When and why does Oedipus suspect himself as the murderer in Oedipus Rex?

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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.

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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.

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In Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, when does Oedipus begin to think that he himself is the murderer of Laius? What details lead him to this conclusion?

In Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, details from Tiresias and Jocasta are what finally convince Oedipus that he has murdered the former King of Thebes.

Creon has learned that the kingdom of Thebes is cursed because the lawful King of the city was murdered. Oedipus, trying to help his people by bringing an end to the outbreak of plague, the loss of their crops and death of their animals, calls for Tiresias (the prophet) and asks for his help. Tiresias argues extensively with Oedipus, desperate to leave and say nothing. It is not until the King accuses the prophet of treachery that Tiresias tells Oedipus what he demands to hear.

…I say to you: Abide by that decree

you made earlier, and from this day address (370)

neither these men here nor me, since you

are the unholy polluter of this land.

In essence, Tiresias tells Oedipus that he is the murderer, the cause of all the suffering in Thebes. Almost in riddles, Tiresias continues, half-explaining that Oedipus has done more evil than he can even imagine. (Here he alludes to Oedipus' sinful marriage to his mother and to the children he has fathered with his mother—his children are actually his siblings...but still Oedipus does not yet understand the significance of what Tiresias has struggled to keep secret.)

Oedipus sends Tiresias away, angry at his veiled accusations. He fights with Creon as well, accusing him of conspiring to take his throne from him. When Oedipus and Jocasta are finally alone, she tells him a story to show that the gods will reveal what prophets and seers sometimes do not. She believes the oracle that prophesied her husband's death at the hands of their son was wrong; however, as she speaks to Oedipus, her words strike a chord of horror in his heart.


A prophecy came to Laius once…

that death would come to him from his child,

whoever was born to him from me. But then,

just as the report is, some foreign brigands

slew him where the three wagon-roads meet.

Yet three days had not passed from the birth of my child, (745)

when that man, binding his ankles together,

sent him in another’s hands into the wild

of the mountain. And so Apollo brought about

neither that he slay his father nor that Laius

suffer the terrible thing he feared from his child.(750)

In hearing what Jocasta has said, especially about Laius being killed where three roads met, Oedipus asks her questions as to the town where her husband died, what he looked like and who was with him. All the details lead Oedipus, tragically, to believe that without knowing it, he did in fact kill his father. (Still Jocasta knows nothing of this.)

When Oedipus asks how she knew of any of the details of Laius' death, she reveals that there was one survivor, and Oedipus, looking for the final damning piece of evidence, asks his wife to summon this man who has left the city to become a shepherd once more.

Meanwhile, a messenger arrives from Corinth to tell Oedipus that his "father" is dead, but reveals...

...Polybus is nothing to you by birth!  (1043)

Oedipus had fled his father's house for fear of killing him, only to end up where he would kill his biological father. The messenger and the shepherd meet, and it is discovered that the shepherd gave Oedipus to the messenger (a shepherd then) to save the baby's life. All that Tiresias inferred was true, and Oedipus knows that the prophecies were not false: he is the monster the prophet accused him of being, cursed from his birth.

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