Precursor to Antigone

When Oedipus, King of Thebes, discovered through his own investigations that he had killed his father and married his mother, Jocasta, he put out his own eyes, and Jocasta killed herself. Once Oedipus ceased being king of Thebes, his two sons, Polyneices and Eteocles, agreed to alternate as king. When Eteocles refused to give up power to Polyneices, the latter collected a foreign army of Argives and attacked the city. In the ensuing battle, the Thebans triumphed over the invading forces, and the two brothers killed each other, with Eteocles defending the city and Polyneices attacking it. Note that Creon is a brother of Jocasta and thus an uncle of Antigone, Ismene, Eteocles, and Polyneices.

- Ian Johnston, Vancouver Island University

 

The Lore of Antigone

 

Antigone is a tragedy that takes place in Ancient Greece.  The Greek myth was told by the playwright Sophocles.  Antigone is one of the three Theban plays written by Sophocles.

In Sophocles' writings, the story begins with the two sons of Oedipus, Polyneices and Eteocles, leading their own respective armies to a civil war to decide who takes the throne.  The war results in the death of the two brothers.  Since the war generated no victor, Creon becomes King of Thebes.  His first decree is the one brother, Eteocles, would be given a proper burial and the other brother, Polyneices, would not, and be left on the battlefield.  Antigone and Ismene witness their brother left to shame.

In defiance to Creon's law, Antigone wants to bury her brother.  Ismene refuses, in fear of the penalty of breaking Creon's law.  Antigone becomes vexed with Ismene's refusal to bury her brother and disowns Ismene. 

The play continues with Creon, as he speaks with the Theban Elders.  He asks them for their support in his newly obtained kingship and more importantly, to support his decree about the burial of the brothers.  As he makes his plea, a sentry enters and tells Creon that the Polyneices, who was to be left on the battlefield, has been buried. The Sentry also tells of Antigone's second attempt to bury her brother after he was removed from his grave.  Creon, furious, interrogates Antigone about her actions.  Antigone rebuts with Creon's complete disregard for the morality of his decree and the justification of her actions.  Creon then calls upon Ismene to be brought in.

Ismene, knowing that her sister faces death, falsely admits to the crime of the burial, as to die alongside her sister.  Antigone, knowing her sister did nothing for the brother, protests heavily.  Creon has both Ismene and Antigone imprisoned. Haemon, Creon's son enters to speak with him.  Prior to Antigone's imprisonment, Antigone was to be Haemon's wife.  Despite his affection for Antigone, he pledges himself to his father.  However, when Haemon asks his father to spare Antigone, there is a heated dispute.  Haemon and his father have a falling out and Haemon vows never to speak to his father again. 

Creon decides that Ismene is innocent and that it was Antigone who was behind the burial of her brother.  Ismene is set free and Antigone is condemned and is die in a cave. Tiresias, a blind Prophet, enters to speak with Creon. He warns him to go back on his decree and that he has angered the gods.  Because of Creon's decree, the gods have refused to accept the prayers or sacrifices of the people of Thebes. Creon ignores his warnings and believes that Tiriesias is corrupt.  Tiresias foresees that, as retribution, the gods will take Creon's son, for the crime of leaving Polyneices unburied and the live burial of Antigone.  Out of fear, Theben Elders also weight in and asks him to undo what he has done. Creon, horrified, agrees and sets off to correct his mistakes. 

As Creon exits, the Theban Elders gather together and perform a ritualistic prayer to gods. As they chant, a messenger enters to inform them of horrible news, Creon's son, Haemon is dead by his own hand.  Eurydice, Haemon's mother and wife of Creon, enters and asks the messenger to explain to her what had happened. The messenger explains that Antigone had hung herself and Haemon, who loved Antigone was shocked to have found her dead and stabbed himself, taking his own life.  Eurydice walks away back into the palace. 

Creon enters with Haemon in his arms.  He is absolutely devastated.  He knows the death of his son is all upon him. The messenger informs Creon that Eurydice, after hearing that her son has killed himself, had too taken her own life.  With Eurydice's last breath, she cursed her husband's name. After all his prowess into Kingship, he had lost all that he knew death to him.  The Theban Elders preach: The gods may punish the great, but it is throught that punishment that wisdom is gained.