Why is Oedipus in Oedipus Rex cursed?

Quick answer:

In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus is cursed because of his father’s bad behavior. Although his father, Laius, was saved as a child by Pelops, the king of Pisa, Laius was ungrateful and abducted the king’s son. When that son died as Laius’s captive, Laius was cursed, as were his descendants. Oedipus, then, inherits the curse from his father, though it is his own hubris that brings it to fruition.

Expert Answers

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

It is actually Laius, Oedipus’s birth father, who is cursed and is responsible for the curse on his descendants, and this results in Oedipus’s tragic fate. When Laius’s father, Labdacus, the king of Thebes, died, Laius was raised by his mother, who ruled Thebes as regent. Two of his cousins usurped the throne and plotted to kill Laius, so he was smuggled out of Thebes to be raised by Pelops, the king of Pisa. While living with Pelops, Laius abducted Chrysippus, Pelops’s favorite son, and took the boy back to Thebes.

When his cousins died, Laius claimed the Theban throne, but he retained Chrysippus as his captive. Pelops raised an army to reclaim his son, but Chrysippus died in captivity. Due to his lack of gratitude toward Pelops and his poor treatment of Chrysippus, Laius was cursed. Then, when he married Jocasta, a prophet warned Laius not to have children because his son would kill him. One night, while drunk, Laius disregarded the prophecy—some sources say Jocasta got him drunk for this purpose—and they conceived Oedipus.

Baby Oedipus was sent away from Thebes and raised by the Corinthian king and queen, Polybus and Merope, as their own child. He does not initially realize that he is the son of Laius and Jocasta, nor does he realize, after leaving the Oracle of Delphi, that the man he kills is Laius, his own father. He decides to go to Thebes rather than return to Corinth, thinking that he can outwit the prophecy—and through it, the gods. If he does not return to his home, then how can he kill his father and marry his mother? Oedipus’s own hubris drives him to fulfill the prophecy rather than avoid it. He does not realize, later, that in marrying Laius’s widow, he has married and bedded his birth mother, Jocasta.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial