Gustave Moreau: Oedipus and the Sphinx (1864)

(Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA)

The subject of this painting is a part of the Greek legend of Oepidus. According to the tale, the parents of Oepidus recieved a prophecy that their son Oepidus would kill his own father, marry his mother and bring disaster on his city and family. In an attempt to thwart the prophecy they left him to die in the mountains. The young Oepidus was instead found by a local shepherd and he was raised by the king and queen of another city, Corinth. When Oepidus learned of the prophecy that he would bring disaster to his family he thought that it meant his adopted family and decided to leave Corinth. While on the road he met an old man, who Oepidus killed after a quarrel. On his way to Thebes he learned that the city of Laius was at the mercy of the Sphinx and its king recently killed. The Sphinx confronted Oepidus with a riddle: "Which creature has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?". Oepidus solved the riddle correctly by answering: "Man—who crawls on all fours as a baby, then walks on two feet as an adult, and then uses a walking stick in old age". After defeating the Sphinx Oepidus married the widowed Queen of Laius. Several years later Oepidus discoved the thruth: the old man theat he killed on the road years ago was his own father (and king of Laius) and that his wife was his own mother. The mother (and wife) of Oepidus hanged herself, Oepidus blinded himself with 2 pins. After an exile together with his 2 daughters Oepidus died at Colonus. This painting is from 1864