BEHIND the power of the gods and beyond all the efforts of
men, the three Fates sat at their spinning.
No one could tell whence these sisters were, but by some
strange necessity they spun the web of human life and made
destinies without knowing why. It was not for Clotho to
decree whether the thread of a life should be stout or
fragile, nor for Lachesis to choose the fashion of the web;
and Atropos herself must sometimes have wept to cut a life
short with her shears, and let it fall unfinished. But they
were like spinners for some Power that said of life, as of a
garment, Thus it must be. That Power neither gods nor
men could withstand.
There was once a king named Laius (a grandson of Cadmus
himself), who ruled over Thebes, with Jocasta his wife. To
them an Oracle had foretold that if a son of theirs lived to
grow up, he would one day kill his father and marry his own
mother. The king and queen resolved to escape such a doom,
even at terrible cost. Accordingly Laius gave his son, who
was only a
baby, to a certain herdsman, with instructions to put him to
This was not to be. The herdsman carried the child to a
lonely mountain-side, but once there, his heart failed him.
Hardly daring to disobey the king's command, yet shrinking
from murder, he hung the little creature by his feet to the
branches of a tree, and left him there to die.
 But there chanced to come that way with his flocks, a man
who served King Polybus of Corinth. He found the baby
perishing in the tree, and, touched with pity, took him home
to his master. The king and queen of Corinth were childless,
and some power moved them to take this mysterious child as
a gift. They called him Œdipus (Swollen-Foot) because of
the wounds they had found upon him, and, knowing naught of
his parentage, they reared him as their own son. So
the years went by.
Now, when Œdipus had come to manhood, he went to consult
the Oracle at Delphi, as all great people were wont, to
learn what fortune had in store for him. But for him
the Oracle had only a sentence of doom. According to the
Fates, he would live to kill his own father and wed his
Filled with dismay, and resolved in his turn
to conquer fate, Œdipus fled from Corinth; for he had
never dreamed that his parents were other than Polybus and
Merope the queen. Thinking to escape crime, he took the road
towards Thebes, so hastening into the very arms of his evil
It happened that King Laius, with one attendant, was on his
way to Delphi from the city Thebes. In a narrow road he met
this strange young man, also driving in a chariot, and
ordered him to quit the way. Œdipus, who had been reared to
princely honors, refused to obey; and the king's
charioteer, in great anger, killed one of the young man's
horses. At this insult Œdipus fell upon master and servant;
mad with rage, he slew them both, and went on his way, not
knowing the half of what he had done. The first saying of
the Oracle was fulfilled.
But the prince was to have his day of triumph
 before the
doom. There was a certain wonderful creature called the
Sphinx, which had been a terror to Thebes for many days.
In form half woman and half lion, she crouched always by a
precipice near the highway, and put the same mysterious
question to every passer-by. None had ever been able to
answer, and none had ever lived to warn men of the riddle;
Sphinx fell upon every one as he failed, and hurled him down
the abyss, to be dashed in pieces.
This way came Œdipus towards the city Thebes, and the
Sphinx crouched, face to face with him, and spoke the riddle
that none had been able to guess.
"What animal is that which in the morning goes on four
feet, at noon on two, and in the evening upon three?"
Œdipus, hiding his dread of the terrible creature, took
thought, and answered, "Man. In childhood he creeps on hands
and knees, in manhood he walks erect, but in old age he has
need of a staff."
At this reply the Sphinx uttered a cry, sprang headlong from
the rock into the valley below, and perished. Œdipus had
guessed the answer. When he came to the city and told the
Thebans that their torment was gone, they hailed him as a
deliverer. Not long after, they married him with great
honor to their widowed queen, Jocasta, his own mother. The
destiny was fulfilled.
For years Œdipus lived in peace, unwitting; but at length
upon that unhappy city there fell a great pestilence and
famine. In his distress the king sent to the Oracle at
Delphi, to know what he or the Thebans had done, that they
should be so sorely punished. Then for the third time the
Oracle spoke his own fateful sentence; and he learned all.
 Jocasta died, and Œdipus took the doom upon himself, and
left Thebes. Blinded by his own hand, he wandered away into
the wilderness. Never again did he rule over men; and he had
one only comrade, his faithful daughter Antigone. She was
the truest happiness in his life of sorrow, and she never
left him till he died.