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Antigone

Antigone

One of the funny things about Greek mythology is how dramatically unfair it is. Antigone's life is a nice example of this. I'm not really sure if there are any lessons to be learned from it, but I guess that's for you, dear reader, to figure out on your own. At any rate, Antigone is just about the coolest human I've encountered, and a darn famous one at that. Famous now mostly because Sophocles wrote this rockin' play about her called, you guessed it, the Antigone. Go read it. It's worth it. And hilarious. Even though it probably wasn't supposed to be. But who knows. Enough fragments, let's get on with the story!

Antigone was one of four siblings. We usually don't get information about whole families, but this one is special. She had two brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, who you can read about here, and a younger sister, Ismene (who we will learn about here). All the kids are princes and princesses of Thebes, and the children of the hero prince Oedipus (uh oh, I can hear you smart ones thinking) and his regal older wife, Iocasta. Yes, that's right. For most of their youths, they were happy and innocent. And then one day, they realized that their daddy was also their brother and their mother was also their grandmother (find out more in The Importance of Being Oedipus). I can't be positive, but I would guess that was the same day their mother committed suicide and their father gouged his eyes out. Anyway, Antigone was still a little girl, but she left with her father and they wandered around for a long time, until, eventually, he died and cursed his sons and maybe even the country, too. When this happened, the standard post mortem custody agreement involved her uncle Creon becoming their guardian. Which he did. Creon already had a son, named Haemon, but I don't think he was ready for a daughter like Antigone.

Who can say why (my theory is that she got pretty independent and confident hanging around her crochety ol' dad all those impressionable years - especially since she was his right hand man and his eyes), but she was full of pluck (ha! pluck is a great word), which was surprising in a greek maiden. (They're usually much like European fairy tale princesses: wussy.) But we're not really there yet. After dad died, and the kids started growing up, the brothers started fighting over the kingdom. You can read all about it in the Seven Against Thebes, but the ending was that the brothers killed each other. So, that left Thebes in the hands of Creon. And dead bro's body was there. And, despite the fact that he kept attacking the kingdom, I'm sure that Antigone loved him. But Creon, whether he loved him or not, decided that his body wouldn't be buried, but left out for the dogs and birds to nibble on. (I'm betting there was no love in that decision making process.) Now, I should clarify that not only did he leave him, he declared that anyone who tried to bury him would be killed.

As you might imagine, Antigone was WAY bothered by this. Meanwhile, it should be clarified that Antigone is betrothed to Haemon, Creon's son, and they seem kinda in love. We don't get too much interaction between them, but the actions speak for themselves. So. Antigone is pissed. And her sister, Ismene, is being wussy. Antigone wants to go and bury the body, but Ismene's totally freaked about about what Creon will do to them - this is a valid fear since women didn't have much social power and their fate rested entirely in his hands. That didn't stop Antigone, she went right ahead and buried Polyneices, and a guard saw her doing it. Said guard did his job admirably and told Creon. Creon never really like Antigone in the first place, and doesn't mind keeping his law and deciding to starve her to death holed up in this cave. Everyone's wigging out because everyone already thinks that Antigone did the right thing (it's blasphemy not to bury the boy), and can't believe Creon's killing his future daughter-in-law. Creon's response: "There are other fields for him to plow." (If you had ANY doubts as to the ridiculously patriarchal nature of the society...)

So off the girl goes with her head held high. Ismene, always a step behind, tries to convince Creon to bury HER alive, too, because she feels guilty for not helping her sister and brother. But Antigone bitches her out, and that idea gets dropped. Anyway, off to the cave. Meanwhile, Haemon finds out what's going on and is throwing a fit. When that doesn't work, and Antigone gets shut up anyway, he follows, determined to disobey his dad and save his girl. But Antigone was never the waiting around type, and by the time he got there, she had already taken matters into her own hands and hung herself. Whereupon Haemon stabs himself. Whereupon Haemon's mother, Eurydice, stabs herself at the altar. Whereupon Creon is left all alone. With wussy Ismene.

And that's the end of the story.



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Last Updated January 17, 2008