While Theseus was reigning over the Athenians, the neighboring throne of Thebes, in Boeotia, was occupied by King Laius and Queen Jocasta. In those days the people thought they could learn about the future by consulting the oracles.
Hoping to learn what would become of himself and of his family, Laius sent rich gifts to the temple at Delphi, asking what would befall him in the coming years. The messenger soon returned, but, instead of bringing cheerful news, he tremblingly repeated the oracle’s words: “King Laius, you will have a son who will murder his father, marry his mother, and bring destruction upon his native city!”
This news filled the king’s heart with horror; and when, a few months later, a son was born to him, he made up his mind to kill him rather than let him live to commit such fearful crimes. But Laius was too gentle to harm a babe, and so ordered a servant to carry the child out of the town and put him to death.
The man obeyed the first part of the king’s orders; but when he had come to a lonely spot on the mountain, he could not make up his mind to kill the poor little babe. Thinking that the child would soon die if left on this lonely spot, the servant tied him to a tree, and, going back to the city, reported that he had gotten rid of him.
No further questions were asked, and all thought that the child was dead. It was not so, however. His cries had attracted the attention of a passing shepherd, who carried him home, and, being too poor to keep him, took him to the King of Corinth. As the king had no children, he gladly adopted the little boy.
When the queen saw that the child’s ankles were swollen by the cord by which he had been hung to the tree, she tenderly cared for him, and called him Oedipus, which means “the swollenfooted.” This nickname clung to the boy, who grew up thinking that the King and Queen of Corinth were his real parents.