This is a post for my March book challenge, #marchmonthofmythology.
You’ve probably heard of Oedipus, the guy who killed his father and married his mother. He was part of another cursed family, the house of Thebes, and even after all his misfortune, the curse wasn’t lifted. No, it continued with his children.
Polyneices vs. Eteocles
Oedipus had four children (yes, with his mother), two girls and two twin boys. One of those girls was Antigone. After Oedipus had blinded himself and fled Thebes upon finding out the truth of what he had done, the rule of the city passed on to these twins. Their names were Polyneices and Eteocles. Because they both wanted to rule, they agreed that one of them would rule for a year at a time, after which they would switch. Eteocles was the first to rule the city; once the year had passed, however, he refused to give up his position. So Polyneices left… and came back with an army.
In the following battle, known as the Seven Against Thebes because Polyneices attacked with six other leaders, the conflict came to a horrible climax. Eteocles and Polyneices ended up fighting each other one on one, and simultaneously stabbed and killed each other. Though both leaders were dead, the battle was won by Thebes, where the twins’ uncle Creon (who was their mother’s brother and their father’s uncle) was left in charge.
After the battle, Creon ordered that none of the enemy soldiers were to be given proper burial – including Polyneices. Antigone could not agree with this: she wanted her brother to be buried, which was the only way for his spirit to reach the Underworld. On top of that, the city was suffering from a blight, which she suspected was a punishment from the gods for denying the burial. So she left the city at night and performed a symbolic burial, simply throwing some dirt on Polyneices’ body. The body had been guarded, however, and though Antigone hadn’t been caught, the guards had noticed the ‘burial’, removed the dirt and went to tell Creon.
Now, Creon had no idea who’d performed the burial. He suspected political enemies, out to undermine his power, not his niece! For some reason, though, Antigone went back the next night. Perhaps she thought she had to redo the burial, now that the dirt had been removed. Perhaps she had wanted to return anyway, to perform more of the burial rites, like a libation – she’d taken a flask of water with her this time. Perhaps she wanted to be caught.
Antigone vs. Creon
This time, the guards caught Antigone red-handed and brought her over to Creon. This sparked a magnificent confrontation between two very stubborn people. Creon, on the one hand, representing human law and order and political power; Antigone, on the other, representing family values and divine law. Both convinced of their own right, neither willing to concede. I definitely recommend reading Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone to read their spirited debate.
In the end, though, Creon being the one in power, there was only one way this could end. Incensed by his niece’s stubbornness, he sentenced her to death. She was to be led down into an underground chamber, buried alive. Once again I recommend Sophocles’ Antigone; Antigone’s panic right before she’s lead into the burial chamber, her resolve finally starting to crack just a little bit, make for an emotional and very human scene.
Creon is starting to see sense…
With Antigone underground, slowly awaiting her death, Creon’s problems had not been solved. The blight was still terrorizing the city, people and crops and animals dying. Only after the famous seer Tiresias told him that the gods wanted Polyneices buried, in fact only after he had sent Tiresias away angrily and thought for a while, did Creon admit he had been wrong. He saw to it that Polyneices was buried properly, then had Antigone freed from her tomb.
The only problem was: he was too late. Antigone, seeing no way out, had not awaited her death by hunger or thirst, but hung herself from the ceiling of her tomb.
Antigone – a character who stands up for what they believe in
Third time’s the charm, so I’m going to say again: read Sophocles’ Antigone. I’ve told you the story, but it’s the characterization, the dialogues, the standoff between Creon and Antigone that make this play worthwhile. I also left a few things out to add to the shock value of the play.
For my picture I chose another stubborn girl, though she has a very different set of problems: Matilda. I’d say punishing the adults who wrong you is definitely a way of standing up.