"But where does one now hear of anyone whose life changed so severely, dwelling in labour, wild with torment. Here! The famous Oedipus!"
The story is notorious and does not take long to tell. Laius, Oedipus’s father, is told by the oracle that his first born son will kill him and marry his mother. As a result he sends Oedipus away to die as soon as he is born. The child, however, is saved, grows up with foster parents, and when he hears that they are not his true parents, he sets off to question the oracle but fails to understand its prophecy. On the return journey he kills a stranger – his father Laius – and enters Thebes, where he solves the riddle of the Sphinx, assumes power and marries Jocasta, his mother.
All of this has already taken place when the tragedy begins, which is concerned with discovering this incest, bringing it to light and concludes with Jocasta taking her own life and Oedipus stabbing his eyes out and leaving Thebes.
The ban on incest is a much-debated topos, a moral requirement that was enforced politically. The case of Oedipus occupies a prominent place in Sigmund Freud‘s foundations of psychoanalysis and now we are able to ask ourselves whether this proscription actually makes any sense.
What would happen if Jocasta – who is only able to speak very late on in the tragedy written by Sophocles in 429 B.C. and repeatedly says: "Who said so? About what? Don’t be distracted by it. And don’t think so much about what people say." – what would happen if she "knew" and delighted in being able to take her beloved, long-lost son in her arms again, not as a mother this time, but as a wife?
To claim this in public would probably have been just as impossible in 429 B.C. as it might be today, but it is an idea that is worth risking and – with the same outcome – might make a new interpretation possible.