“It seems to me anyway”, says a hoarse voice, “that, nevertheless, you know but only one story, my child, the story of the hundredth prince who found the answer to the riddle. But you know nothing of the previous ninety nine who were consigned to oblivion because they failed”.
The mirror in the mirror, Michael Ende
Everybody knows the myth of Oedipus; because he was the one who cracked the riddle of the Sphinx. Had he failed, he would be just another guy like the previous 99 that were forgotten and we never learned their name.
The prince became king because he cracked the riddle. But who were those who preceeded? They are nameless, but are they unimportant too?
A story could be told about someone who reached the Sphinx and was defeated. Who were his parents, how was he brought up, how the need evolved within him to test himself with the beast? Was it vanity or maybe altruism? Or it could be the wrath of a man who got sick and tired of the beast and decided to face it, even if he knew that he would be defeated.
What was the name of the guy, number 73 of the Sphinx’s victims?
What did his mother tell him before he set out to go to Thebes? Did he have a wife and children?
He might have told his children: “I’ve had enough living in fear. Fear is not becoming to men. I’ll fight it. I’ll do it for me – and for you, too.
His wife pleaded with him, his children were crying but Nr.73 set out to go to Thebes. On his way there he came across many people. When he told them of his destination and purpose, they wholeheartedly wished him the best, to succeed in redeeming them all.
A widow put him up for a night.
“My husband is gone” she told him. “He went there and tried to crack the riddle, too. He was Nr.42. He never came back. You stay, become my husband”.
Nr.73 became her husband for a night. But the next morning he went on.
At some point he met an old woman who could barely see.
“Are you my son?” she asked him. When she heard his voice she remained undeterred. As if she already knew.
“My son went to find the answer to the riddle” she told him. “He was Nr.25. He never came back. But I don’t understand. Of all the roads he could take, of all the cities in this world, why did he choose to go there?”
“To find the answer to the riddle” Nr.73 answered.
“And why did he have to find it?”
“Because it exists”.
Nr.73 kept going till he found himself at a wise man’s cave – and a dog’s too.
“You, being a wise man” he told him, “why don’t you go there to solve the Sphinx’s riddle?”
“I am not a wise man” he told him. “I m a fool and I know nothing”.
“Then why does everybody consider you as wise?”
“Because I know that I don’t know. They think they do. They have an answer for every question. I have but questions”.
“So you can’t help me. I’m looking for an answer”.
“To what question?”
“I don’t know it yet”.
“You don’t know the question and you want me to tell you the answer?”
The wise man laughed his toothless laugh. His dog barked too.
“My dog knows more than I do”, the wise man said. But you are dimmer than all the others who have walked this way. Nr.19 came by and so did Nr.12. They were well prepared, having spent many years with the Sophists. They could answer unanswerable enigmas. They were positive that they would make it”.
“And they didn’t?”
“If they did, they wouldn’t be mere numbers. You would have heard their names and perhaps there would have been plays written about them”.
Nr.73 got up to his feet and dusted his clothes off.
“So you can’t help me”.
“I already did”.
“Woof!” said the wise man.
“The answer is…the dog?”
The dog look at them bewildered. Then he yawned and lay down.
Nr.73 walked further until a storm broke out. He took shelter at a sheep farm. In there, there were the sheep, a shepherd and a child with swollen legs. Once he told him where he meant to go, the shepherd shook his head.
“You’re not the first”, he told him.
“I know” answered Nr.73.
“Will you be the last?”
“I don’t know”.
“Aren’t you scared?”
“I’m tired of being scared”.
The child with the swollen legs came closer to him.
“Yesterday I saw a dead man” he told him.
“It happens. You’ll see more.”
“He told me you’d come”.
“The dead man told you so?”
“Where did you see him?”
“In my sleep.”
“How was he supposed to know me?”
“I think it was you”, said the child.
“I’m not dead”.
The shepherd gave Nr.73 bread and cheese to eat.
“Your child is weird”, he told him when he finished.
“It’s not mine”.
In the morning Nr.73 set out on his way. The child waited for him at the door.
“What’s your name?” he asked him.
“What does it matter? You can call me Nr.73”
“I don’t like it. People are not numbers. I even call our lambs by their name”.
“Yet you slaughter them”.
“We’ve got to eat”.
“Would you slaughter me had you been hungry?”
“You are not a lamb. You’re a man”.
“Yes, I’m a man”.
Nr.73 said the last words sarcastically: “Yes, I’m a man”.
“You’re a human”, the child told him.
“Take care of your father”, Nr.73 told him and walked away.
“He isn’t…my father.”
That’s how the boy spoke.
A few hours later Nr.73 reached the walls of Thebes. There was the Sphinx, asking. Whoever couldn’t find the answer became a prey to its claws.
“What is…” began the beast.
“I don’t know” Nr.73 cut it off, before he heard the riddle.
“Then you shall die” the Sphinx told him and stretched its wings to fly.
“I’ll die and 26 more. Maybe even more. But without us, the hundredth wouldn’t ever come”
“The first who came here, Nr.1, told me the same words. But you keep on coming”.
“And more will come. Until someone cracks the riddle. It will happen. No matter what. Because there are no questions without an answer.
“The wise man told you otherwise”.
“How do you know the wise man and what he says?”
“He thought of the riddle”, the Sphinx told him and pounced on him.
That’s how Nr.73 passed away. Many years passed till the child that everybody knows grew up, named Oedipus.
Sanejoker’s Facebook page:
Translated by Alexandros Mantas
Edited by Jackie Pert