There’s a bunch of worry over where Oedipus is going to be
buried, and he’s not even dead yet. First Creon wants him to come back to
Thebes so that he can be buried “near the land of Cadmus, so that they / Might
have sway over you! But you would not cross the borders of the land” (399-400).
This is because Oedipus is cursed, on account of having killed his father and
married his mother. The Gods don't just forget when something like that goes
down—it's all kinds of wrong.
The Thebans believe that if they let him back into their
land, he’ll curse them, which explains why people don't want him crossing the
borders of the land. But they do want to have sway over his grave because, as
Ismene explains, “Should your tomb suffer misfortune, it will bring a heavy
burden for them” (402). Graves are super sacred for the ancient Greeks, so even
if a guy is cursed, you can’t have people tampering with his final resting spot
and expect to get away with it.
Oedipus has his own ideas about where he should be buried
though. He promises Theseus that if he protects him, he’ll offer his “miserable
body” as “a gift to you” (576-77). Not exactly a conventional hostess gift, but
Theseus is interested. It turns out that Oedipus’ body will be a source of
superpowers to whoever is ruling Athens.
When Oedipus is on the verge of dying, he finally explains
his weird offering to Theseus:
I myself will
immediately lead the way,
Untouched by a guide,
to the place where I must die.
Never tell this to
anyone among humans—
Neither where it has
been hidden nor in what region it lies,
So that this may
always provide you with a strength
That surpasses many
shields and the foreign spears of many neighbors. (1520-25)
We don’t think Creon knows about these super powers; he
genuinely is motivated by fear when he tries to control Oedipus’ final resting
place. But Theseus does keep the secret and does pretty well for himself, all
thanks to showing mercy to a wandering soul.