OEDIPUS WRECKED

A literal translation of an old Greek vaudeville skit. Apologies to Woody Allen for stealing his title. Any other similarity to Woody Allen is purely psychotic--Woody seems more inclined to the Electra legend anyway.

Oedipus had nasty parents who believed their local guru's prophesy that their son would cause their downfall. On the basis of that prediction, they decided that their son should die. They didn't have the gumption to do it themselves. They turned that nasty job over to the maid. Before that tho, probably out of sadism or temper tantrum, they nailed his ankles together. (Might as well have a little fun torturing a baby before getting rid of him.)

So far, Ed (Oedipus) had done nothing wrong. All he was guilty of was being born to the wrong parents. [You wonder what kind of king and queen Ed's parents were? If they treated his son like that, how did they rule mere peasants?]

Anyway, Ed's life was spared by the sympathetic, if disloyal maid and he was raised by loving foster parents. He turned out to be a good kid (with a limp). He was such a good kid that when he heard that he was destined to kill his parents, he left the country (thinking the prophesy applied to his foster parents). He gave up a sure inheritance to the throne to boot. (Ambition was not his tragic flaw. Believing gurus probably was.)

So Ed wanders around the ancient Greece until one evening he meets this crotchety old man on the road. They have an argument about right-of-way and the crotchety old man picks a fight with the younger hero. Stupid. Obviously the hero is going to beat him out. The old man is almost asking to have his head handed to him, and he deserves it besides. Ed easily swats away this minor annoyance and goes on his way.

Further on down the road, Ed meets the sphinx who will kill him unless he answers a riddle. It was a dumb riddle. Every 4th grader knows that one and tougher ones besides. ie:

"How do you get 4 elephants into a volkswagon beetle?"
"Two in the front and two in the back"

But Ed was the only hero to beat the monster (many had tried). And in beating the monster, he had also inadvertently saved a meek, strange little city-state from the monster's extortion. Consequently, Thebes, the little country hailed him as their hero and insisted that he marry their queen. (Her husband had left on a trip to Chicago and had never been seen since.)

Now here is where Ed screwed up. He was tired of travelling, wanted to settle down and raise a family. The queen was not someone he would have picked for himself. She was old enough to be his mother. And the people were a little strange, since they had so little loyalty to the missing king. But, he was lazy and it seemed like a ready-made kingdom for him to be king of. So the sucker married the queen only to find out that she was indeed his mother. Later, a search party found the king's body on the road and Ed figured out that the king had been the crotchety old man who had picked a fight with him. And the pestilence wreaked on this vile city by their fickle gods was blamed on Ed, of course.

Is this starting to sound like an episode of Dallas? Right. But Ed was no J.R. Ed felt responsible for this mess. And guilty. The logic of the story breaks down here because there is no reason for him to feel guilty. Certainly no reason to feel responsible for the events, except to the extent where he let others (the guru and the general populace) do his thinking and decision-making for him. He punished himself for his laziness by gouging out his eyes and exiling himself.

Dumb story. Dumb Ed.

Moral of the story: Being a victim of gurus, society, and circumstances does not relieve one of the responsibility of thinking for themselves. It does make for a tragic hero, however. Not to mention Antigone. But that's another story.

So much for Sophocles. Where the story breaks down is in translation a couple of centuries later by an Austrian doctor who really wanted to be a lawyer and who couldn't stand the sight of surgery so became a psychiatrist instead. Although he studied the classics, he must have fallen asleep in the middle of Oedipus. He decided that he would use the story as a shorthand to explain a syndrome he had identified where little boys lusted after their mothers and, consequently, were afraid that their fathers were going to punish them by cutting off their equipment. (Its corallary is that little girls have already lost this equipment and so are to be treated with contempt by little boys and their adult equivalents)

Moral of this translation: Sigmund should have had his head examined.