Antigone: Background and Analysis

Lytras_nikiforos_antigone_polynicesBackground information: Antigone was the sequel to three different plays: Oedipus, the King by Sophocles; Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles; Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus, the father of drama.

Oedipus, the King tells the story of Oedipus who killed his father, and had illegitimate children with his mother thus making him both Antigone’s father and brother. While trying to solve the mystery of who killed Laius, the previous king, in order to stop the plague. During his investigation, Oedipus denied Tiresias, the blind prophet of Apollo, when he proclaimed that Oedipus was responsible for Laius’s death. Later, Oedipus discovered he was guilty of the crime. This knowledge led to Oedipus’s downfall, and he abandoned the city of Thebes after blinding himself in an act of penance.

Oedipus at Colonus is a play about redemption. The play actually won a court case in Athens. The writer, Sophocles was being sued for being incompetent by his son. Sophocles read his play in court which so impressed the jurors that they ruled in favor of Sophocles and awarded him damages. All costs of the trial were imposed on Sophocles’s son.

In the play, Oedipus was championed by his two daughters, Ismene and Antigone. At the same time, his two sons, Etocles and Polynices were feuding over which of them would rule Thebes while ignoring their father’s crime. However, Polynices asked for his father’s blessing in overthrowing Etocles and taking total control of Thebes. Oedipus refused while cursing his son, Polynices, and distanced himself from him.

Seven Against Thebes is a vastly, different play that takes place during the same period as Oedipus at Colonus. After Oedipus is exiled, his two sons decide both will rule Thebes by taking turns as King. However, Etocles decided he will not share the throne and will remain King without compromising. Polynices attempts to garner Creon”s support for the joint kingship, but his attempt failed as Creon was fine with the status quo. Then, Polynices formed an army to take Thebes by force. He requested Oedipus support his plans however Oedipus refuses, and Polynices is cursed yet once again. Polynices attempts to invade Thebes in a massive battle, and both brothers are killed during the fighting. As part of the tragic aftermath, Creon becomes King, inheriting the throne as Polynices and Etocles’s uncle, and the surviving male of the royal family. Creon orders that Etocles should be buried. However, his declaration states that Polynices will remain unburied and cast as a traitor for attacking Thebes.

urlIn the timeline,  Antigone follows the Seven Against Thebes play. In Antigone, one learns that in the Greek religion remaining unburied is one of the worst circumstances that can befall the deceased because in the traditional Greek religlon, Hellenism, one is consigned to eternity as a ghost forever roaming. Antigone is inconsolable about her brother Polynices’s fate as he wanders unmourned and unburied. Antigone determined that Polynices must be buried and approached her sister Ismene for assistance. Her sister rebuffs Antigone by explaining that caution is the name of the game. Additionally, Ismene  warns that Creon may be very dangerous if his pronouncements are thwarted.  Antigone erupts in anger and disowns Ismene,

Antigone travels to the body of Polynices where she throws dirt all over his body. Creon learns of the treachery and calls for her death. He attempts to have her entombed in a cave.

His son Haemon views him as myopic and beseeches him to show Antigone mercy. Creon refuses. At last, Tyresius returns and warns Creon of the peril he faces if he does not release Antigone. Finally Creon agrees to grant her freedom and travels to the cave where he finds Antigone has committed suicide. Next, Haemon discovers her death and tries to kill his father, Creon. He fails and commits suicide. Creon’s wife, Eurydice, finds out about her son’s death and in despair commits suicide leaving Creon to mourn the death of his beloved family.

Our dramaturge has put together a striking case comparing Ancient Greece during this tumultous time with the shaken post-9/11 time period. Click here to explore how America transforms after the events of September 11, 2001.

Written by Tyler Reardon, Dramaturge
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