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Check out the full version of the story as told by our buddy Thomas Bulfinch.
The poems and histories of legendary Greece often relate, as has
been seen, to women and their lives. Antigone was as bright an
example of filial and sisterly fidelity as was Alcestis of
connubial devotion. She was the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta,
who, with all their descendants, were the victims of an
unrelenting fate, dooming them to destruction. Oedipus in his
madness had torn out his eyes, and was driven forth from his
kingdom Thebes, dreaded and abandoned by all men, as an object of
divine vengeance. Antigone, his daughter, alone shared his
wanderings, and remained with him till he died, and then returned
Her brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, had agreed to share the
kingdom between them, and reign alternately year by year. The
first year fell to the lot of Eteocles, who, when his time
expired, refused to surrender the kingdom to his brother.
Polynices fled to Adrastus, king of Argos, who gave him his
daughter in marriage, and aided him with an army to enforce his
claim to the kingdom. This led to the celebrated expedition of
the "Seven against Thebes," which furnished ample materials for
the epic and tragic poets of Greece.
Amphiaraus, the brother-in-law of Adrastus, opposed the
enterprise, for he was a soothsayer, and knew by his art that no
one of the leaders except Adrastus would live to return. But
Amphiaraus, on his marriage to Eriphyle, the king's sister, had
agreed that whenever he and Adrastus should differ in opinion,
the decision should be left to Eriphyle. Polynices, knowing
this, gave Eriphyle the collar of Harmonia, and thereby gained
her to his interest. This collar or necklace was a present which
Vulcan had given to Harmonia on her marriage with Cadmus, and
Polynices had taken it with him on his flight from Thebes.
Eriphyle could not resist so tempting a bribe, and by her
decision the war was resolved on, and Amphiaraus went to his
certain fate. He bore his part bravely in the contest, but could
not avert his destiny. Pursued by the enemy he fled along the
river, when a thunderbolt launched by Jupiter opened the ground,
and he, his chariot, and his charioteer, were swallowed up.
It would not be in place here to detail all the acts of heroism
or atrocity which marked the contest; but we must not omit to
record the fidelity of Evadne as an offset to the weakness of
Eriphyle. Capaneus, the husband of Evadne, in the ardor of the
fight, declared that he would force his way into the city in
spite of Jove himself. Placing a ladder against the wall, he
mounted, but Jupiter, offended at his impious language, struck
him with a thunderbolt. When his obsequies were celebrated,
Evadne cast herself on his funeral pile and perished.
Early in the contest Eteocles consulted the soothsayer Tiresias
as to the issue. Tiresias, in his youth, had by chance seen
Minerva bathing. The goddess in her wrath deprived him of his
sight, but afterwards relenting gave him in compensation the
knowledge of future events. When consulted by Eteocles, he
declared that victory should fall to Thebes if Menoeceus, the son
of Creon, gave himself a voluntary victim. The heroic youth,
learning the response, threw away his life in the first
The siege continued long, with various success. At length both
hosts agreed that the brothers should decide their quarrel by
single combat. They fought and fell by each other's hands. The
armies then renewed the fight, and at last the invaders were
forced to yield, and fled, leaving their dead unburied. Creon,
the uncle of the fallen princes, now become king, caused Eteocles
to be buried with distinguished honor, but suffered the body of
Polynices to lie where it fell, forbidding every one, on pain of
death, to give it burial.
Antigone, the sister of Polynices, heard with indignation the
revolting edict which consigned her brother's body to the dogs
and vultures, depriving it of those rites which were considered
essential to the repose of the dead. Unmoved by the dissuading
counsel of an affectionate but timid sister, and unable to
procure assistance, she determined to brave the hazard and to
bury the body with her own hands. She was detected in the act,
and Creon gave orders that she should be buried alive, as having
deliberately set at nought the solemn edict of the city. Her
love, Haemon, the son of Creon, unable to avert her fate, would
not survive her, and fell by his own hand.
Antigone forms the subject of two fine tragedies of the Grecian
poet Sophocles. Mrs. Jameson, in her Characteristics of Women,
has compared her character with that of Cordelia, in
Shakespeare's King Lear. The perusal of her remarks cannot fail
to gratify our readers.
The following is the lamentation of Antigone over Oedipus, when
death has at last relieved him from his sufferings:
"Alas! I only wished I might have died
With my poor father; wherefore should I ask
For longer life?
Oh, I was fond of misery with him;
E'en what was most unlovely grew beloved
When he was with me. Oh, my dearest father,
Beneath the earth now in deep darkness hid,
Worn as thou wert with age, to me thou still
Wast dear, and shalt be ever."