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(myth) Greece


King of Thebes, fater of Œdipus


Laius, the King of Thebes, was said to have been the first mortal to bring the practice of the love of youths to the Greeks, although some say it wast King Minos of Crete. What we know for sure is that while he was still too young to rule, his cousins, Amphion and Zethus, grabbed the reins of power. With the help of loyal subjects Laius fled Thebes to save his life, and sought refuge in Pisa, a neighboring kingdom.

There King Pelops, who was once Poseidons lover, welcomed him warmly in his castle. When Laius reached manhood, Pelops entrusted his son, Chrysippus, Golden Horse, to him so that he would teach the boy the charioteer's art. The king loved Chrysippus best of all his sons, and wanted him well trained in the arts of war. Laius did as he was asked, but fell hopelessly in love with the beautiful youth.

LaiusDuring the Nemean games, in which the pair competed in the chariot races, Laius kidnaped the boy. By then Amphion and Zethus had met with misfortune, so he was able to take him back to Thebes where he kept Chrysippus, by force, as his lover. It was not as if he did not know what he was doing. "I have understanding," he used to say lamely by way of excuse, "but nature forces me."

The young man did not live long thereafter. Some say that he killed himself in shame for having been taken against his will and even more, it was that he penetrated him anally, but others blame Pelops' wife, Hippodameia, Horse Tamer. They say that she was afraid Pelops would appoint Chrysippus successor to the throne, over the heads of Atreus and Thyestes, her own children. So she traveled to Thebes with her boys to eliminate the threat. Once there she tried to persuade her sons to murder the youth by drowning him in a well, but they backed down.

Enraged, Hippodameia burst into Laius's bedchamber in the middle of the night, where both were sleeping. She took his sword off the wall, and plunged it into the belly of his unwilling lover. Laius was immediately accused of the deed, but Chrysippus had recognized Hippodameia as she fled (on her way to take her own life), and with his last breath declared the king innocent. Nonetheless Atreus and Thyestes took over the kingdom and threw Laius in a dungeon for taking the boy without his consent, an offense which became known in all of Greece as "the crime of Laius."

In the mean time Pelops had gathered his army and marched against Thebes to recover his son. Upon reaching Laius's court he found the king already imprisoned and his son dead. The father, though deeply aggrieved for having arrived too late, spared Laius' life, recognizing that it was overwhelming desire that had driven him to abduct the boy. Nevertheless he put a bitter and terrible curse on Laius, one that was to spread like a darkling cloud over him and his descendants, down to the third generation.

The god Apollo, protector of youths and boys, warned him well what would happen: "No son are you to have," said Apollo's oracle at Delphi to Laius when he came to inquire why his wife had borne him no children, "for if you do, that boy will kill his own father and sleep with his own mother." But Laius, always driven by passion more than by reason, of course disobeyed, and payed the price with his life. And his son, Œdipus by name, paid more dearly still.


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