THE SPHINX'S RIDDLE
WHEN Œdipus was grown up, he once went to a festival,
where his proud manners so provoked one of his
companions, that he taunted him with being only a
foundling. Œdipus, seeing the frightened faces around
him, now for the first time began to think that perhaps
he had not been told the truth about his parentage. So
he consulted an oracle.
Instead of giving him a plain answer,—a thing which the
oracles were seldom known to do,—the voice said,
"Œdipus, beware! You are doomed to kill your father,
marry your mother, and bring destruction upon your
Horrified at this prophecy, and feeling sure that the
King and Queen of Corinth were his parents, and that
the oracle's predictions threatened misfortunes to
Œdi-  pus made up his mind to leave home forever.
He did not even dare to return to bid his family
good-by, and he started out alone and on foot to seek
his fortunes elsewhere.
As he walked, he thought of his misfortunes, and grew
very bitter against the cruel goddess of fate, whom he
had been taught to fear. He fancied that this goddess
could rule things as she pleased, and that it was she
who had said he would commit the dreadful crimes which
he was trying to avoid.
After several days' aimless wandering, Œdipus came at
last to some crossroads. There he met an old man riding
in a chariot, and preceded by a herald, who haughtily
bade Œdipus make way for his master.
As Œdipus had been brought up as a prince, he was in
the habit of seeing everybody make way for him. He
therefore proudly refused to stir; and when the herald
raised his staff to strike, Œdipus drew his sword and
The old man, indignant at this deed of violence,
stepped out of his chariot and attacked Œdipus. Now
the young man did not know that it was his father Laius
whom he thus met for the first time, so he fell upon
and killed him also. The servants too were all slain
when they in turn attacked him; and then Œdipus calmly
continued his journey, little suspecting that the first
part of the oracle's prediction had been fulfilled.
Soon after this fight, Œdipus came to the city of
Thebes. The streets were filled with excited people,
all talking at once; and the young prince, in listening
to what they said, soon learned the cause of their
 It seems that a terrible monster called the Sphinx had
taken up its station on one of the principal roads
leading to the town, and would allow no one to pass who
could not answer a riddle which it asked. This creature
had the head of a woman, the body of a lion, and the
wings of an eagle; and, as it ate up all those who
could not guess its riddle, the people were very much
Many persons had already been slain; for, although the
bravest men had gone out to kill it, they had lost
their lives in the attempt, as no one could harm it
unless he guessed the mysterious riddle.
Laius, the king, hoping to learn from the oracle at
Delphi the answer to the riddle, had ridden off in his
chariot; but the people grew more excited still, when a
messenger came running into the town, and said that the
king and all his servants had been killed by robbers,
and that their dead bodies had been found in the middle
of the road.
Œdipus paid no attention to this news; for he little
suspected that the old man whom he had killed was the
king, whom everybody loved, and for whom now they
mourned with noisy grief.
He was, however, deeply interested in the story of the
Sphinx; and he was so sure that he could guess the
riddle, that he immediately set out to find the monster.
He walked boldly along the road until stopped by the
Sphinx, which told him to answer this riddle if he
wished to live: "What creature walks upon four feet in
the morning, upon two at noon, and upon three at
After a few moments' deep thought, Œdipus answered.
After a few moments' deep thought, Œdipus answered
 that the creature was man. "For," said he, "in the
morning of life, or in babyhood, man creeps on hands
and knees; at noon, or in manhood, he walks erect; and
at evening, or in old age, he supports his tottering
steps with a staff."
The Sphinx's riddle was guessed; and the monster,
knowing that its power was now at an end, tried to get
away. But Œdipus would not allow it to do so; and,
drawing his sword, he forced it back until it fell over
a precipice, on the sharp stones below, and was dashed