Thursday, 2 December 2010

Oedipus and Antigone, by Sophocles

I am currently reading Sophocles' tragedy Antigone, because Antigone is my favourite Ancient Greek character. Antigone is Oedipus' daughter, from his incestuous marriage to his mother, Iocaste.

Oedipus, meaning 'swollen-footed', had been abanoned by his parents, Iocaste and Laius, King and Queen of Thebes, after his birth, after it was announced by the oracle in Delphi that their son would kill his father and marry his mother. They ordered a sheperd to leave him on a mountain, after they had pierced his feet, which gave him his name. Many years later he is told by a drunk that his adoptive parents, the king and queen of Corinth, aren't his real parents. When he confronts him they deny not being his parents, so he goes to Delphi to find out the truth. The Oracle tells him he will kill his father and marry his mother, so he decides to not return to Corinth, but travel to Thebes.

On the way he meets an old man, who he gets into a fight with over who is allowed to pass first and he killls him. What he didn't know was that this old man was King Laius, his father. The only witness of the murder is a slave.

The way to Thebes is blocked by a Sphinx, who gives everyone a riddle. If you do not awnser it correctly she will kill you. If you do she will plunge herself of the rocks. She gives Oedipus the following riddle:
'What walks on four feet in the morning, on two in the afternoon and on three in the evening?'
He knows that the anwser is: a human.  As a reward for freeing Thebes he becomes king and gets to marry Iocaste, the Queen, whose husband has died. Nobody, inlcuding himself, knows Oedipus is the King's killer. He and Iocaste have four children.

Many years later, the city is tormented by The Plague. Oedipus sends his brother-in-law, Creon, to the Oracle in the hope that it will tell them how to get rid of The Plague. Creaon returns with the message that the killer of King Laius has to be found. They call i nthe help of the blind prophet Tiresias, who is pressured into revealing that Oedipus is the killer of the King. He however doesn't yet know he was adopted, which Iocaste finds out before him. She hangs herself, while he realizes he married his mother and killed his father. He gouges his eyes out, using one of Iocaste's brooches. He exiles himself and his daughter Antigone becomes his guide.

So much for the introduction. This is where Antigone's story really begins. She guides her father throughout Greece, always at his side. When he dies in Colonus she returns to Thebes, where her two brothers have been fighting over who will be king. The killed each other in a final duel and Creon, who is now king, gives one of them a state funeral, while the other, Polyneices, is left outside on the battlefield. It is forbidden to everyone to burry him. But Antigone feels it is her duty to burry her brother and therefore goes out onto the field and performs the last rites for her brother.

Creon is told about this and he imprisons Antigone. His son, Haemon, and Antigone are in love and have been secretly engaged. When Haemon hears of his fiancee's imprisonment he urges his father to release her immediatly. When Creon refuses Heamon threatens to take his own life. Creon gives in and they go to release Antigone. When they come to her cell they find she has hanged herself to escape further punishment. He holds her in his arms as she breathes her last breath. Haemon goes mad at the sight of his dead love and kills himself as well.

I have always loved Antigone's story, because I think she is one of the few women in Ancient Greek literature that thinks for herself and makes her own decisions. She knew she risked her life, burrying her brother, but she felt it as her duty as a sister to give him the honour of a decent funeral.
Also, the way she has guided her father, who has sunk into disgrace, is very touching. She isn't repulsed by his incestuous acts, but still loves him, for after all, he is still her father.
The love story between her and Haemon isn't very elaborate, but it is true love. She is his reason for living and when she dies in his arms he goes mad. First he lunges his sword at his father, before planting it inside his own chest. His mother, Eurydice, kills herself when hearing her son has dies.

This play has a very Shakespearean feel to it. Everybody dies in the end, except the "villain" Creon. There is love, there is confusion. And in the end it was all caused by the Oracle.

What is your favourite Ancient Greek character?

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