Jocasta, Mother of Oedipus the King

The name ‘Ἰοκάστη’, ‘Jocasta’, ‘telling star’ from Indo-European ‘i̯ek-‘, ‘to speak’ and ‘2. stē̆r-‘, ‘star’. Another similar version is ‘Επικάστη’ ‘Epicaste’, ‘companion star’ from indo-European ‘epi, opi, pi’, ‘at, near, epi-‘ and ‘2. stē̆r-‘, ‘star’. These names may mean the same thing if a companion is one spoken to. But the reference to star carries the meaning of a forecast. The name seems to be like your fate that is with you.

Jocasta lived perhaps two generations before the Trojan War.

Homer in the Odyssey 11.271 mentions Jocasta: “…the mother of Oidipus, fair Epicaste, who did a monstrous thing in the innocence of her heart; for she married her own son, and he had slain his own father first. But the gods kept it from people’s knowledge for a time. So he continued to be king in his lovely Thebes, but full of misery, by the gods’ cruel will; and she went down to the strong prison of Hades the warder of the gates. Her grief was too great for her, and she hung herself from a lofty roof-beam; but she left him misery enough to spare, which the avenging spirits of his mother brought to pass.”

Jocasta is famous in Greek myth as both the mother and wife of Oedipus. This was not her choice but rather was the result of a complicated series of events. She began her life as the daughter of Menoeceus of Thebes, and the sister of Hipponome and Creon.
Young Laius was of the line of Cadmus and was in Thebes when Amphion and Zethus usurped the throne of Thebes. After some adventures in the Peloponnesus he became king of Thebes when Amphion and Zethus died. The marriage of Jocasta to Laius seemed advantageous because both Jocasta and Laius were of the line of Cadmus. But Jocasta was not able to become pregnant and carry on the line. So Laius consulted an oracle. The oracle proclaimed that the child Laius fathered would murder him. So Laius rejected Jocasta and all women and moved off by himself. Jocasta could not accept this so she conspired to get Laius drunk and slept with him. She became pregnant and Laius became very angry. When a son was born instead of honoring Jocasta he snatched up the child, pierced his feet and exposed him. This distressed Jocasta greatly.

In The Seven Against Thebes Aeschylus states (line 745):

For thrice Apollo spoke this word divine,
   From Delphi's central shrine,
To Laius--Die thou childless! thus alone
   Can the land's weal be won!
But vainly with his wife's desire her strove,
   And gave himself to love,
Begetting Oedipus, by whom he died,
   The fateful parricide!

Jocasta spent the next years in Thebes alienated from Laius and suffering. Things seem to deteriorate until finally the Sphinx arrived. The Sphinx devoured young men who could not solve its riddle, leaving Thebes in a mess. Jocasta may be related to the Sphinx. It may represent her frustrations as Queen of Thebes. It is she that holds the throne and, in those days, the responsibility of the fertility of the crops. As long as her consort ignores her she cannot carry out her duty to provide fertility. The only way for her to deal with this was to find another man who could defepat her consort. Naturally it was the young, unmarried men, who would want to try to do this. The riddle of the Sphinx represented the contest that the challenger must undertake. The odd thing was that Oedipus should be the one that should succeed. He had come to Thebes to seek his forture because he was the victim of a horrendous proclamation by an oracle. He was told that he would murder his father and marry his mother. For this reason he left the parents that he knew in Corinth and came to Thebes.

But before Oedipus had gotten to Thebes he had been almost run over by slaves rushing with a litter carrying a man. When Oedipus argued with the man they got into a fight and Oedipus killed the man. When Oedipus got to Thebes it was there that he learned that the King of Thebes was dead and that the Sphinx was challenging the town. Creon had become regent and he announced that anyone who could destroy the Sphinx could marry Jocasta. Jocasta did not seem to have any choice in the matter. This fits with the notion of the contest for the queen of fertility. The ancient Greek myths are full of contests. The purpose of the contests was to get the most beatiful queen with the most handsome consort so the fertility of the crops could be assured. Jocasta was the beautiful queen and Oedipus became her consort by being the best at the riddle contest.

So Oedipus became the consort of Jocasta and they had four children, Antigone, Polyneices, Eteocles, and Ismene. Life was good for them until a plague came to Thebes. An oracle was consulted to find the source of the problem. The blind seer Teiresias finally gave the cause as revealed by his oracular skill. Oedipus was the son whose feet had been pierced and exposed. His real parents were Laius and Jocasta, and he had killed his father and married his mother. Oedipus stabbed out his eyes and Jocasta hung herself.

Notice that a careful reading of the oracles suggests that Jocasta was doomed. Her life was fated to destruction and the Oracles revealed how this destruction was to take place. But there is another interpretation. It is true that large events in nature have tremendous impact on our lives and there is little we can do about them. Yet we have choices. The little choices that we make can be very important. There is the choice to go to the oracle in the first place. Then when someone else does declare an oracular truth there is always the question of whether to act on it. The very belief in an oracle is an act of hubris. This belief suggests that the believer can know the true will of the devine. The Greeks did not really believe this was possible. They believed that devine wisdom and mortal wisdom were eternally separate. In the play “Oedipus Rex” by Sophocles Jocata argues for this point but she cannot convince her husband. In the end it is this failing that destroys them.



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Questions and Answers

Jocasta is a character in the Oedipus Rex by Sophocles.

Note that when comparing Clytemnestra and Jocasta,
both women were queens of a territory and their husbands became
king because they both killed the former king. Jocasta did not know this,
however. Orestes killed his mother, Clytemnestra, because she had killed his
father. Jocasta killed herself because her husband was her son who had killed
his father.

Question: who is, why is Jocasta in Oedipus rex? what can we see from
Jocasta’s silence? women role in drama?

Answer: Every man must have a mother and Jocasta was the mother of

This means that if your life really is controlled by fate then you have
nothing to worry about because you were not responsible for any choices.
The problem comes when you make choices, do the wrong thing, and feel guilty
about it. But even she does not believe this. She brought Oedipus into
the world and she saved his life in spite of her husband. Her responsibility
is overwhelming and she kills herself.

This is a passive role because she is the queen who must marry whoever
becomes king. And so she sees his downfall over which she can have little

The other women, Antigone and Ismene, are the daughters of Oedipus.
They were a source of
great joy to him, but now he is concerned that he has passed his nature on
to them and they will be unable to wed and bear children. He seems to feel
this is their entire nature and goal in life.

Question: I am trying to compare jocasta and media? What would you say are
their similarities and diffrences?

Answer: There is little to compare about these women. Jocasta is a queen
but she is fairly passive about it. Medea is a princess who,
through her spells and potions, is the reason
for the success of many ventures. Medea is a priestess of Hecate and it is
though this office that she has access to power, but it is never clear that
the power is different from her own knowledge. Medea is intelligent, educated,
beautiful, and powerful, but she never becomes queen. Jocasta receives
her advantages through inheritance, but when she thinks her advantages are
gone she kills herself. Medea gives up her inheritance for her lover and when
he proves unfaithful and she will lose him she kills the persons he loves.

Question: what does jocasta’c role in oedipus the king say about women?

Answer: Jocasta has a fairly passive role of wife of Oedipus and mother
of his children. She does have some advice on how to get along in this world:

"What should a man fear, whose life is ruled by fate,
For whom there is clear foreknowledge of nothing?
It is best to live by chance, however you can.
Be not afraid of marriage with your mother;
Already many mortals in their dreams
Have shared a mother's bed. But he who counts
This dream as nothing, easiest bears his life."

She tries to be supportive of her husband when she says:
“Don’t, by the gods, investigate this more.
If you care for your own life…”

Women must often watch as their husbands take on challenges of the world.
A supportive women will give advice and comfort as Jocasta did. But
the truth was too much for her; she could not bear the humiliation of it.
She killed herself in agony.

Question: Can you evaluate Jocasta’s character based on principle?

Answer: Jocasta was a passive character willing to be suportive of
her husband but not to strive like him. She also wishes an honorable place
in society, and when she cannot get it she kills herself.

Question: what are some characteristics of jocasta’s personality?

Answer: She was passive and accepting.

Question: what is jocastas relationship to the truth

Answer: It was too painful for her.

Question: her role in Oedipus Rex

Answer: She emphasizes the horror of the situation.

Question: what was jocasta’s importance in the play?

Answer: Jocasta is a character in a number of plays. You need to specify
one of them.

Question: how does jocasta further he concept that the gods must be obeyed

Answer: She says:

"What should a man fear, whose life is ruled by fate,
For whom there is clear foreknowledge of nothing?
It is best to live by chance, however you can.
Be not afraid of marriage with your mother;
Already many mortals in their dreams
Have shared a mother's bed. But he who counts
This dream as nothing, easiest bears his life."

Then when she finds this is false she commits suicide.

Question: her kingdom seeks an outsider based on a stang criterion

Answer: Yes. This is the riddle of the Sphinx.

Question: What is she famous for in Thebes

Answer: She was the queen who married her son.

Question: Jocasta’s impact on Oedipus Fri, 17 Nov 2000 16:36:42 -0500 (EST)

Answer: Her impact was enormous:

  • She was his mother
  • Even though he suffered from a bad fate she saved his life.
  • She married him so he became king of Thebes.
  • She was the mother of his children who later took care of him.
  • When she committed suicide he blinded himself.

Question: How did sophocles portray his view of woman through Jocasta?

Answer: It is hard to generalize about women as a result of studying Jocasta.
Jocasta is a queen with much more power than an ordinary woman. She is
portrayed as a wife and mother, as though this were a suitable role.

Question: compare Jocasta’s role to modern women of today

Answer: Even today women find themselves patronizing their husbands. Women
are still often dependent on their husbands for status and well-being, but
at least today, if their husband falls apart, they can divorce him and get
themselves a job. Jocasta certainly ran her household and directed what was to be don in the house. She may also have has a loom on which she wove cloth

Question: What was Sophocles trying to portray about the role of women
in society through the character of Jocasta in Oedipus Rex

Answer: It is possible that Sophocles was only trying to make Jocasta seem
to be a real woman. Of course he would look more to the women of his own
society as a model than any woman from 800 previous. Jocasta does seem to
be a person more buffeted by events than in control of them. This is a role
that women often fall into because of their nurturing nature.

Question: what are the similarities between Jocasta and other women of
her time?

Answer: Jocasta does seem to
be a person more buffeted by events than in control of them. This is a role
that women often fall into because of their nurturing nature.

Question: “How does Jocasta show her love for Oedipus?

Answer: Read the play Oedipus Rex to find out.

Question: what relation does her speech have to the succeeding
announcement of Polybus’ death

Answer: This is determined by a careful reading of the speech.

Question: What would Jocasta have dressed like?

Answer: Jocasta was a Mycenaean and would have worn clothes from that
culture. The Mycenaean dress was similar to the Minoan where the women wore
a vest that revealed the breasts, a girdle, and a flounced skirt. For the
play Oedipus Rex Jocated is usually cast in a chiton because that was
the dress current at the time the play was written. The people of classical
Greece had no idea what the Mycenaean ladies wore.

Question: what are the names of Oedipus and Jocasta’s children

Answer: Two daughters: Antigone and Ismene, and two sons: Eteocles and

Question: what did Jocosta look like, and did she still look oung when
she killed herself, despite how old she truly was?

Answer: She was beautiful, as were most of the ancient Greek women.
She could have been as young as 38 when Oedipus was 26. But Oedipus would
have died at 36, two years younger than Jocasta.

Question: what is Jocasts like? an analysis

Answer: Jocasta was a practical woman with fairly ordinary desires
for a queen. She wanted to raise a family and revel in their pleasures.
She was happiest when she married Oedipus and he was able to provide
her with four children. When she found she had married her son it so
destroyed her domestic tranquility that she killed herself.

Question: In some versions of the Oedipus legend Jocasta outlives Oedipus.
How does Sophocles’ decision to have her predecease Oedipus
influence the presentation of ideas in Oedipus the King?

Answer: This question is best answered by reading the play Oedipus by
Sophocles. But it should be noted that there is no evidence that Sophocles
attempted anything but a historical presentation.

Question: was she gay

Answer: No. But her first husband put a lot of pressure on her to be
a Lesbian. But she was not influenced.

Question: What were the names of Jocasta’s and Laois’ parents?

Answer: Laius was the son of Labdacus. Iocaste was daughter of Menoeceus.
Both fathers were of the family of Cadmus.

Question: Contrast Jocasta’s skepticism with oedipus insistence on knowing the truth.

Answer: This can be found in the play Oedipus Rex

Question: why did jocasta commit suicide and how was suicide viewed by the ancient greek?

Answer: Jocasta committed suicide because she became extremely unhappy.
Even today people who are extremely unhappy sometimes choose suicide as a way
of ending their misery. The ancient Greeks had a fairly strong prohibition
against suicide because they thought the afterlife was one of dreary shades.
But the suicidal person was not considered crazy or sinful. Today we consider
suicidal persons as crazy and try to treat them for a mental illness. In some
cases the suicidal person in ancient Greece was likened to a hero fighting
against overwhelming odds. In this case the person was seen to have some
heroic qualities. Jocasta certainly does qualify for some type of sympathy of
this sort because she was dealing with a very difficult situation. But had
she chosen to live she might have received more sympathy.

Question: what type of pin did oedipus removed from her cloth to pinch his eyes

Answer: It was either a fibula or a brooch. Both these work similar to a
safety pin does today.

Question: why was laius’ and jocasta’s marriage cursed?

Answer: A priest told Laius that his child would kill him.
It is possible that this was the result of his having a homosexual affair
with Chrysippos and carrying him off. There is also the possibility that
Apollo warned Laius to remain childless and the god was ignored.

Question: What is her personality like?

Answer: She had simple tastes and wanted only to enjoy her family.

Question: What kind of mother was Jocasta?

Answer: She was a good mother, but she was much better with her girls than
her boys. She had no other goal but to raise her family.

Question: what a her role as queen?

Answer: Nothing is indicated other than being wife of the king and mother
to his children. But goddesses rule their realm which probably harks back
to a time when queens ruled also. Of course in some households the woman
rules the women slaves while her husband rules the male slaves. In the case
of the extended family the oldest woman may rule her younger female relatives
as well.

Question: who would you compare Jocasta to today?

Answer: The figures of ancient Greek drama are so intense that they do
not lend themselves to real life comparison. Joan of Arc had the intensity
of her life but their experience was very different.

Question: What are the psychological implictions ofJocasta and Oedipus Rex

Answer: Jocasta kills herself and Oedipus blinds himself.

Question: What causes Oedipus’s downfall ?

Answer: It was his poor decisions that did him in and not his Fate. For
example he passed judgment on the murderer of Laius before he knew the

Question: comment on the role played by Jocasta

Answer: Jocasta got a really bad deal from her first husband. She liked
Oedipus because she thought he could give her a normal life with her
children. When she found out she was his mother she knew her life was

Question: do you think she portrays a flat character

Answer: It is wrong to consider Jocasta a character. A character is
dependent for any substance on the imagination of the playwright. A character
is a work of fiction that no one has to be true to. But Jocasta was a
mythological personage. It might be wrong to say she is historical because
we have no physical evidence. But there were many stories about Jocasta that
the playwright had to be consistent with. Because these stories came from
a verbal, poetic tradition, they cannot be expected to be historically accurate.
There is no doubt that the playwright injected material which is outside of
the poetic tradition, but his intent is to provide greater realism and meaning,
not a better plot or better characters.

The myths about Jocasta reveal a very difficult situation and a very
interesting life. But at the time covered by the Oedipus play she was
trying to be ordinary. Perhaps this is her fault as a character. Perhaps
you could write a play in which she was portrayed in a more interesting

Question: Was Jocasta acting in her own interest or in the interest of her

Answer: Suicide is too irrational an act to be assigned interest.

Question: Describe the character of Creon in Oedipus and his function in
the play?

Answer: Read the play Oedipus to answer this.

Question: The treatment of Women in Ancient literature — How is Jocasta treated by society and by Oedipus?

Answer: Jocasta has been pitied by countless generations of readers of tragedy. Yet in the drama ‘Oedipus Rex’ her role is not one that reveals her treatment. Rather her role is to reveal the thoughtless nature of her husband’s behavior. In the play (line ~633) she says: “Misguided men, why have ye raised such foolish strife of tongues? Are ye not ashamed, while the land is thus sick, to stir up troubles of your own?” Oedipus seems, in the play, to be a victim of fate. But is he not rather a victim of soothsayers? How is he so confident in himself that he can have knowledge of the gods? Jocasta appears to be the voice of reason. Of course that her husband does not listen to her suggests that she is not being treated well. And in the end he has his way and her life is destroyed. But can you really say that she was poorly treated?

Earlier in the play (~line 579) Creon says: “And thou rulest the land as she doth, with like sway?” and Oedipus says, “She obtains from me all her desire.” So in reality the poor treatment that Jocasta receives is actually the pride that Oedipus contains that he can know the true will of the gods. Part of that tragedy is that she cannot sway him in this but if she could there would have been no tragedy. I suppose there is something in the fact that Sophocles chose a woman to carry this argument and it would be reasonable to expect a woman to lose it.

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