Oedipus Crime

Oedipus, ruler of Thebes, murdered his father and married his mother. Such acts
are almost always deemed unnatural and criminal; they are not tolerated within
traditional society. A person who has committed these illegal acts of murder and
incest would be considered a criminal, yet Sophocles’s character, Oedipus, is
not guilty of either crime. Prior to the birth of Oedipus, a prophecy was spoken
over Laius and his wife Jocasta. They were told that their son would one day be
his father’s killer and would then marry his mother. In fear, King Laius and

Queen Jocasta sent the baby Oedipus off with a slave to be killed. He was never
killed, but rather was given to a childless king and queen which lovingly raised
him. Oedipus was never factually told about his lineage. Later in his life,

Oedipus was confronted by several unknown men while traveling. Upon
confrontation, Oedipus killed all but one of the men in self defense.

Unknowingly, Oedipus had begun to fulfill the prophecy for one of the men had
been his birth father, Laius. While still traveling, Oedipus had come to the
city of Thebes. There, he saved the city from the wrath of the Sphinx by solving
her riddle. Seen as a savior by the citizens of Thebes, Oedipus was made king
and subsequently, the husband of Jocasta. Oedipus and his wife-mother ruled
together and had four children while never knowing of the true relationship
between each other. As the tragedy comes to a close, the truth is revealed to

Oedipus concerning his lineage and unnatural actions. Although the truth had
been spoken to him about these matters previously, Oedipus had chosen not to
believe and understandably so. True revelation comes to Oedipus through the same
slave that had been ordered to kill him as a baby. Since Oedipus had no
knowledge of his birth parents, he cannot be accused of knowingly fulfilling the
prophecy. He had no understanding of Laius as his birth father upon killing him.

One might say that Oedipus is then guilty of murder regardless, but if he had
killed in self defense, that cannot be true. Likewise, if Oedipus had no
understanding of Jocasta as his birth mother, then he cannot be guilty of
incest. Neither can he be guilty of defiling Laius’s marriage bed, as he did
not know that Jocasta was the wife of the man he had murdered. Oedipus cannot be
guilty of lying to the people of the city of Thebes since he did not know he was
not speaking the truth. Unfortunately, Oedipus was the victim of destiny. The
gods caused him to fall prey to fate and injustice. According to the norms of
modern Criminal Justice, an individual cannot be guilty of a crime that he did
not understandably commit; he cannot be guilty of a crime unless there is
evidence of mens rea. A crime is defined as an act act punishable by law; a sin;
a grave offense. Oedipus cannot be guilty of an act, sin or grave offense that
he did not knowingly commit.