Barker, Elton T. E., and Joel P. Christensen. 2019. Homer's Thebes: Epic Rivalries and the Appropriation of Mythical Pasts. Hellenic Studies Series 84. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_BarkerE_ChristensenJ.Homers_Thebes.2019.
3. Homer’s Oedipus Complex: Form 
ἣ μέγα ἔργον ἔρεξεν ἀϊδρείῃσι νόοιο
γημαμένη ᾧ υἷϊ· ὁ δ’ ὃν πατέρ’ ἐξεναρίξας
γῆμεν· ἄφαρ δ’ ἀνάπυστα θεοὶ θέσαν ἀνθρώποισιν.
ἀλλ’ ὁ μὲν ἐν Θήβῃ πολυηράτῳ ἄλγεα πάσχων
Καδμέιων ἤνασσε θεῶν ὀλοὰς διὰ βουλὰς·
ἡ δ’ ἔβη εἰς Ἀΐδαο πυλάρταο κρατεροῖο,
ἁψαμένη βρόχον αἰπὺν ἀφ᾿ ὑψηλοῖο μελάθρου
ᾧ ἄχει σχομένη· τῶ δ’ ἄλγεα κάλλιπ’ ὀπίσσω
πολλὰ μάλ’, ὅσσα τε μητρὸς ἐρινύες ἐκτελέου.”
“And I saw the mother of Oedipus, fair Epikastê,
who in the ignorance of her mind did a great deed
by marrying her own son; he, after killing his own father,
married her. The gods soon made it known among men.
But though he suffered pains in much-loved Thebes
he continued to rule the Cadmeans through the god’s baleful plans.
She descended to the house of the powerful gate-fastener Hades,
lashing a noose to a steep rafter,
subdued by all her anguish. And she left her son pains,
as many as a mother’s Furies bring to fulfillment.”
Here Odysseus offers such a strikingly compressed and oblique account of Oedipus’ “many pains” (ἄλγεα…πολλά) that an ancient scholion commenting on this passage glosses it by turning to Sophocles’ canonical version of Oedipus Tyrannos to fill in the background to the story.  It is a trend that continues to the present day. The absence of characteristic details, such as Oedipus’ blinding, children, or exile, has led some critics to suppose that Homer did not know of these events.  Alternatively, others have regarded the Homeric account as the original version of the myth, from which later representations departed. 
Oedipus in Epic Fragments
Oedipus of Many Pains
In his book on the Epic Cycle, Martin West considers this summary from Proclus’ Chrestomathia to be a likely scene from the lost Cypria (West 2013:99–100.). In making this point, he notes that Wilamowitz (1884:149) first recognized that the women alluded to in this passage were also those who appear in Odysseus’ description of the women in the underworld. West strains to find a connection between Oedipus’ story and that of Menelaos, but the general sense is clear: both accounts deliver warning of the dangers that can come from women, especially when journeys are involved. 
πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱέρον πτολίεθρον ἕπερσε·
πολλῶν δ’ ἀνθρώπων ἴδεν ἄστεα καὶ νόον ἔγνω,
πολλὰ δ’ ὅ γ᾿ ἐν πόντῳ πάθεν ἄλγεα ὃν κατὰ θυμόν,
ἀρνύμενος ἥν τε ψυχὴν καὶ νόστον ἑταίρων.
Tell me, Muse, of the man of many ways, who many times
was driven back, after he had sacked the holy citadel of Troy.
He saw cities and knew the mind of many men,
and suffered many pains on the sea in his heart,
struggling for his life and the nostos of his companions.
This programmatic statement immediately establishes a matrix of associations between algea, the hero and the story to be told in the announcement (but not full disclosure) of this epic’s subject matter.  The narrator advertises Odysseus’ suffering of many pains in terms of the hero’s struggle for his life and for the homecoming of his companions. Significantly, the Iliad’s proem also puts a similar stress on “many pains,” centering this particular theme as a feature of epic narrative.  But important differences remain between the two epics. In the Iliad it is the hero’s destructive wrath that causes “countless pains” for the Achaeans (μυρί’ Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε’ ἔθηκε, Iliad 1.2), and sends many strong souls of heroes to their death (πολλὰς δ᾽ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προΐαψεν / ἡρώων, Iliad 1.3–4).  In this other poem, algea belong not to the hero as in the Odyssey, but to other men, and to death, not, as in the example of Odysseus, to surviving. 
μηδέ τῳ ἐκφάσθαι μήτ᾿ ἀνδρῶν μήτε γυναικῶν,
πάντων, οὗνεκ᾿ ἄρ ᾿ ἦλθες ἀλώμενος, ἀλλὰ σιωπῇ
πάσχειν ἄλγεα πολλά βίας ὑποδέγμενος ἀνδρῶν.”
“You must by necessity endure,
and tell no one of all men and women
that you have come back wandering, but in silence
suffer many pains, accept the violence of men.”
Here, Athena instructs Odysseus not to let it be known that he has returned after his wanderings, but rather to suffer his pain in silence. By intimately, yet quite explicitly, connecting Odysseus’ many pains to his wandering, Athena recalls the opening lines, which had drawn the same association. In case we had thought that, because his wandering was at an end, so too was his suffering, this restatement of the Odyssey’s narrative purpose, roughly midway through the epic, draws attention to the importance of the one remaining obstacle facing Odysseus: that is, to the retaking of his home and household. Only then will our hero truly have achieved his nostos. Moreover, it indicates the manner in which the hero will make his nostos successful—by suffering in silence and biding his time. The same association is made when husband and wife first meet each other again, as Odysseus relates to Penelope the story of how he has wandered the cities of men suffering pains (19.170).  The fact that he tells this story in disguise demonstrates his willing implementation of Athena’s plan, even as his account of the stranger’s suffering ironically matches the narrator’s description of his many pains. Even (especially) in disguise Odysseus remains the suffering hero par excellence. In fact Odysseus is a master of testifying to his own suffering, both real and fabricated. In one of his first speeches he predicts that he will suffer greatly before his return home will be complete (5.302),  while his story to the Phaiakians, the very frame for his Oedipus story, is dominated by references to his suffering.  In many ways Odysseus’ story is defined by his willingness and capacity to endure pain.
ἢ ὅθ’ ὁμοφρονέοντε νοήμασιν οἶκον ἔχητον
ἀνὴρ ἠδὲ γυνή· πόλλ’ ἄλγεα δυσμενέεσσι,
χάρματα δ’ εὐμενέτῃσι· μάλιστα δέ τ᾿ ἔκλυον αὐτοί.”
“For nothing is better or stronger than this:
when two people who are likeminded in ideas keep a house,
a man and woman; many pains for their enemies,
a delight for their friends; but they are especially famous.”
Again, in Odysseus’ terms of reference, the proper “like-thinking” (homophrosunê) that a man and wife share means that in tandem they can give algea to others, rather than merely experience it themselves: critically, too, their fame derives from this ability.  The sentiment expressed here strikingly foreshadows the end of the Odyssey, where the like-mindedness of husband and wife allows Odysseus to be the agent of pains rather than just a victim.
A Theban Catalogue of Women
υἱὸς Λαέρταο πολύκροτα μήδεα εἰδώς.
δῶρα μὲν οὔ ποτ’ ἔπεμπε τανισφύρου εἵνεκα κούρης·
ἤιδεε γὰρ κατὰ θυμὸν ὅτι ξανθὸς Μενέλαος
νικήσει, κτήνωι γὰρ Ἀχαιῶν φέρτατος ἦεν·
ἀγγελίην δ’ αἰεὶ Λακεδαίμονάδε προΐαλλεν
Κάστορί θ̣’ ἱπποδάμ̣ω̣ι̣ καὶ ἀεθλοφόρωι Πολυδεύκει.
From Ithaca the sacred force of Odysseus came to woo,
The son of Laertes who knows manifold-made plans.
He did not ever send any gifts for the thin-ankled girl,
For he knew in his heart that fair Menelaos would conquer,
For he was the mightiest of Achaeans in wealth.
But he sent messages to Sparta, always,
To horse-taming Kastor and prize-winning Polydeukes.
There are features of these lines consistent with what we might consider a Homeric Odysseus: this is a clever man, described with a poly-compound (πολύκροτα μήδεα), who understands that the nature of the competition for Helen is rigged in another’s favor (Menelaos’ wealth), and so contrives another way to appeal to the girl (by corresponding with her brothers). The periphrasis used to describe him (“sacred force of Odysseus”, Ὀδυσσῆος ἱερὴ ἴς) may also recall the repeated formula for his son Telemachus (e.g “sacred force of Telemachus,” ἱερὴ ἲς Τηλεμάχοιο, Odyssey 16.476), just as the formula for Menalaos, the “mightiest of the Achaeans” (Ἀχαιῶν φέρτατος) echoes the description of his brother in the Iliad (7.289). But this is a wholly Hesiodic setting in which Odysseus, the son of Laertes, is immediately marked out as being a suitor of Helen, whereas in the Homeric tradition Odysseus is famed for being Telemachus’ father and the hero who returns home to slaughter the suitors of his wife.  The periphrasis “sacred force of Odysseus” (Ὀδυσσῆος ἱερὴ ἴς) may even hint at the special fecundity of his loins, on which, of course, the Odyssey is silent (if knowing, in its depiction of Odysseus’ extra-marital affairs) though other narratives were apparently less circumspect. The rest of the Catalogue of Helen’s suitors serves as a roll call for the Achaeans who went to fight at Troy, and provides the reason for that war: they swore oaths of fealty to whosoever would win Helen’s hand. 
ἣ δὴ καὶ Διὸς εὔχετ’ ἐν ἀγκοίνῃσιν ἰαῦσαι,
καί ῥ’ ἔτεκεν δύο παῖδ’, Ἀμφίονά τε Ζῆθόν τε,
οἳ πρῶτοι Θήβης ἕδος ἔκτισαν ἑπταπύλοιο
πύργωσάν τ’, ἐπεὶ οὐ μὲν ἀπύργωτόν γ’ ἐδύναντο
ναιέμεν εὐρύχορον Θήβην, κρατερώ περ ἐόντε.
After her I saw Antiope, who was the daughter
of Asopos, who claimed she had also lain in the embraces
of Zeus, and borne two sons to him, Amphion and Zethus.
These first established the foundations of seven-gated
Thebes, and built the towers, since without towers they could not have lived,
for all their strength, in Thebes of the wide spaces. (trans. after Lattimore)
The foundation of Thebes was a particularly vexed issue for ancient mythographers.  As well as Amphion and Zethus, who are here presented as the first figures to found (ἔκτισαν) Thebes, there is Cadmus, who apparently founded the city on the basis of an oracle from Delphi. While Homeric epic acknowledges the importance of Cadmus in the Iliad’s naming of the Thebans as Cadmeans (Καδμεῖοι) and in the presentation of his daughter Ino-Leucothea in the Odyssey as a goddess, Odysseus here privileges the Amphion-Zethus narrative as the foundation story, implicitly placing the story of Cadmus later. The reason comes down to walls (again) and the implicit comparison between Thebes and Troy (again). Odysseus presents Amphion and Zethus as the founders of Thebes on the basis that they encircled the city with walls and towers (πύργωσαν),  where city foundation is equated with wall building.  The same correspondence between wall building and city founding is also found in the Iliad, where Poseidon describes how he and Apollo built the Trojan wall and thus made Troy into a polis (πολίσσαμεν, Iliad 7.453). The differences between these walls are powerful, as we discussed in the Introduction: those of Amphion and Zethus are replaced, while Troy’s walls become a vehicle for the generation of kleos for the gods who founded them, the men who died around them, and the hero who found a way to get through them—no other, of course, than Odysseus the “city-sacker.”
A Great Deed
ἣ μέγα ἔργον ἔρεξεν ἀϊδρείῃσι νόοιο
γημαμένη ᾧ υἷϊ· ὁ δ’ ὃν πατέρ’ ἐξεναρίξας
“And I saw the mother of Oedipus, fair Epikastê,
who unwittingly did a great deed
by marrying her own son; he, after killing his own father, married her.”
In this section we explore how Odysseus’ deployment of the phrase “a great deed” markedly differs from its usage elsewhere in Homeric poetry, which in turn sheds light on what Odysseus is doing with his Oedipus tale.
στησαμένη μέγαν ἱστὸν ἐνὶ μεγάροισιν ὕφαινε,
λεπτὸν καὶ περίμετρον· ἄφαρ δ’ ἡμῖν μετέειπε·
κοῦροι, ἐμοὶ μνηστῆρες, ἐπεὶ θάνε δῖος Ὀδυσσεύς,
μίμνετ’ ἐπειγόμενοι τὸν ἐμὸν γάμον, εἰς ὅ κε φᾶρος
ἐκτελέσω, μή μοι μεταμώνια νήματ’ ὄληται,
Λαέρτῃ ἥρωϊ ταφήϊον, εἰς ὅτε κέν μιν
μοῖρ’ ὀλοὴ καθέλῃσι τανηλεγέος θανάτοιο,
μή τίς μοι κατὰ δῆμον Ἀχαιϊάδων νεμεσήσῃ,
αἴ κεν ἄτερ σπείρου κεῖται πολλὰ κτεατίσσας.
ὣς ἔφαθ’, ἡμῖν δ’ αὖτ’ ἐπεπείθετο θυμὸς ἀγήνωρ.
ἔνθα καὶ ἠματίη μὲν ὑφαίνεσκεν μέγαν ἱστόν,
νύκτας δ’ ἀλλύεσκεν, ἐπὴν δαΐδας παραθεῖτο.
ὣς τρίετες μὲν ἔληθε δόλῳ καὶ ἔπειθεν Ἀχαιούς·
ἀλλ’ ὅτε τέτρατον ἦλθεν ἔτος καὶ ἐπήλυθον ὧραι,
καὶ τότε δή τις ἔειπε γυναικῶν, ἣ σάφα ᾔδη,
καὶ τήν γ’ ἀλλύουσαν ἐφεύρομεν ἀγλαὸν ἱστόν.
ὣς τὸ μὲν ἐξετέλεσσε καὶ οὐκ ἐθέλουσ’, ὑπ’ ἀνάγκης·
“And she was devising this different trick in her thoughts:
She was weaving on the great loom she set up in her home,
A work of fine and very long threads. Then she announced to us:
“Young men, my suitors, since shining Odysseus has died
Wait here pursuing my hand in marriage until I complete
This garment, that my weaving might not be pointless,
A shroud for the hero Laertes, for when the ruinous fate
Of dreadful death comes over him,
And then no one of the Achaean women among the people
May criticize me if this man of great wealth lies without covering.”
So she spoke and each of our proud hearts was persuaded.
And thereafter she was weaving on the great loom each day
But by night she set out torches and took it apart.
She tricked us this way for three years—she persuaded the Achaeans!
But when the fourth year came and the seasons were passing by,
One of the women who knew the matter clearly, informed us.
Then we discovered her unweaving the shining cloth by night.
So we made her, even though she was unwilling, finish it, under force.”
The importance of this moment is underlined by the fact that it is recounted a further two times, each time from a different perspective.  We have already noted that Homer avoids calling Penelope’s great deed by its name; yet there remains a tantalizing thread that ties Penelope’s weaving to the deed of Oedipus’ mother/wife. When Odysseus describes Epikastê’s “great deed” (μέγα ἔργον), he first correlates it with her ignorance (ἀϊδρείῃσι νόοιο) and then hints darkly at the deed itself using the chiastic repetition of two verbal forms for the term “to marry”: she did a great deed in the ignorance of her mind “by marrying her son; for, after slaying his father, he married her” (γημαμένη ᾧ υἷϊ· ὁ δ’ ὃν πατέρ’ ἐξεναρίξας / γῆμεν). In this earlier episode, while Antinoos does not use the phrase “great deed” (μέγα ἔργον), he does use the metrically equivalent (and similar sounding) μέγαν ἱστόν, meaning the “great work” of the web the means by which Penelope accomplishes her great deed. Given their familiarity with the widespread use and traditional referentiality of the phrase “great deed” in the Homeric corpus, an audience might hear a distant echo of Penelope’s μέγαν ἱστόν in Epikastê’s μέγα ἔργον. In addition, while Epikastê (precipitously) entered into marriage with her son (her μέγα ἔργον) in ignorance, by means of her μέγαν ἱστόν Penelope has been successfully deferring her own marriage to a suitor for years. The fact that she has achieved this deferral by means of her intelligence—an intelligence that, moreover, mirrors her “like-minded” husband’s—also shows her difference from the unknowing Epikastê. Effectively cast as a figure far surpassing Epikastê, Penelope knows who her son is; commits a great deed through intelligence rather than without it; and acts, even if briefly, as an agent winning positive fame of her own.
According to the scholiast, πολυήρατος is better understood to mean “much cursed.”  While the scholiast would appear to be importing knowledge of the Theban tradition into his explanation, the adjective is, as Justin Arft has explained, “morphologically ambiguous enough to suggest forms of ἀράομαι and ἐράω.”  Moreover, the apparent contradiction potentially “alerts us to a clever, layered association exploited by Odysseus,” where the hero utilizes precisely the ambiguity in the epithet.  Given Epikastê’s “great deed” of sleeping with her son, Thebes may indeed deserve an epithet that indicates its loveliness: its ruling family is much loved, excessively so, as the son marries his mother and begets his own brothers and sisters.  The “associations of both eros-heavy and cursed”  within the epithet πολυηράτος points to a family that could not be further removed from the perfect single male-line genealogy of the Odyssey. Moreover, as Odysseus puts it, while Oedipus ruled on in “much-loved Thebes,” his mother/wife descended into Hades (ἀλλ᾿ ὁ μὲν ἐν Θήβῃ πολυηράτῳ… / ἡ δ’ ἔβη εἰς Ἀΐδαο πυλάρταο, 11.227–228).  The metrical and syntactical correspondence between the two lines and two epithets πολυηράτῳ and πυλάρταο creates a jingling effect that underlines the relations between the two events. Epikastê has to die because her son-husband rules on. (Or does Oedipus have to continue to rule Thebes because his mother-wife is dead?) In contrast, Penelope and Telemachus wait in Ithaca for their husband and father (respectively) to return from his meeting with the souls of the dead.