Myths of Greece and Rome Narrated with Special Reference to Literature and Art

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When he returned, none questioned how he had performed the appointed task, but all sighed with relief to think that the prophecy could never be accomplished. The child, however, was not dead, as all supposed. A shepherd in quest of a stray lamb had heard his cries, delivered him from his painful position, and carried him to Polybus, King of Corinth, who, lacking an heir of his own, gladly adopted the little stranger. The Queen of Corinth and her handmaidens hastened with tender concern to [281] bathe the swollen ankles, and called the babe Œdipus (swollen-footed).

Years passed by. The young prince grew up in total ignorance of the unfortunate circumstances under which he had made his first appearance at court, until one day at a banquet one of his companions, heated by drink, began to quarrel with him, and taunted him about his origin, declaring that those whom he had been accustomed to call parents were in no way related to him.

“A drunken rev’ler at a feast proclaim’d
That I was only the supposed son
Of Corinth’s king.”
Sophocles (Francklin’s tr.).
Œdipus consults the oracle.

These words, coupled with a few meaning glances hastily exchanged by the guests, excited Œdipus’ suspicions, and made him question the queen, who, afraid lest he might do himself an injury in the first moment of his despair if the truth were revealed to him, had recourse to prevarication, and quieted him by the assurance that he was her beloved son.

Something in her manner, however, left a lingering doubt in Œdipus’ mind, and made him resolve to consult the oracle of Delphi, whose words he knew would reveal the exact truth. He therefore went to this shrine; but, as usual, the oracle answered somewhat ambiguously, and merely warned him that fate had decreed he should kill his father, marry his mother, and cause great woes to his native city.

“I felt
A secret anguish, and unknown to them
Sought out the Pythian oracle; in vain;
Touching my parents, nothing could I learn;
But dreadful were the mis’ries it denounc’d
Against me; ’twas my fate, Apollo said,
To wed my mother, to produce a race
Accursed and abhorr’d; and last, to slay
My father.”
Sophocles (Francklin’s tr.).
Œdipus leaves Corinth.

[282] What! kill Polybus, who had ever been such an indulgent father, and marry the queen, whom he revered as his mother! Never! Rather than perpetrate these awful crimes, and bring destruction upon the people of Corinth, whom he loved, he would wander away over the face of the earth, and never see city or parents again.

“Lest I should e’er fulfill the dire prediction,
Instant I fled from Corinth, by the stars
Guiding my hapless journey.”
Sophocles (Francklin’s tr.).

But his heart was filled with intense bitterness, and as he journeyed he did not cease to curse the fate which drove him away from home. After some time, he came to three crossroads; and while he stood there, deliberating which direction to take, a chariot, wherein an aged man was seated, came rapidly toward him.