Mythical Greek princess

Antigone, an important figure in Greek drama, was the daughter of Oedipus (the king of Thebes) and Jocasta (his mother and wife). „ Perhaps better than any character, she has come to symbolize personal courage and strength in behaving according to her conscience, even when that action was in opposition to the laws of the state. Two of the tragedies of Sophocles—Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone—are the chief sources of Antigone’s inspiring story.

The first tragedy tells how Oedipus, blinded by a self-inflicted wound and banished from Thebes, is guided during his exile by his loving and devoted daughter, Antigone, until he chooses to die. His two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, quarrel over who will succeed to the throne, and the prediction is made that the brothers will murder each other.

In the second tragedy, Creon, the brother of Jocasta, becomes king. Creon orders that his dead nephew Eteocles, whom he favored, be buried with full honors, while Polynices, whom he declared a traitor, be denied burial. Antigone defies the edict and buries her brother Polynices, for which she is brought before Creon. He rules that she be locked in an underground vault and left to die—even though she is betrothed to Creon’s son, Haemon. The king is unmoved by Haemon’s appeal for Antigone’s life, until the prophet Tiresias tells Creon that he has angered the gods. (The gods forbid both the exposure of the dead and the underground burial of the living.) Accordingly, the king relents, allowing the burial of Polynices, and calling for the rescue of Antigone. But his change of mind is too late; Antigone has hanged herself. In sorrow and anger, Haemon kills himself in the presence of Creon and Eurydice, the queen. Eurydice takes her own life, and Creon is left a ruined man, having lost both his family and the throne.

Antigone has inspired writers through the ages. It asks the timeless question of when should an individual be guided by the higher, unwritten laws of conscience, and when by the laws of state. The French playwrights Jean Cocteau (in 1922) and Jean Anouilh (in 1942) each wrote an adaptation of Antigone, both of which were translated into English. Anouilh wrote his play during the German occupation of France in World War II. In this version of the story, Antigone is portrayed as a woman speaking out against tyranny. (See also Aeschylus; Drama, Greek; Euripides; Sophocles.)

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