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In Greek mythology, Jocasta //, also known as Jocaste (Greek: Ἰοκάστη), Epikastê,1 or Iokastê was a daughter of Menoeceus and Queen consort of Thebes, Greece. She was the wife of Laius, mother of Oedipus, and both mother and grandmother of Antigone, Eteocles, Polynices and Ismene. She was also sister of Creon and mother-in-law of Haimon.
After his abduction and rape of Chrysippus, Laius married Jocasta (or Epikaste), the daughter of Menoeceus, a descendant of the Spartoi. Laius received an oracle from Delphi which told him that he must not have a child with his wife, or the child would kill him and marry her; in another version, recorded by Aeschylus, Laius is warned that he can only save the city if he dies childless. One night, however, Laius became drunk and fathered Oedipus with Jocasta.
After the baby's birth, Jocasta handed him over to Laius. Jocasta or Laius pierced and pinned the infant's ankles together. Laius then instructed his chief shepherd, a slave who had been born in the palace, to expose the infant on Mount Cithaeron. There, Lauis's shepherd taking pity on the infant gave him to another shepherd, who was the shepherd of the childless King Polybus, married to Queen Merope (or Periboea) of Corinth who raised the infant to adulthood.2
Oedipus thus grew up in Corinth under the assumption that he was the biological son of Polybus and his wife (whose name is Merope according to Sophocles, Periboa according to Appollodorus). However, he began to hear rumors about his actual parentage, so he consulted the Delphic Oracle. Oedipus was informed by the oracle that he was fated to kill his father and to marry his mother. Still thinking that Polybus and the queen were his true parents, Oedipus subsequently fled from Corinth so as to render it impossible for him to commit these sins. During his wandering, Oedipus encountered Laius on the road. After a heated argument regarding right-of-way, Oedipus killed King Laius, unknowingly fulfilling the first half of the Delphic Oracle's prophecy. Oedipus continued his journey until he reached Thebes and discovered that the city was being terrorized by the sphinx. Oedipus solved the sphinx's famous riddle, and the grateful city elected Oedipus as their new king; Oedipus accepted the throne and married Laius' widowed queen (also Oedipus' mother), Jocasta, thereby fulfilling the second half of the Delphic Oracle's prophecy. Jocasta bore him four children: two girls, Antigone and Ismene, and two boys, Eteocles and Polynices. When his city was struck by a plague (a punishment for Oedipus' unwitting crimes), Oedipus eventually learned of his patricide and incest. Upon discovering the truth on her own, Jocasta hanged herself.3 Alternatively, Jocasta endured the burden of her situation and continued to live in Thebes. According to this version of the myth, it was only later—after her sons Polynices and Eteocles killed one another in a fight for the crown (see Seven Against Thebes)—that she committed suicide by hanging herself.4 In both traditions Oedipus is said to have gouged his eyes, but while Sophocles has Oedipus go into exile with his daughter Antigone, Statius has him residing within Thebes' walls during the war between Eteocles and Polynices.4
- Oedipus the King by Sophocles is an ancient Greek retelling of this legend as a play.
- Jocasta complex describing the usually latent sexual desire that a mother has for a son or alternatively the domineering and intense, but non-incestuous love that a mother has for an intelligent son, and an often absent or weak father figure.
- Homer, Odyssey XI.271–290.
- Apollodorus. Library, 3.5.7.
- Sophocles, Oedipus Rex, 1191–1312.
- Statius, Thebaid, Book XI
- Seneca, Oedipus 1024–41.
- Statius, Thebais XI.634–644.