What does the name "Oedipus Rex" mean/stand for? What is the definition of that name?

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schulzie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Greek mythology, Laius, king of Thebes, consulted the oracles and was told that he would have a son.  This son was going to kill him.  Consequently, when his son was born, he had him taken into the wilderness and exposed  to the elements.  The name Oedipus means “swollen feet”.  In the past, it was believed that this was because when children were left out in the elements, their feet were pinned together so that they could not save themselves in any way.  However, modern scholars are skeptical of this interpretation and discount it.  A shepherd found Oedipus and took him to Corinth, where he was adopted and raised by King Polybus and his wife. 

When he was a young man, Oedipus visited Delphi, the place known for oracles.  He, also, was told that he would kill his father and marry his mother.  He refused to return to Corinth for fear that he may just do that.   On his travels toward Thebes, he runs into Laius, has a quarrel with him, and kills Laius; therefore fulfilling the first part of the oracle.  He then continues on to Thebes, where he learns that the king has died, and the city is being plagued by the Sphinx.  He answers the riddle of the Sphinx, and for a reward is given Queen Jocasta in marriage.  So the oracle was fulfilled.  He killed his father and married his mother.  Upon marrying her, he became king.  “Rex” means king. 

So his name means Oedipus the King. 

amymc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Oedipus Rex is a classic Greek epic, so it makes sense that his name would come from the Greek language.

According to Wikipedia, Oedipus means "swollen foot" and originated from the Greek word "Oidípous".  According to legend, when Oedipus was born, his parents sent him away to avoid a prophecy which said he would one day kill his father and marry his mother.  Before he was adopted, Oedipus sustained injuries to his feet and ankles, causing him to swell - thus his name.

Rex means "reigning king" which is proven when the prophecy sadly comes true when Oedipus does eventually kill his father and become king.  


jcphelps76 | Student

Oedipus, translated from Greek, means "swollen foot." Rex translates as "king." The Latin use of Oedipus, in figurative language, refers to solving riddles. Taking that thought a step further, Karl Popper used "Oedipus effect" to identify what  Robert Murton called "a self-fulfilling prophecy." Sophocles' use of the name doubles the dimensions of the play's meaning.

The delicious twist in the Greek tragedy, "Oedipus Rex," is that two characters each face a self-fulfilling prophecy. Both father and son fail miserably trying to defy fate, trying to answer the riddle.

The first prediction spurred King Laius to abandon his infant son to save himself. Laius opened the door for the baby to be rescued and reared in the house of strangers. In later years, the two met as strangers and Oedipus killed Laius. He took the kingdom and married the queen, his mother, thus fulfilling the prophecy. 

After the kingdom experienced many hardships, a second prediction by an oracle said that Oedipus had to find and punish the man who killed King Laius. The unhappy resolution to the riddle found Oedipus blinding himself upon learning the truth. 

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