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The Mother of Oedipus: Destined to Sorrow


Jocasta (Iokaste) was the queen of Thebes and mother to Oedipus, Antigone, Eteocles, Polynices, Ismene, and Menocenes. She was sister to Creon, who also figures prominently in Sophocles' play, "Oedipus the King". She was married to King Laius and bore him a son, Oedipus, who was destined to kill his father and marry his mother: Jocasta.

The characters in this tragedy attempt to avoid the prophecy told to King Laius and to Oedipus. In fear that his son would murder him, Laius took his three-day-old son, bound his ankles, and abandoned him "on a barren, trackless mountain." Laius attempted infanticide to end the danger to himself and was only thwarted by the the disobedience of his servant, who gives the child to childless King Polybus.

Years later, when Oedipus finally hears the the prophecy that he will murder his father and marry his mother, he also tried to circumvent fate by running away from his adopted family in Corinth to avoid the possibility of killing them.

While Oedipus and his father both take steps to prevent their fates from taking place, Jocasta only becomes a participant in the story after Fate has already taken its course. We can only wonder what she must have been thinking as she tells Oedipus about the loss of her son: "An oracle came to Laius on fine day ... and it declared that doom would strike him down at the hands of a son, our son, to be born of our own flesh and blood." Then she says, "There you see? Apollo brought neither to pass. My baby no more murdered his father than Laius suffered-his worst fear-death at his own son's hands." All she sees in the past is the loss of her son, and the death of her husband by "robbers."

Jocasta speaks of "empty nonsense," of prophecies never fulfilled; but then she prays for Oedipus, and she prays that the pollution will be cured from the land. She tells Oedipus, "Listen to him, see for yourself what all those awful prophecies have come to," and then later, "Stop-in the name of god, if you love your own life, call off your search! My suffering is enough."

In her final scene, she leaves the stage after saying, "You're doomed-may you never fathom who you are!.. Aieeeeee-man of agony-that is the only name I have for you, that, no other-ever, ever, ever!"

Earlier in the play, Tireias foretells that Oedipus will be: "Blind who now has eyes, beggar who now is rich, he will grope his way toward a foreign soil, a stick tapping before him step by step." Even though his fate seems horrible, as the eventual reality plays out in the end, Jocasta's fate is much worse. To die in such a state of utter frantic desolation is something that could not be wished on one's worst enemy. But, she was a good wife, sister, queen, mother ... She played all of the roles in life she was destined to fill, but in the end the Messenger says, "Oh how she wept, mourning the marriage-bed where she let loose that double brood-monsters-husband by her husband, children by her children."

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