place of refuge in the grove of the Eumenides (at Colonus, near Athens), where his last moments were soothed and tended by the care and devotion of the faithful Antigone.



After the voluntary abdication of Œdipus, his two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, took possession of the crown and reigned over the city of Thebes. But Eteocles, being an ambitious prince, soon seized the reins of government himself, and expelled his brother from the throne.

Polynices now repaired to Argos, where he arrived in the dead of night. Outside the gates of the royal palace he encountered Tydeus, the son of Œneus, king of Calydon. Having accidentally killed a relative in the chase, Tydeus was also a fugitive; but being mistaken by Polynices in the darkness for an enemy, a quarrel ensued, which might have ended fatally, had not king Adrastus, aroused by the clamour, appeared on the scene and parted the combatants.

By the light of the torches borne by his attendants Adrastus observed, to his surprise, that on the shield of Polynices a lion was depicted, and on that of Tydeus a boar. The former bore this insignia in honour of the renowned hero Heracles, the latter in memory of the famous Calydonian boar-hunt. This circumstance reminded the king of an extraordinary oracular prediction concerning his two beautiful daughters, Argia and Deipyle, which was to the effect that he would give them in marriage to a lion and a boar. Hailing with delight what he regarded as an auspicious solution of the mysterious prophecy, he invited the strangers into his palace; and when he heard their history, and had convinced himself that they were of noble birth, he bestowed upon Polynices his beautiful daughter Argia, and upon Tydeus the fair Deipyle, promising at the same time that he would assist both his sons-in-law to regain their rightful patrimony.

The first care of Adrastus was to aid Polynices in regaining possession of his lawful share in the government of Thebes. He accordingly invited the most powerful chiefs in his kingdom to join in the expedition, [273]all of whom readily obeyed the call with the exception of the king's brother-in-law, Amphiaraus, the seer. As he foresaw a disastrous termination to the enterprise, and knew that not one of the heroes, save Adrastus himself, would return alive, he earnestly dissuaded the king from carrying out his project, and declined to take any part in the undertaking. But Adrastus, seconded by Polynices and Tydeus, was obstinately bent on the achievement of his purpose, and Amphiaraus, in order to escape from their importunities, concealed himself in a hiding-place known only to his wife Eriphyle.

Now on the occasion of the marriage of Amphiaraus it had been agreed, that if he ever differed in opinion with the king, his wife should decide the question. As the presence of Amphiaraus was indispensable to the success of the undertaking, and, moreover, as Adrastus would not enter upon it without "the eye of the army," as he called his brother-in-law, Polynices, bent on securing his services, determined to bribe Eriphyle to use her influence with her husband and to decide the question in accordance with his wishes. He bethought himself of the beautiful necklace of Harmonia, wife of Cadmus, which he had brought with him in his flight from Thebes. Without loss of time he presented himself before the wife of Amphiaraus, and held up to her admiring gaze the glittering bauble, promising that if she revealed the hiding-place of her husband and induced him to join the expedition, the necklace should be hers. Eriphyle, unable to withstand the tempting bait, accepted the bribe, and thus Amphiaraus was compelled to join the army. But before leaving his home he extorted a solemn promise from his son Alcmæon that, should he perish on the field of battle, he would avenge his death on his mother, the perfidious Eriphyle.