Our venues

Death of Laius. A.M. 2728

Edward Francis Burney,

WAG 7681

About this object

This drawing by prolific book illustrator Edward Francis Burney shows a scene from Sophocles' play 'Oedipus Rex'. It depicts the moment when the ill-fated Oedipus kills his own father Laius.

Laius was the Prince of Thebes. Euripedes' play 'Chrysippus' relates how he rapes the beautiful son of Pelops, the King of Pisa. After Amphion and Zethos usurped his throne, Laius sought sanctuary with Pelops, who welcomed the young Prince as one of his own alongside his own sons, the twins, Atreus and Thyestes, and the illegitimate Chrysippus. Pelops asked Laius to help train Chrysippus in charioteering for the Nemean games. Laius fell head-over-heels in love with his pupil, but Chrysippus spurned his advances. On route to the games Laius kidnapped the beautiful youth and raped him, taking him to Thebes where he reclaimed his throne. Euripedes described Lauis as the first human to love another of the same sex.

Laius married Jocasta, but was warned by the Delphic oracle to abandon thoughts of fathering a child since he was fated to be killed by his own son. Though he initially managed to keep away from her bed, they had intercourse whilst drunk on wine one night. When their son Oedipus was born Laius thrust a spike through his feet to ensure he could not recover, and handed him over to a shepherd to be exposed. However, the shepherd took pity on the child and placed him in the care of a childless couple in Corinth who raised him as their own.

In his youth Oedipus was told by the Oracle at Delphi that he would kill his father and marry his mother. Horrified, he resolved never to return to Corinth. He set out for Thebes and on the road encountered King Laius. The pair got into a quarrel over the right-of-way, which quickly escalated. Ignorant of his true ancestry, Oedipus ends up killing his own father, slaying him with his sword.

When Oedipus got closer to Thebes he encountered the Theban Sphinx, a mythical monster with the face and breasts of a woman, the body of a lion, and wings. The sphinx was said to have been sent down by the marriage-goddess Hera as punishment against the Thebans for failure to atone for the previous crimes of Laius. She guarded a pass on a cliff by the sea and asked all who would pass a riddle. When Oedipus gave the correct answer, the Sphinx hurled herself over the cliff to her death in the sea below. As a reward he claimed the throne of Thebes and the hand of the former queen, Jocasta (his mother).

The story of Lauis, portrayed in this drawing, highlights that consent was an important factor regulating same-sex relations in Ancient Greece. Same-sex relations were generally hierarchical, with the older partner taking a dominant and active role in the sexual act. Though age was not at that time seen to effect the ability of the younger partner to give consent to sex as it is now, it was crucially important that they gave their consent.

Object specifics

  • Artist(s)
    Edward Francis Burney (British, born:1760-09-07, died:1848-12-16)
  • Date
  • Materials
    Pen; Ink; Wash; Paper
  • Measurements
    2.6 x 6 cm
  • Physical description
    A man is shown weilding his sword at another man who has slumped across his chariot. Two horses are still attached to the chariot. There is a further upturned chariot on the right.
  • Related people
    Bebington Corporation (Previous owner) ; Edward Francis Burney (Artist/maker) ; Joseph Mayer (Previous owner)
  • Other number(s)
    WAG Inventory Number: 7681
  • Credit line
    Presented by Bebington Corporation in 1971
  • Location
    Item not currently on display
  • Collection
    From the Walker Art Gallery collections


Previous owners

  • Bebington Corporation

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: Unknown or unrecorded
    Owned until: 1971
    Disposal method: Unknown or unrecorded
  • Joseph Mayer

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: Unknown or unrecorded
    Owned until: Unknown or unrecorded
    Disposal method: Unknown or unrecorded


Item inscriptions

  • Inscription text: with title
    Inscription method:
    Inscription note:
    Inscription location:
Object view = Fine Art
Page load time: 420 ms