B OEOTIA was now rid of the Sphinx; and when the Thebans heard the joyful news of its death, they welcomed Œdipus with much joy. In reward for his bravery, they gave him not only the throne, but also the hand of Jocasta, the widowed queen. It was thus that Œdipus, although he did not know it, fulfilled the second part of the prophecy, and married his own mother.
Several years now passed by, during which Œdipus ruled the Thebans so wisely, that they all loved him dearly, and went to him for advice in all their troubles. Finally the good times came to an end; and the people were again terrified, because a plague, or great sickness, broke out in the city, and many of the inhabitants died.
All kinds of medicines were tried, but without effect; and all the gods were asked to lend their aid. In despair, Œdipus sent a messenger to Delphi to ask the oracle how the disease could be stopped. The oracle for once gave a plain answer, and said that the plague would cease only when the murderer of Laius had been found and punished.
Investigations were now made for the first time, and it was found that Œdipus was the one who had slain the king. At the same time, the servant confessed that he had not killed the royal child; and the shepherd told how he had found the babe and carried him to Corinth, where he had been adopted by the king.
When Œdipus heard all this, he was driven almost mad with despair; for now he knew not only that he had murdered his father and married his mother, but that it was on his account that the plague had caused the death of so many people in Thebes.
In her horror and grief at this discovery, Queen Jocasta killed herself. When Œdipus learned that she was dead, he ran into the room where she lay, and took one of the buckles which fastened her dress and put out his eyes with it, saying, that, since they had beheld such a sorrowful sight, they should never again see the light of day.
To rid the city of his accursed presence, and thus if possible, save it from the threatened destruction, Œdipus banished himself, and wandered away, old, blind, and poor, for he would take none of his riches with him.
He departed sorrowfully, leaving his kingdom to his two sons, Eteocles, and Polynices, and telling them to care for their sisters, Antigone and Ismene.
Ismene wept bitterly when she said good-by to her father; but Antigone placed her father's hand upon her shoulder, said that she would never forsake him, and left the city, tenderly supporting and guiding him.
Father and daughter wandered thus from place to place, finding no rest; for all the people shrank from even looking upon Œdipus, who, they said, was evidently accursed by the gods, since he had committed such frightful crimes.
After many days' wandering and much fatigue, the exiles arrived at last on the border of a dark forest held sacred to the Furies,—the goddesses whose duty it was to punish all criminals by tormenting them as long as they lived, and even after they had died.
When Antigone described to her poor blind father the place they had reached, he bade her remain by the roadside, and, groping his way, soon vanished into the forest. He had scarcely gone, when a terrible thunderstorm arose. The air grew dark, the lightning flashed, the thunder rolled, the trees bent and twisted in the wind; and, although Antigone called her father again and again, she heard no answering cry.
When morning came, she went to look for him, but found no trace of him. The people in the neighborhood then told her that the Furies had dragged her father away to punish him for his crimes, and Antigone sadly went back to Thebes.
As soon as she arrived in the city, Antigone hastened to the palace to tell her brothers and sister about their father's sad death; but when she entered her former happy home, she learned that there are sadder things than death, for her brothers were no longer friends, and had begun a terrible quarrel.