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Oedipus and the Sphinx

When Oedipus met the Sphinx on the road to Thebes, he did more than answer a riddle - he spawned a myth that, told and retold, would become one of Western culture's central narratives about self-understanding. Identifying the story as a threshold myth - in which the hero crosses over into an unknown and dangerous realm where rules and limits are not known - Oedipus and the Sphinx offers a fresh account of this mythic encounter and how it deals with the concepts of liminality and otherness. Almut-Barbara Renger assesses the story's meanings and functions in classical antiquity - from its presence in ancient vase painting to its absence in Sophocles' tragedy - before arriving at two of its major reworkings in European modernity: the psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud and the poetics of Jean Cocteau. Through her readings, she highlights the ambiguous status of the Sphinx and reveals Oedipus himself to be a liminal creature, providing key insights into Sophocles' portrayal and establishing a theoretical framework that organizes evaluations of the myth's reception in the twentieth century. Revealing the narrative of Oedipus and the Sphinx to be the very paradigm of a key transition experienced by all of humankind, Renger situates myth between the competing claims of science and art in an engagement that has important implications for current debates in literary studies, psychoanalytic theory, cultural history, and aesthetics.
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About the Author

Almut-Barbara Renger is professor of ancient religion, culture, and their reception history at the Institute for the Scientific Study of Religion at the Freie Universitat Berlin. She is the author or editor of several books and resides in Berlin.


"Oedipus and the Sphinx is a highly original, well-composed masterpiece. Writing in crystal-clear prose, Almut-Barbara Renger displays breathtaking erudition in reporting the cornerstones of the Oedipus myth and its reception. She delivers a beautiful contribution to the general theory of myth by unfolding the history of a single 'big myth.' Big myths require new approaches and retellings, and Renger delivers both a general introduction to a core problem of religious studies and comparative literature and a surprising new perspective on an old story." (Eckart Goebel, New York University)"

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