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Antigone: Pre-Reading Background

The story of Oedipus

Mindy May

on 18 April 2017

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Transcript of Antigone: Pre-Reading Background

Lived during the Golden Age of Athens
Was a member of the middle class and served in the New Democracy and as a priest
Wrote 123 plays, only 7 of which survive
Is based on the myth of Oedipus
It's the third play in a trilogy
There was once a king named Laius who ruled over Thebes, with Jocasta his wife. To them an Oracle had foretold that if their son lived to grow up, he would one day kill his father and marry his own mother.
The ancient citizens of Greece would sacrifice and pray to an ORACLE. An oracle was a priest or priestess who would send a message from the gods to mortals who brought their requests.
The king and queen resolve to escape such a doom, even at terrible cost. Accordingly, Laius gives his son, who was only a baby, to a certain herdsman, with instructions to put him to death.
The herdsman leaves the baby alone to die. By chance, a servant of the king and queen of the nearby city of Corinth comes across Oedipus. He takes the baby back to the king and queen and they adopt him as their own, as they have no children themselves.
Oedipus grows up and learns of the oracle’s fortune. Believing the king and queen of Corinth are his birth parents, he leaves the city of Corinth to avoid his fate and heads toward Thebes.
One day, King Laius and one attendant travel to Delphi from the city Thebes. In a narrow road the King meets this strange young man, also driving in a chariot, and orders him to get out of the way. Oedipus, who had been raised with princely honors, refuses to obey.
The king's chariot driver, in great anger, kills one of the young man's horses. At this insult, Oedipus attacks master and servant. Overcome with rage, he kills them both and goes on his way, not knowing the half of what he had done. The first prophecy of the Oracle is fulfilled.
There was a creature called the Sphinx, which had been a terror to Thebes for many days. In form half woman and half lion, she crouched near the highway and put the same mysterious question to every passer-by. None had ever been able to answer, and none had ever lived to warn men of the riddle; the Sphinx killed everyone who failed.
Oedipus traveled toward the city Thebes, and the Sphinx crouched, face to face with him, and spoke the riddle that none had been able to guess.
"What animal is that which in the morning goes on four feet, at noon on two, and in the evening upon three?"
Oedipus, hiding his dread of the terrible creature, thought about it and answered, "Man. In childhood he creeps on hands and knees, in manhood he walks erect, but in old age he has need of a staff."
At this reply the Sphinx dies. Oedipus had guessed the answer. When he arrives in the city and tells the Thebans that their torment is gone, they reward him by making him king.
For years Oedipus lives in peace, unwitting; but after some time, disease and hunger spreads through the city. In his distress, the king sends to the Oracle at Delphi to know what he or the Thebans had done, that they should be so sorely punished. Then for the third time the Oracle speaks of Oedipus' fateful sentence; and Oedipus learns all.
Jocasta, horrified, hangs herself.
Oedipus takes his doom upon himself, stabbing out his own eyes.
After mutilating himself, Oedipus wanders out of Thebes and into the wilderness with his daughter
As Polyneices goes off to raise an army, Oedipus returns to the wilderness with his daughters. Here he dies, and Antigone and Ismene return to Thebes.
With Oedipus gone and wandering the wilderness, Antigone’s brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, are to rule Thebes in alternate years.
Eteocles bribes the men of Thebes to turn against Polyneices and refuses to give up the throne for Polyneices at the end of his year.
Before leaving to Argos, Polyneices asks his sisters, Antigone and Ismene, to give him a proper burial should he die in battle.
Eteocles and Polyneices kill each other in battle.
Antigone’s uncle, Creon, becomes king of Thebes.
Creon gives Eteocles, his ally, a hero’s burial and issues a decree against burying Polyneices. Polyneices' body is left outside the city to rot and be eaten by wild animals.
Antigone believes that Creon is wrong and that both of her brothers should be buried with honor...
The Author
The Trilogy
A Horrifying Fate
Oedipus Rex
A Double Death
Oedipus at Colonus
The Curse Continues
496-406 B.C.
Greek Playwright
They marry him with great honor to their widowed queen, Jocasta, his own mother. The destiny is fulfilled. The couple has four children: Polyneices, Eteocles (sons), Antigone, and Ismene (daughters).
Yes...she was his daughter AND his sister...
Oedipus returns home with Antigone and learns of what happened. Polyneices tells his father that he will go to Argos (A nearby city) to raise an army to gain the throne. Oedipus tells his son that he wishes him a terrible fate for planning such a thing.
While Antigone and Ismene are on their way back to Thebes, Polyneices brings his supporters from Argos and wages a battle against his brother, Eteocles.
And that's where the final saga begins...
Watch this modern version of the Antigone Prologue to get an idea of the family struggle brewing among all the characters.
Full transcript