Oedipus is a mythic Greek character thought to originate in Mycenaean folklore. His story is cited by Homer and was central in the lost Theban cycle of post-Homeric epics, before becoming a subject in tragedies written for the Festival of Dionysius in fifth century BCE Athens, most notably in the three Theban plays by Sophocles. Sophocles’ plays provide the best-known modern version of the myth, though the story differs to varying degrees in works by Aeschylus and Euripides as well as in the epics and in the original folklore.
The first of Sophocles’ Theban plays in story chronology (though second in order of composition) is Oedipus Tyrannus. The play begins as Oedipus, King of Thebes, is asked by his subjects to rescue the city from a devastating plague. Brother-in-law Creon brings news from Apollo’s oracle at Delphi that the murderer of previous Theban king (and former husband of Oedipus’s wife Jocasta), Laius, must be destroyed before the plague can end. In the course of...