Laius

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In Greek mythology, King Laius (pronounced \ˈlā-əs, ˈlī-əs\), or Laios (Greek: Λάϊος) of Thebes was a divine hero and key personage in the Theban founding myth. Son of Labdacus, he was raised by the regent Lycus after the death of his father.

Abduction of Chrysippus[edit]

While Laius was still young, Amphion and Zethus usurped the throne of Thebes. Some Thebans, wishing to see the line of Cadmus continue, smuggled Laius out of the city before their attack, in which they killed Lycus and took the throne.[1] Laius was welcomed by Pelops, king of Pisa in the Peloponnesus.[2] According to some sources, mostly belonging to the Christian era, Laius abducted and raped the king's son, Chrysippus, and carried him off to Thebes while teaching him how to drive a chariot, or as Hyginus records it, during the Nemean games. This abduction is thought to be the subject of one of the lost tragedies of Euripides. Most scholars agree that the rape or seduction of Chrysippus was a late addition to the Theban myth. With both Amphion and Zethus having died in his absence, Laius became king of Thebes upon his return.

Later misfortunes[edit]

After the rape of Chrysippus, Laius married Jocasta or Epicasta, 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 was drunk and fathered Oedipus with her. On Laius's orders the baby, Oedipus, was exposed on Mount Cithaeron with his feet bound (or perhaps staked to the ground), but he was taken by a shepherd, who did not have the resources to look after him, so he was given to King Polybus and Queen Merope (or Periboea) of Corinth who raised him to adulthood.[3]

When Oedipus desired to know more about his parentage, he consulted the Delphic Oracle, only to be told that he must not go to his home or he would kill his father and marry his mother. Thinking that he was from Corinth, he set out toward Thebes to avoid this fate.[3] At the road called 'Cleft Way,' he met Laius, who was going to Delphi to consult the oracle because he had received omens indicating that his son might return to kill him.[4] Oedipus refused to defer to the king, although Laius's attendants ordered him to. Being angered, Laius either rolled a chariot wheel over his foot or hit him with his whip, and Oedipus killed Laius and all but one of his attendants, who claims it was a gang of men. Laius was buried where he died by Damasistratus, the king of Plataea.[4] Later, Thebes is cursed with a disease because his murderer has not been punished.

Many of Laius's descendants met with ill fortune, but whether this was because he violated the laws of hospitality and marriage by carrying off his host's son and raping him, or because he ignored the oracle's warning not to have children, or some combination of these, is not clear. Another theory is that the entire line of Cadmus was cursed, either by Ares, when Cadmus killed his serpent, or else by Hephaestus, who resented the fact that Cadmus married Harmonia, the daughter of Ares and Aphrodite, Hephaestus's straying wife. Certainly many of Cadmus's descendants had tragic ends.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Pausanias. Description of Greece, 9.5.6.
  2. ^ Apollodorus. Library, 3.5.5.
  3. ^ a b Apollodorus. Library, 3.5.7.
  4. ^ a b Tripp, p. 337.

Modern sources[edit]

  • Kerenyi, Karl (1959). The Heroes of the Greeks. New York/London: Thames and Hudson. 
  • Tripp, Edward (1970). "Pelops at Olympia". Crowell's Handbook of Classical Mythology. New York: Thomas Crowell Company. pp. 93–103. 
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Amphion and Zethus
Mythical King of Thebes Succeeded by
Oedipus