When does Oedipus begin to think that he himself is the murderer? What details lead him to this conclusion in Oedipus Rex?

Oedipus begins to suspect that he murdered King Laius when Oedipus's wife, Jocasta, relates the story of how Laius was killed. The details of Jocasta's story and her answers to Oedipus's questions about the murder cause Oedipus to realize that he is Laius's murderer.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It's possible that Oedipus might have had a thought early in Sophocles's Oedipus Rex that he had something to do with the murder of Laius, the former king of Thebes.

CREON. (to Oedipus) Before thou didst assume the helm of State,The sovereign of this land was Laius.

...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

It's possible that Oedipus might have had a thought early in Sophocles's Oedipus Rex that he had something to do with the murder of Laius, the former king of Thebes.

CREON. (to Oedipus) Before thou didst assume the helm of State,
The sovereign of this land was Laius.

OEDIPUS. I heard as much, but never saw the man.

CREON. He fell; and now the god's command is plain:
Punish his takers-off, whoe'er they be.

OEDIPUS. Was he within his palace, or afield,
Or traveling, when Laius met his fate?

CREON. Abroad; he started, so he told us, bound
For Delphi, but he never thence returned.

Here, Oedipus must certainly remember that he met and killed some men on the road to Delphi while he was on his way to Thebes.

OEDIPUS. Came there no news, no fellow-traveler
To give some clue that might be followed up?

CREON. But one escape, who flying for dear life,
Could tell of all he saw but one thing sure. ...

Robbers, he told us, not one bandit but
A troop of knaves, attacked and murdered him.

Oedipus knows that he was alone when he killed the men on the road to Delphi, so he puts the thought out of his mind that he might have killed Laius.

Later in the play, the evidence starts to point to Oedipus as Laius's murderer, but Oedipus's pride, his hubris, won't allow him think that he had anything to do with it.

The first to accuse Oedipus of the murder is Teiresias, the seer-prophet, but Teiresias offers no evidence to support his accusation.

TEIRESIAS. ... Thou art the man,
Thou the accursed polluter of this land. ...

I say thou art the murderer of the man
Whose murderer thou pursuest.

Oedipus accuses Teiresias of telling false tales and of being Laius's murderer himself, and he accuses Creon of conspiring with Teiresias to disgrace Oedipus and take his crown.

Angered, Teiresias tells Oedipus that Laius was his father, whom he killed, and thereafter married his own mother and had children with her.

Creon appears and defends himself vigorously against Oedipus's charges. Jocasta, Oedipus's wife and queen of Thebes, comes from the palace to see what all the shouting is about.

In the course of her dialogue with Oedipus, Creon, and the Chorus, Jocasta tells the story of a child she had with Laius who was her husband before Oedipus. She and Laius arranged to have the boy- child taken to the mountains to die, so he wouldn't fulfill the Oracle's prophecy that he would one day kill his father and marry his mother.

Jocasta also tells the story of how Laius was killed:

JOCASTA. ... Now Laius—so at least report affirmed—
Was murdered on a day by highwaymen,
No natives, at a spot where three roads meet.

Oedipus questions Jocasta about the location of the crossroads, when these events occurred, the number of men who were with Laius when he was killed, what Laius looked like, and how they traveled. All of Jocasta's answers confirmed what Oedipus remembered.

By now, the evidence is clear, and Oedipus must know that he's Laius's murderer, but he refuses to believe it.

A messenger arrives from Corinth who confirms the story of the boy-child who was left in the mountains to die and how he saved the child and took him to Corinth to be raised by the king and queen of Corinth.

The herdsman to whom Laius gave the child to take into the mountains is summoned, and he confirms the messenger's story.

Without a doubt, Oedipus is the man who murdered Laius, his father, and who married his own mother, Jocasta, who thought that she and Laius had avoided the Oracle's prophecy, only to see it come true.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team