Study Guide

The Story of Oedipus Characters

  • Oedipus

    It's safe to say that this guy is one of the most talked about of all the peeps in Greek mythology. You can't kill your dad and sleep with your mother without gaining a little notoriety, we guess. Many have spent a lot of time trying to identify what if anything is Oedipus's hamartia (aka tragic flaw). There are a bunch of theories out there, including a violent temper and hubris (aka pride). There's also the idea out there that many people's idea of hamartia is based on a bad translation and that the whole debate it off-track. Click here for more Shmoopy coverage of the whole discussion.

    There's no doubt that Oedipus makes some mistakes along the way. (Join the club.) Overall, though, this guy is a hero, through and through. When the Oracle tells him that he's destined to kill his father and sleep with his mother, he vows never to return to Corinth where he was in line to inherit the throne from Polybus, the guy he thought was his dad. Sure, he ends up killing his real father Laius and sleeping with Jocasta, his true mother, but it's not like he knew that's what was going down.

    When he finds out that the deadly Sphinx is terrorizing Thebes, he steps up to the plate and punks her down by solving her riddle. After he's made king of Thebes, he does everything to stop the plague that's... well... plaguing the city, even though that eventually means his own exile. Sure, Oedipus does some messed-up things in ignorance, but all in all he seems like a stand-up guy, who always tried to do the right thing. Maybe, it isn't Oedipus who's tragically flawed; maybe it's the world he's born into.

    Click here for much more on the unluckiest dude of all time.

  • Jocasta

    Yeah, she's the queen of Thebes, but her life is far from awesome. Everybody (including us) goes on and on about how cursed Jocasta's life is, but this lady really had it rough. Let's see, first she was forced to allow her only child to be abandoned on a mountain after having a pin stabbed into his ankles. (Whether or not she signs off on this is up for debate.) Later on, her husband is killed by highway robbers. Then she finds out that the new awesome guy she's married to and had kids with is actually the kid she abandoned and the guy who killed her first husband. After that, she hangs herself. See what we mean? This lady had it bad. How come nobody ever wrote a tragedy about her, huh?

    Click here to hear all about the depiction of Jocasta in Sophocles' Oedipus the King.

  • Laius

    Laius probably doesn't earn too much sympathy from anybody when he chooses to pierce his baby boy's ankles and abandon him on a mountainside. No doubt, he has good reason to be afraid after the Oracle's prophesies that that baby will grow up to kill Laius and sleep with Jocasta. The Oracle's prophecies may be cryptic, but one way or another, they always come true. What would you do in his place, if you knew for a fact that your kid would do this messed up stuff? Ugh. Life is too complicated, right?

  • Creon

    Creon, Jocasta's brother, comes off as a pretty nice dude in this story. When the Sphinx is causing problems, he doesn't mind abdicating the throne if it helps save Thebes. Later on, he assists Oedipus in every way possible to help find Laius's killer and stop the plague. For a lot of the time, he's the levelheaded voice of reason.

    Click here for more on this side of Creon (as seen in Sophocles' Oedipus the King). Later on in his career, Creon becomes a more controversial figure. You'll find more on that in Sophocles' Antigone. Click here for that and here for more on Creon in general. What can we say? We just can't get enough.

  • Tiresias

    Tiresias is the iconic blind seer. This guy may not be able to see the hand in front of his face, but he can see pretty much everything that's going to happen. Though he's super old and has been trying to advise the kings of Thebes for years, they never seem to listen to his advice, which we're guessing is the very thing that makes him so cranky all the time. In the story of Oedipus, he at first refuses to tell Oedipus the truth of everything, because he knows no good will come of it. In the end, though, Oedipus is all mean to him and Tiresias spills the beans.

    For the full story on the blind seer of Thebes click here. To see how he butts heads with Creon in Sophocles' Antigone click here.

  • Oracle of Delphi

    Sometimes we have to wonder why anybody went to see the priestesses of the Oracle of Delphi. Sure, we're all curious about our futures. But if you can't change them, what's the point in knowing them, right? Both Oedipus and his dad, Laius, go through this as they try to avoid the prophecies laid out for them at the Oracle.

    We should note the Oracle of Delphi was a bona fide historical place, where everybody from kings to commoners went for centuries to get advice. At any given time, there was one young priestess of Apollo's called the Pythia, who hung out in a room full of volcanic fumes spouting prophecies. Click here for a Shmoop close-up on this mysterious place and its priestesses.

  • Antigone

    Oedipus's daughter may not play a major role in the story of her dear old dad/brother, but she definitely is already showing the signs of the tough lady she'll become. When Oedipus is exiled from Thebes, Antigone steps up to the plate and guides him through the wilderness. Despite the hardships involved, Antigone steps up to do what's right. This is just the sort of thing that gets her into so much trouble later on.

    Click here for the full story on Antigone and here for Shmoop's exclusive file on the heroine. Also, you've got to check out our coverage of Antigone by Sophocles. Click, and be amazed.