Why is the Latin "Oedipus Rex" a mistranslation of the Greek title of Sophocles' play?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Sophocles play, "Oedipus Tyrranus", is often referred to by the misleading Latin title "Oedipus Rex". The reason why this title is misleading has to do with the difference between a "basileus," a legitimate hereditary monarch, and a "tyrranos", a sole ruler given power by popular acclaim or by force. Until the very end of the play, Oedipus is a tyrant of Thebes. His power is due not to any general form of legal legitimacy, but popular acclaim. It is only at the very end of the play, when the parentage of Oedipus is revealed, that we discover that, in fact, he was the legitmate king, or basileus. Oedipus does not, howver, actually rule Thebes as basileus, because immediately upon the discovery of his parentage, he blinds himself, resigns his tyrantship, and leaves the city.