The inevitable magnet of the central province of Stereá Elládha is Delphi, 175km northwest of Athens. If you have your own transport, there are ample rewards in approaching it along the old road to Thebes, and you could also easily include the Byzantine monastery of Ósios Loukás. Legendary Mount Parnassós above Delphi offers skiing and walking opportunities depending on the season, while to the south, on the Gulf of Korínthos, the port towns of Galaxídhi and Náfpaktos are good for a seaside sojourn. Further east, Áyios Konstandínos provides access to the island of Évvia, while heading inland brings you to Lamía and the mountainous Karpeníssi Valley.
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It’s easy to understand why the ancients considered DELPHI the centre of the earth, especially given their penchant for awe-inspiring sacred spots. Framed on all sides by the soaring crags of Mount Parnassós, the site truly captures the imagination, especially in spring, when wildflowers cloak the precipitous valley. But more than a stunning setting was needed to confirm the divine presence. Greek mythology will tell you the Delphi is the home of the oracle, the great Apollo (Greek God, son of Zeus and brother to Artemis).
The Legend of Delphi
The legend of Delphi begins in prehistory and in ancient Greek mythology. Delphi was a site seen sacred to Mother Earth and was guarded by the evil serpent, Python, who was eventually killed by the Greek God Apollo. The Cretans built a sanctuary for Apollo, who accompanied them at the post in the form of a dolphin – hence where the name Delphi comes from. Apollo was hereby known to speak through the Oracle, who would give cryptic predictions but during the winter months, Apollo could not be asked for any prophecy and would abandon the city until he returned in the spring.
History of Delphi
The first oracle established here was dedicated to Gaia (“Mother Earth”) and Poseidon (“Earth Shaker”). The serpent Python, son of Gaia, dwelt in a nearby chasm and communicated through the Pythian priestess. Python was later slain by young Apollo, who supposedly arrived in the form of a dolphin – hence the name Delphi. Thereafter, the Pythian Games were held periodically in commemoration, and perhaps also to placate the deposed deities. Delphi subsequently became one of the major sanctuaries of Greece, its oracle widely regarded as the most truthful in the known world.
The Oracle of Delphi
The influence of the oracle spread during the Classical age of colonization and its patronage grew, peaking during the sixth century BC, with benefactors such as King Amasis of Egypt and the hapless King Croesus of Lydia. Delphi’s wealth, however, made it vulnerable to Greek rivalries; by the mid-fifth century BC, the oracle became the object of a struggle between Athens, Phokia and Sparta, prompting a series of Sacred Wars. These culminated in Philip of Macedon invading southern Greece, crushing the city-states in 338 BC at the Battle of Chaeronea. Delphi’s political intriguing was effectively over.
Under Macedonian and later Roman rule, the oracle’s role became increasingly domestic, dispensing advice on marriages, loans, voyages and the like. The Romans thought little of its utterances, rather more of its treasure: Sulla plundered the sanctuary in 86 BC, and Nero, outraged when the oracle denounced him for murdering his mother, carted away five hundred bronze statues. Upon the proscription of paganism by Theodosius in 391 AD, the oracle ceased.
The Archaeological Site of Delphi
The sanctuary site was rediscovered towards the end of the seventeenth century and explored haphazardly from 1838 onwards; systematic excavation began only in 1892 when the French School of Archeology leased the land. There was initially little to be seen other than the outline of a stadium and theatre, but the inhabitants of Kastrí village, set amid the ruins, were evicted to a new town 1km west (now modern Dhelfí) and digging commenced. By 1903, most of the excavations and reconstruction visible today had been completed.
The Sacred Precinct
The Sacred Precinct, or Temenos (Sanctuary) of Apollo, is entered – as in ancient times – by way of a small agora enclosed by ruins of Roman porticoes and shops selling votive offerings. The paved Sacred Way begins after a few stairs, zigzagging uphill between the foundations of memorials and treasuries to the Temple of Apollo. Along each edge is a jumble of statue bases where gold, bronze and painted-marble figures once stood; Pliny counted more than three thousand on his visit, and that was after Nero’s infamous raid.
The style and positioning of these memorials were dictated by more than religious zeal; many were used as a deliberate show of strength or as a direct insult against a rival Greek state. For instance, the Spartans celebrated their victory over Athens by erecting their Monument of the Admirals – a large recessed structure, which once held 37 bronze statues of gods and generals – directly opposite the Athenians’ Offering of Marathon.
Further up the path, past the Doric remains of the Sikyonian Treasury on the left, lie the foundations of the Siphnian Treasury, a grandiose Ionic temple erected in 525 BC. Ancient Siphnos (Sífnos) had rich gold mines and intended the building to be an unrivalled show of opulence. Above this is the Treasury of the Athenians, built, like the city’s “offering”, after Marathon (490 BC). It was reconstructed in 1904–1906 by matching the inscriptions – including a hymn to Apollo with musical notation – that completely cover its blocks.
Next to the Treasury are the foundations of the Bouleuterion, or council house, a reminder that Delphi needed administrators, and above stretches the remarkable Polygonal Wall whose irregular interlocking blocks have withstood, intact, all earthquakes. It, too, is covered with inscriptions, mostly referring to the emancipation of slaves; Delphi was one of the few places where such freedom could be made official by an inscribed register. An incongruous outcrop of rock between the wall and the treasuries marks the original Sanctuary of Gaia.
Finally, the Sacred Way leads past the Athenian Stoa (which housed trophies from an Athenian naval victory of 506 BC) to the temple terrace where you are confronted with a large altar, erected by the island of Chios (Híos). The Temple of Apollo now visible dates from the mid-fourth century BC, two previous versions having succumbed to fire and earthquake. The French excavators found only foundations but re-erected six of the Doric columns to illustrate the temple’s dominance over the sanctuary. In the innermost part of the temple was the adyton, a subterranean cell at the mouth of the oracular chasm where the Pythian priestess officiated. No trace of cave or chasm has been found, nor any trance-inducing vapours, but it’s conceivable that such a chasm did exist and was closed by later earthquakes. On the architrave of the temple were inscribed the maxims “Know Thyself” and “Moderation in All Things”.
The theatre and stadium used for the main events of the Pythian Festival occupy terraces above the temple. The theatre, built during the fourth century BC with a capacity of five thousand (the seats sadly roped off), was associated with Dionysos, the god of ecstasy, the arts and wine, who ruled Delphi during the winter when the oracle was silent. A path leads up through cool pine groves to the stadium (its seats also off-limits), artificially levelled in the fifth century BC to a length of 178m, though it was banked with stone seats (giving a capacity of seven thousand) only in Roman times – the gift, like so many other public buildings in Greece, of Herodes Atticus.
The Castalian Spring
Following the road east of the sanctuary, towards Aráhova, you reach a sharp bend. Just to the left, marked by niches for votive offerings and by the remains of an Archaic fountain-house, the celebrated Castalian spring still flows from a cleft – the legendary lair of Python.
Visitors to Delphi were obliged to purify themselves in its waters, usually by washing their hair, though murderers had to take the full plunge. Lord Byron, impressed by the legend that the waters nurtured poetic inspiration, also jumped in. This is no longer possible since the spring is fenced off owing to sporadic rock falls from the cliffs.
Across and below the road from the spring is the Marmaria (marmariá means “marble quarry”, after the medieval practice of filching the ancient blocks for private use).
The most conspicuous building in the precinct, easily visible from the road, is the Tholos, a fourth-century BC rotunda. Three of its dome-columns and their entablature have been rebuilt, but while these amply demonstrate the original beauty of the building (which is the postcard image of Delphi), its purpose remains a mystery.
At the entrance to the precinct stood the original Temple of Athena Pronaia (“Fore-Temple”, in relation to the Apollo shrine), destroyed by the Persians and reconstructed during the fourth century BC beyond the Tholos; foundations of both structures can be traced. Outside the precinct on the northwest side (above the Marmaria) is a gymnasium, again built in the fourth century BC, but later enlarged by the Romans; prominent among the ruins is a circular plunge-bath for athletes’ refreshment after their exertions.
The Museum of Delphi
Delphi’s museum contains a rare and exquisite collection of sculpture spanning the Archaic to the Roman eras, matched only by finds on Athens’ Acropolis. It also features pottery, bronze articles and friezes from the various treasuries and temple pediments, which give a good picture of the sanctuary’s riches.
The most famous exhibit, with a room to itself at the south end of the galleries, is the Charioteer, one of the few surviving bronzes of the fifth century BC, unearthed in 1896 as part of the “Offering of Polyzalos”, toppled during the earthquake of 373 BC. The charioteer’s eyes, made of onyx and set slightly askew, lend it a startling realism. Other major pieces include two huge kouroi from the sixth century BC, betraying clear Asiatic/Egyptian stylistic traits; a life-size, sixth-century BC votive bull fashioned from hammered silver and copper sheeting; and the elegant Ionic winged Sphinx of the Naxians, dating from 565 BC. In the same gallery, the Siphnian frieze depicts Zeus and other gods looking on as the Homeric heroes fight over the body of Patroclus. Another portion of this frieze shows a battle between gods and giants, including a lion graphically mauling a warrior.
The Athenian Treasury is represented by fragments of the metopes (friezes) depicting the labours of Hercules, the adventures of Theseus and a battle with Amazons. A group of three colossal if badly damaged dancing women, carved from Pentelic marble around an acanthus-topped column – probably a tripod-stand – dates from the fourth century BC and is thought to represent the daughters of Kekrops. Among later works is an exquisite second-century AD figure of Antinoös, a favourite of Roman emperor Hadrian.
Modern Dhelfí, 500m to the west of the site, is as inconsequential as its ancient namesake is impressive. Entirely geared to mass tourism (including Greek skiers), Dhelfí’s only real attraction – besides proximity to the ruins and access to Mount Parnassós – is its cliffside setting.
Hiking is also popular in Delphi, thanks to the ideal landscape. Visitors hike to Corycian Cave, where in ancient times people would travel to see Pan, the Greek god of the wild, and his nymphs, during the winter months when the oracle was not available.
Museum of Delphic Festivals
The stone house where the poet Angelos Sikelianos once lived exhibits artefacts and paraphernalia relating to the events he and Eva Palmer organized in 1927–30. Their idea was to set up a “University of the World” and make Delphi a cultural centre. The project eventually failed, though it inspired an annual Delphic Festival, held now in July of each year, with performances of contemporary drama and music in the ancient theatre.
The world’s soothsayer
For over a millennium, a steady stream of pilgrims converged on Delphi to seek divine direction in matters of war, worship, love or business. On arrival they would pay a set fee (the pelanos), sacrifice a goat, boar or even a bull, and – depending on the omens – wait to submit questions inscribed on lead tablets. The Pythian priestess, a village woman over fifty years of age, would chant her prophecies from a tripod positioned over the oracular chasm. An attendant priest would then “interpret” her utterings in hexameter verse.
Many oracular answers were pointedly ambiguous: Croesus, for example, was told that if he commenced war against Persia he would destroy a mighty empire; he did – his own. But the oracle would hardly have retained its popularity for so long without offering predominantly sound advice, largely because the Delphic priests were better informed than any others of the time. They were able to amass a wealth of political, economic and social information and, from the seventh century BC onwards, had their own network of agents throughout the Greek world.
Hiking to the Corycian Cave
The Corycian Cave (Korýkio Ándro) plays a significant part in Greek mythology. Delphi, the ancient city at the foot of Mount Parnassus, was where the oracle once gave cryptic predictions and guidance to visitors. Visitors would then hike to the sacred Corycian Cave of Pan, the god of the wild, and his nymphs during the winter when Apollo (Son of Zeus) abandoned his post.
Hiking to the Corycian Cave
Allow a full day for this outing (4hr for ascent to the cave, 3hr 30min back to Dhelfí – consult The Mountains of Greece), and take ample food. To reach the trailhead follow signposting up through Dhelfí village to the Museum of Delphic Festivals. Continue climbing from here to the highest point of the fence enclosing the sanctuary ruins. Where the track ends at a gate, take a trail on your left, initially marked by a black-and-yellow rectangle on a white background; these, repeated regularly, indicate the trail is part of the E4 European long-distance route.
Initially steep, the way soon flattens out on a grassy knoll overlooking the stadium and continues along a ridge. Soon after, you join an ancient cobbled trail coming from inside the fenced precinct – the Kakí Skála, which zigzags up the slope above you in broad arcs. The path ends an hour-plus above the village, at the top of the Phaedriades cliffs. From one of several nearby rock pinnacles, those guilty of sacrilege in ancient times were thrown to their deaths – a custom perhaps giving rise to the name Kakí Skála or “Evil Stairway”.
E4 markers remain visible in the valley ahead of you as the principal route becomes a gravel track bearing northeast; ignore this and follow instead a metal sign pointing toward the cave, taking the right fork near the Krokí spring and watering troughs, with a complex of summer cottages on your right. This track, now intermittently paved, passes a picnic ground and a chapel of Ayía Paraskeví within fifteen minutes. Continue for some forty minutes beyond the chapel, heading gently downhill and passing another sign for the cave, until you emerge from the fir woods (2hr 40min from Dhelfí) with a view east and ahead to the rounded mass of the Yerondóvrahos peak (2367m) of the Parnassós massif.
Another fifteen minutes bring you to a second chapel (of Ayía Triádha) on the left, with a spring and picnic ground. To the left rises a steep ridge, site of the ancient Corycian cave. Persevere along the road for five more minutes to where a white bilingual sign indicates a newer path, marked by orange paint splodges and red-triangle signs. After forty minutes’ climb on this, you meet another dirt road; turn left and follow it five minutes more to the end, just below the conspicuous cave mouth at an altitude of 1370m.
Ancient Inscriptions in the Cave
In ancient times, the cave was the site of orgiastic rites in November, when women, acting as nymphs, made the long hike up from Delphi on the Kakí Skála by torchlight. If you look carefully with a torch you can find ancient inscriptions near the entrance; without artificial light, you can’t see more than 100m into the chilly, forbidding cavern. By the entrance, you’ll also notice a rock with a man-made circular indentation – possibly an ancient altar for libations.
Ósios Loukás monastery
Some 6km east of Dhístomo (which by bus is 35min east of Delphi), the monastery of Ósios Loukás was a precursor of the final flourish of Byzantine art found in the great churches at Mystra in the Peloponnese. From an architectural or decorative standpoint it ranks as one of the great buildings of medieval Greece; the remote setting is exquisite as well, especially in February when the many local almond trees bloom. Approaching along the last stretch of road, Ósios Loukás suddenly appears on its shady terrace, overlooking the highest summits of the Elikónas range and a beautiful broad valley. The complex comprises two domed churches, the larger katholikón of Ósios Loukás (a local beatified hermit, Luke of Stiri, not the Evangelist) and the adjacent chapel of Theotókos. A few monks still live in the cells around the courtyard, but the monastery is essentially a museum, with a souvenir shop on the grounds.
The design of the katholikón, built around 1040 to a cross-in-square plan, strongly influenced later churches at Dhafní and at Mystra. Externally it is unassuming, with rough brick-and-stone walls topped by a well-proportioned octagonal dome. The interior, however, is rich, with multicoloured-marble walls contrasting with gold-background mosaics on the high ceiling. Light filtering through alabaster windows reflects from the curved mosaic surfaces onto the marble walls and back, bringing out subtle shading.
The mosaics were damaged by an earthquake in 1659, replaced at many points by unremarkable frescoes, but surviving examples testify to their glory. On the right as you enter the narthex are a majestic Resurrection and Thomas Probing Christ’s Wound. The mosaic of the Niptir (Washing of the Apostles’ Feet) on the far left (north side) of the narthex is one of the finest here, the expressions of the Apostles ranging between diffidence and surprise. This humanized approach is again illustrated by the Baptism, up in the northwest squinch (curved surface supporting the dome). Here Jesus reaches for the cross amid a swirling mass of water, an illusion of depth created by the curvature of the wall. On other squinches, the Christ Child reaches out to the High Priest Simeon in The Presentation, while in The Nativity, angels predominate rather than the usual shepherds. The church’s original frescoes are confined to vaulted chambers at the corners of the cross plan and, though less imposing than the mosaics, employ subtle colours, notably in Christ Walking towards the Baptism.
The Theotókos chapel
The chapel of Theotókos (“God-Bearing”, ie the Virgin Mary), built shortly after Luke’s death, is nearly a century older than the katholikón. From outside it overshadows the main church with elaborate brick decoration culminating in a marble-panelled drum, but the interior seems mean by comparison, enlivened only by a couple of fine Corinthian capitals and the original floor mosaic, its colours now faint.
Finally, do not miss the vivid frescoes in the crypt of the katholikón, entered on the lower south side of the building. Bring a torch, since illumination is limited to three spotlights to preserve the colours of the post-Byzantine frescoes.
Mount Parnassós and around
For a taste of the Greek mountains, Parnassós, rising imperiously above Delphi, is probably the most convenient peak, though its heights no longer rank as unspoilt wilderness, having been disfigured by the ski-station above Aráhova and its accompanying trappings. The best route for walkers is the one up from Dhelfí to the Corycian cave (practicable April–Nov, but not in midsummer without a dawn start). For further explorations, Road Editions’ 1:50,000 map no. 42, or Anavasi Editions’ 1:55,000 map no. 1, both entitled Parnassos, are wise investments, though neither is infallible.
Arriving at ARÁHOVA, just 11km east of Delphi, you are well into Parnassós country. The peaks rise in tiers, sullied somewhat by the wide asphalt road built to reach the ski resort – the winter-weekend haunt of well-heeled Athenians. The town centre tends to trendy, chic and pricey, rather like a Greek Aspen, with its comprehensive après-ski boutique commercialization. A small number of houses in Aráhova retain their vernacular architecture or have been restored in varying taste, flanking narrow, often stepped, lanes twisting north up the slope or poised to the south on the edge of the olive-tree-choked Plistós Gorge. The area is renowned for its strong purplish wines, tsípouro, honey, candied fruits and nuts, cheese (especially cylindrical formaélla), the egg-rich noodles called hilopíttes, and woollen weavings, now mostly imported from elsewhere and/or machine-loomed.
Retracing the way back from Delphi and onto the Lamía road heading north, you come to Chaeronea, site of one of the most decisive ancient Greek battles. Here, in 338 BC, Philip of Macedon won a resounding victory over an alliance of Athenians, Peloponnesians and Thebans. This ended the era of city-states, from whom control passed forever into foreign hands: first Macedonian, later Roman. Beside the road, at modern Herónia, stands a 6m -high stone lion, said to have been erected by Alexander the Great to honour the Theban Sacred Band, composed entirely of warrior couples, who fought to the last man.
Skiing on Parnassós
There are two main skiing areas developed on the northwest flank of Mount Paranassós: Kelária (23km from Aráhova) and Fterólakka (29km). The top point for each is about 2200m, descending to 1600–1700m when conditions permit; the twenty or so runs are predominantly red-rated, making this a good intermediate resort, and served by fourteen lifts, of which about half are bubble-chair type. Most facilities (and the biggest car park) are at Kelária, but Fterólakka has longer, more challenging runs.
Equipment is rented on a daily basis at the resort, or for longer term in Aráhova (which teems with seasonal sports equipment shops). The main problem is high winds, which often close the lifts, so check the forecast before setting off. The skiing season is generally from mid-December to April, rarely into May.
GALAXÍDHI is a charming port town appearing mirage-like out of an otherwise lifeless shore along the Gulf of Kórinthos, just 35km from Delphi. With your own transport, it makes an ideal base for visiting both Delphi and Ósios Loukás, and it’s also worth at least two days in its own right. Amazingly, given its size, Galaxídhi was once one of Greece’s major harbours, with a fleet of over four hundred two- and three-masted kaïkia and schooners, trading as far afield as the UK. But shipowners failed to convert to steam power after 1890, and the town’s prosperity vanished. Clusters of nineteenth-century shipowners’ mansions, reminders of those heady days, reflect borrowings from Venice, testament to the sea captains’ far-flung travels, and to their wealth. Despite some starts at gentrification, the town retains its authenticity, with an animated commercial high street (Nikólaou Máma) and a good range of places to eat and drink.
The old town
The old town stands on a raised headland, crowned by the eighteenth-century church of Ayía Paraskeví (the old basilica, not the more obvious belfried Áyios Nikólaos, patron saint of sailors). With its protected double harbour, the location proved irresistible to early settlers, which explains stretches of walls – all that’s left of ancient Chaleion and its successor Oianthe – between the two churches and the water on the headland dividing the two anchorages. What you see dates from 1830–70, as the town was largely destroyed during the War of Independence.
Nautical and Historical Museum
Just uphill from the main harbour is the Nautical and Historical Museum, whose galleries do a well-labelled, clockwise gallop round this citadel-settlement in all eras. Ancient Chaleion is represented by painted pottery and a bronze folding mirror, then it’s on to the chronicles of Galaxídhi – the place’s name from Byzantine times onwards – and its half-dozen shipyards, mostly alongside the northwesterly Hirólakkas anchorage. The local two- and three-masters are followed from their birth – primitive, fascinating tools for ship building and sail-making – to their all-too-frequent sudden violent death. Along the way are propeller-operated logs, wooden rattles to signal the change of watches, a bouroú or large shell used as a foghorn and – best of all – superb polychrome figureheads.
Strolling or driving around the pine-covered headland flanking the southeastern harbour leads to tiny pebbly coves where most people swim. The closest “real” beaches are at the end of this road, or at Kalafátis just north of town, though neither is brilliant – harsh shingle underfoot and occasionally turbid water. With transport, head for better beaches at Ágios Vassílis (4km west) or Áyii Pándes (11km west).
NÁFPAKTOS (medieval Lepanto) is a lively port town and resort some two hours’ drive from Delphi, or an hour by road from Pátra. It is the largest settlement on the north shore of the Gulf of Korínthos and the jumping-off point for the bridge to the Peloponnese. The town spreads out along a plane-tree-shaded seafront, below a sprawling Venetian castle. The planes are nurtured by numerous running springs, which attest to water-rich mountains just inland. Also inland is the ancient sacred site of Thermon, dedicated to the twin gods Apollo and his sister Artemis.
The rambling, pine-tufted kástro provides an impressive backdrop; most of it dates from the Venetians’ fifteenth-century tenure. A complete tour is only possible by driving the well-marked 2.5km to the car park at the highest citadel, passing en route a clutch of nice cafés taking advantage of the view. At the summit are the remains of Byzantine baths and an Ottoman mosque, both converted into chapels. The curtain walls plunge down to the sea, enclosing the higher neighbourhoods and oval-shaped old harbour in crab-claw fashion (you can climb each rampart for free), with the original westerly gate giving access to Psáni beach.
Most of the town centre faces long, developed beaches. The more popular and less shaded west beach is Psáni, with its frontage road, Navmahías, lined with tavernas and hotels. To the east is Grímbovo, more tranquil and lined with trees (and with easier parking), where aqueducts bring mountain streams into gurgling fountains.
About 16km northwest of Náfpaktos, following signs for “Thérmo 46”, you come to the valley of the Évinos River and the small village of Háni Baniás. A farther 10km northwest you reach THÉRMO, a small town with a pleasant plane-shaded square, a filling station, bank ATMs, shops and tavernas. Of potentially more interest is ancient Thermon (Tues–Sun 8.30am–3pm; free, photography forbidden), well signposted 1.5km southeast of the centre. This modest site, still under excavation, was the walled political capital and main religious sanctuary of the Aetolians. The main temple, c.1000 BC, orientated north-to-south rather than the usual west-to-east, was dedicated to Apollo Thermios; just east lies an even older, smaller shrine to Apollo Lyseios, while to the northwest are foundations of an Artemis temple. South of the main temple the sacred spring still flows, still potable and, in season, full of frogs. Beyond the spring extend two long stoas (with the occasional exedra), terminating at a bouleuterion. The keeper will unlock the small, one-room museum, crammed with unlabelled.
The Battle of Lepanto
The Battle of Lepanto was fought just off Náfpaktos on October 7, 1571. An allied Christian armada commanded by John of Austria devastated an Ottoman fleet – the first European naval victory over the Turks since the death of the dreaded pirate-admiral Barbarossa. Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, lost his left arm to a cannonball during the conflict; a Spanish-erected statue honours him at the old harbour. But Western naval supremacy proved fleeting, since the Ottomans quickly replaced their ships and had already wrested Cyprus from the Venetians that same year.
The myth of Oedipus
Pausanias identified the fateful Triodos crossroads as the site of Oedipus’s murder of his father, King Laius of Thebes. As the tale recounts, Oedipus was returning on foot from Delphi while Laius and his entourage were speeding towards him from the opposite direction on a chariot. Neither would give way, and in the ensuing altercation Oedipus killed them, ignorant of who they were. It was, in Pausanias’s supreme understatement, “the beginning of his troubles”. Continuing on to Thebes, Oedipus solved the riddle of the Sphinx – which had been ravaging the area – and took widowed Queen Jocasta as his wife – unaware that he was marrying his own mother.