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The myth begins with Laius and Jocasta, king and queen of Thebes, who receive a warning from the Delphic oracle that their soon-to-be-born son will kill his father and marry his mother. Immediately after its birth, in an effort to avoid the prophecy, the infant’s feet are pierced and bound, and he is given to a shepherd who is instructed to abandon the child on the slopes of Mount Cithaeron. The shepherd takes pity on the child and gives it to another shepherd from Corinth, who then brings it to the childless Polybus and Merope, king and queen of Corinth, to be brought up as their own son. They name him Oedipus, which means "swollen foot."

When Oedipus reaches adulthood, he learns from an oracle that he is destined to kill his father and marry his mother. In order to evade his fate, Oedipus leaves Corinth, never to return. During the journey, his chariot and another’s meet where three roads cross. Neither occupant is willing to cede the other’s right of way. A fight ensues in which hot-headed Oedipus kills the other man — his biological father, King Laius.

Sometime later, Oedipus reaches Thebes and is confronted at the city’s gate by the Sphinx, a mythological creature with the head of a woman and the body of a lion. She terrorizes the city by asking all travelers who attempt to pass through the gate a riddle, killing them when they cannot answer it. She asks Oedipus the same cryptic question, but to her surprise, he answers it, causing the outraged Sphinx to leap from her perch and hurl herself against the pointed rocks below to die impaled on their points. Oedipus is then hailed as the city’s savior and proclaimed king by the queen’s brother, Creon, who is its regent. Oedipus marries Laius’ widow — his own mother — and has four children with her: Antigone, Ismene, Eteocles, and Polynices. After ruling benevolently for many years, a plague suddenly descends upon the city.

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