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Konstan, D. (2015). Blood Parents Versus Foster Parents, or What Was So Terrible About Killing Laius?. Psychoanal. Inq., 35(1):53-59.

(2015). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 35(1):53-59

Blood Parents Versus Foster Parents, or What Was So Terrible About Killing Laius?

David Konstan, Ph.D.

Oedipus has served as an example of the greatest offenses against the family: parricide and incest. But although the father he slew, and the mother he married, were his biological parents, they had exposed him to die and crippled him on the day of his birth, and his true parents (as opposed to genitors) were the royal couple who received him as an infant and raised him as their own child. In this article, I examine their role in Sophocles’ tragedy, Oedipus the King, and suggest that Oedipus’ biological father and his foster father represent the double aspect of the paternal figure, at once violent and loving, and that this combination is what lends the deepest pathos and horror to Oedipus’ act (and the unconscious wish) of parricide.

The fact is that Oedipus killed his father and married his mother. Now, this is not precisely what the play dramatizes. Rather, it represents a moment some twenty or so years after these events, when Oedipus reigns peacefully over the city that he liberated from the sphinx, with Jocasta——who is, unbeknownst to him, his mother——as his queen (the time lapse is apparently Sophocles’ own innovation). A sudden, and evidently much belated, plague strikes the city of Thebes, prompting Oedipus to consult the oracle of Apollo; the oracle reveals that the cause of the plague is a pollution in the land, due to the murder of the previous king, Laius. This murder must be expiated if the plague is to be lifted.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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