MYTH.docx - MYTH Long afterward Oedipus old and blinded...

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MYTH Long afterward, Oedipus, old and blinded, walked the Roads. He smelled a familiar smell. It was the Sphinx Oedipus said, "I want to ask one question. Why didn't I recognize my mother?" "You gave the wrong answer," said the Sphinx. "But that was what made everything possible," said Oedipus. "No," she said. When I asked, what walks on four legs in the morning, Two at noon and three in the evening, you answered, Man. You didn't say anything about woman." "When you say Man," said Oedipus, "You include women too. Everyone knows that." She said, "That's what you think." MURIEL RUKEYSER (1913-1980) Poem Analysis The main characters in this poem are Oedipus, an old man, and a sphinx. Oedipus is walking along “the Roads” when he smells something familiar. He quickly realizes that it is a sphinx. He then asks it why he didn’t recognize his mother. The sphinx says that he answered its riddle incorrectly by failing to mention women. Oedipus then tries to argue with the sphinx that everyone knows that when someone says “Man”, they mean mankind as in human beings. The sphinx replies that not “everyone” knows that, and it is inferred that the sphinx kills him. The myth this poem refers to is the tragedy of Oedipus. Oedipus was a king who was searching for his real father, as he was adopted. On his travels, he decides to look for him in Thebes. On his way to Thebes, Oedipus comes across a group of pilgrims who refused to get out of his way. So, he killed them. It was unknown to him that the leader of the pilgrims was actually his real father, Lauis. When he finally made it to Thebes, unfortunately, there was a sphinx guarding the outside of the city. To every person that passed, the sphinx would ask a riddle, “what walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon and three in the evening”. If answered correctly the person was allowed to pass and the sphinx would leave. However, if answered incorrectly, the sphinx killed and ate the person. The sphinx questioned Oedipus, and he guessed, “Man”. The sphinx realized he was right and left. The people of Thebes were so happy they made him their king. Several years later, a plague hit the city and it would not stop until the murder of Lauis was avenged. Oedipus swore to make those pay who were responsible, and when it was found that he was the guilty party, he blinded and banished himself. The poet, Muriel Rukeyser, has Oedipus come face to face with the same sphinx he faced long ago. As Oedipus is now blinded, he cannot see the sphinx, but recognizes it based on the smell. Oedipus asks why he didn’t recognize his mother. This might have been on his travels after being banished. The sphinx replied that he answered the question incorrectly. Oedipus is confused, as he believes his answer was correct, Man, as in mankind. The sphinx counters though, and says that he did not include women. This is most likely Muriel Rukeyser commenting on the sexist society of her time; how women did not have equal rights compared to men. This single part is what the entire poem was designed for. To draw attention to the
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