Antigone’s Tragic Defiance – Mythology of Ancient Greece
The tragedy of Oedipus, king of Thebes, is one of the most memorable of all the classical myths, but less well-known is the drama of his daughter, which was the subject of the play Antigone by the fifth century BCE dramatist Sophocles.
After Oedipus’s death, his two sons quarreled over the succession to the throne. Eventually they decided to rule in alternate years. Eteocles took the first turn, but when his time was up he refused to hand over the kingdom to his brother as promised.
Polynices raised an army to enforce his claim, sharing command with six Allied leaders — the famous Seven against Thebes. but their forces were driven back from the city with huge losses. Both Oedipus’s sons were killed in a duel. With their deaths, the throne reverted to their Uncle Creon.
Creon’s first thought was to deter future Rebels so he gave orders that, while Eteocles should be interred in state as Thebes’s former ruler, his brother Polynices should be left unburied. He decreed that those who disobeyed would die.
Even so, one person was determined to defy the Kings will. That night Polynices’ sister Antigone visited the battlefield and found her brother’s body. She covered it with Earth, giving him a proper burial. Caught in the act, the princess was taken to her uncle, and he upbraided her. She refused to apologize, citing the demands of Divine Law in her defense. She refused to concede to the king even when he condemned her to death.
The cruelty of the sentence shocked Thebes, but Creon refused all appeals for mercy. Only when the old prophet Tiresias warned the king that the gods would punish him for the deed did Creon finally consider clemency.
But his change of heart came too late: entering the stone room in which he had incarcerated her, Creon found but the princess had hanged herself with her veil. The tragedy did not end there. Creon’s son Haemon, who was betrothed to Antigone, threw himself onto his sword upon discovering her fate, dying instantly. When Creon’s wife Eurydice learned of her son’s suicide she too stabbed herself fatally.