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Oedipodic

 

Here’s an odd one from the HH archives: if you’re oedipodic, then you have swollen feet. 

 

If you’re curious to know whether there’s any connection there to the Greek tragic hero Oedipus, then you’re waaaay ahead of us. 

 

According to legend, Oedipus (he of the patricidal/matriphilic Oedipus complex) was an ancient prince of Thebes, the son of King Laius and Queen Jocasta.

 

Before Oedipus’ birth, Laius sought a prophecy from the Oracle at Delphi and was informed that if Jocasta ever bore a son, then the son would one day murder Laius and take his place alongside his mother in the royal bedroom. So when the queen did indeed give birth to a son not long afterwards, like any self-respecting father Laius had his newborn boy’s ankles pierced with metal rods and shackled together, and then demanded that the child be abandoned on a nearby mountainside. Social services in Ancient Greece seemingly left a lot to be desired. 

 

Unfortunately for King Laius, the young infant fell into the hands of a local shepherd (who, depending on what version of the tale you’re reading, either found the baby on the mountain and rescued him, or else was entrusted with him by a servant who couldn’t bring herself to carry out Laius’ wishes).

 

The shepherd named the child Oedipus—a Greek name that literally means “swollen-footed,” on account of the awful state of the child’s injured feet. Yes, etymologically, Oedipus comes from the same root—the Greek oidan, meaning “to swell”—as the medical term oedema. And, yes, it’s also the origin of the word oedipodic, which is what brought us here in the first place. But back to the story.

 

The shepherd passed Oedipus on to Polybus and Merope, the king and queen of nearby Corinth, who adopted him as their own. The boy’s childhood, as prince of Corinth, was now a happy one—but once he heard word that he had been adopted, Oedipus found it hard to settle in his adoptive home, and so he too sought advice from the Oracle at Delphi.

 

Just as she had told King Laius, the Oracle explained to Oedipus that he was one day destined to murder his father. Terrified of the prophecy coming true, Oedipus ultimately fled the palace and headed out on the road to a new life elsewhere—where, on the road out of Corinth, he soon encountered an old charioteer. 

 

The two fell into a bitter argument about who had right of way on the road. The quarrel quickly grew violent, and Oedipus killed the old man at the roadside. SPOILER ALERT: yes, the old man was none other than King Laius. 

 

Continuing on his way, Oedipus next encountered a sphinx, who posed a riddle to anyone passing by; anyone who failed to solve the puzzle would be killed and eaten. “What walks on four feet in the morning,” the sphinx asked, “two in the afternoon, and three at night?” After a moment’s thought, Oedipus correctly answered, “Man: from a baby crawling on all fours, through childhood and adulthood, before eventually requiring a walking stick to steady their two legs in his dotage.” His riddle solved, the sphinx fled and Oedipus continued on his way, arriving shortly after in the city of Thebes. 

 

There, Oedipus discovered that the local prince, Creon, had decreed that anyone who was able to rid the city of the sphinx would become king—and the now widowed Jocasta (Creon’s sister) would become their queen. Spoiler alert: Oedipus ended up in her bed. 

 

The Oracle’s prophecies, ultimately, had come true. And a man whose name means “swollen-footed” became the tragic kind of Thebes after all. 

 

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