It would be safe to assume that only men passed by the Sphinx's corner; women never ventured outside the city wall unaccompanied. Lowell Edmunds states that this version of the riddle, by Atheneus, is the most complete one. It brings up issues of voice and animality that have systematically been excluded from analyses of Oedipus yet are constitutive of the questions posed by “Oedipus.” See Edmunds 1985: 12.
The Sphinx was sitting on a stele atop Mount Phicium (Sphinx Mountain), and she posed the famous riddle, taught to her by the Muses, to everyone who passed by: “There walks on land a creature of two feet, of four feet, and of three; it has one voice but, sole among animals that grow on land or in the sea, it can change its nature; nay, when it walks propped on most feet, then it is the speed of its limbs less than it has ever been before.” Oedipus guessed correctly. “Ánthropos,” he said, which means human—man and woman—and the Sphinx flung herself from Mount Phicium. Upon his arrival in Thebes, Oedipus was proclaimed the savior of the city and was given Jocasta in marriage. He and Jocasta eventually had four children, two boys and two girls: Polynices, Eteocles, Antigone, and Ismene.
Jocasta had recently been widowed; her husband, Laius, had been killed—reportedly by a band of thieves at a three-road crossroads on the way to Delphi. Jocasta was the daughter of Menoeceus, one of the sons of Cadmus, the founder of Thebes, who was also the ancestor of Laius. Laius was the son of Labdacus, grandson of Cadmus and king of Thebes. When Labdacus died, Laius was still young, and his life was threatened by his uncle, who became the viceroy. According to Pausanias, Laius was given safe passage by “those who had in their best mind not to allow the genos of Cadmus to become unknown to coming generations” (Pausanias 9.5.6). Laius was offered safety in Corinth as the guest of the king of Corinth, Pelops. While in Corinth, Laius fell madly in love with the son of Pelops, Chrysippus, whom he abducted and brought to Thebes, where Chrysippus, ashamed, committed suicide. Pelops placed a curse on Laius, either to die childless or to be killed by his own son.
After the death of his uncle, the viceroy of Thebes, Laius assumed the throne of his dead father and married Jocasta. Because Jocasta failed to become pregnant, Laius consulted the oracle at Delphi and received a warning: “You are better off without children,” the oracle said, “because if you do have a son he will eventually kill you.” Laius kept the oracle secret from Jocasta (who didn't much believe in oracles and seers, anyhow), but after a night of revelry and desire he coupled with her and got her pregnant. (Or Jocasta got him drunk, coupled with him, and became pregnant, unbeknownst to Laius.) When she gave birth to a boy, Laius pierced the ankles of his son with a pin and gave him to Jocasta to dispose of. She gave the boy to a shepherd to expose on Mount Cithaeron. But the shepherd took pity on the child and, instead of exposing him, he gave him away to another transhumant shepherd, from Corinth. He took the baby to his master Polybus and his wife Merope, who were childless.
So Oedipus was taken to Corinth when saved from the mountain, a generation after his father had been taken there to be saved from the usurpations of the sovereign, and it was from Corinth that Oedipus fled when he came full circle, back to Thebes, unknowingly retracing the steps of his father, through the fateful encounter at the crossroads. One day, however, when Oedipus was king of Thebes, a plague broke out in the city, and despite the purification rites that everyone performed, the plague did not go away. So Oedipus fetched the old blind seer, Teiresias , as Jocasta's brother, Creon, consulted the Delphic oracle. The oracle came back with a command to rid Thebes of the miasma, Laius's murderer.
The Sphinx's sexual indeterminacy is not the only example of sexual indeterminacy in the narrative. Equally confusing is Teiresias, who, although born male, was transformed into female when as a child he watched two snakes copulating at a crossroads on Mount Cithaeron. He killed the female with his shepherd's staff and was immediately transformed into a woman. Teiresias spent seven years as a woman, during which time she had intercourse with men, until she witnessed two snakes copulating again. She again killed one of them—this time the male—and was transformed back into a man. Teiresias was asked to testify during a quarrel between Zeus and Hera about which of the sexes experienced greater sexual pleasure. The woman, opined Teiresias, and not by a little but ninefold. An enraged Hera, determined to prove to Zeus that women had been shortchanged in their sexuality, blinded Teiresias, but Zeus gave him unique powers of divination and prophecy and seven times the lifespan of mortal men.
Loraux asks why Hera should be outraged by such an answer. She suggests that what enraged Hera was the fact that Teiresias's response (based on personal experience and not mere speculation) went against the position that Hera (as “guardian of the orthodoxy of marriage,” in Loraux's words, 1997b: 10) held: namely, that women ought to be content with the level of sexual pleasure afforded to them within the context of marriage and reproduction. Loraux further argues that the response given by Teiresias indicates that women, by experiencing nine times the sexual pleasure that men do, pay more attention to the qualities of Aphrodite than to the demands of Hera. Loraux's reading of Teiresias is a highly unorthodox one. Rather than following the myth given above regarding the blinding of Teiresias, Loraux focuses on a version developed by the Hellenistic librarian and poet Callimachus. In Callimachus's version, Teiresias was blinded when as a child he accidentally glimpsed the naked body of Athena as she was undressing to bathe in a stream. In either case, Teiresias is blinded as a man for having witnessed the scene of the woman. Through Callimachus's reading, Loraux can place the soma of the woman within the man's field of vision as a dangerous object that will both deprive him of sight and grant the gift of seeing, thus complicating not only analyses of female sexuality in Athenian social life but also (and, perhaps, more importantly) the question of knowledge itself. See Loraux 1997b.