Antigone — The Daughter Of Oedipus Family Tree
The two most famous tragedies by Sophocles, an ancient Greek playwright, are connected with the single bloodline that starts from the grandfather of Oedipus and ends at Antigone and her brother. The family saga full of issues, incestuous relationships and curses starts from Menoeceus, an ancient Greek King who fathered Creon and Jocasta – each of which plays the important role in the future story. Menoeceus himself doesn’t take the major part in the Theban plays, but his existence is important to understand how really tangled the family relations are. Another character, who is important historically but absent in both tragedies, is Labdacus, a founder of Thebes and the father of King Laius. These two patriarchs gave birth to the whole Antigone family Tree of the rulers of Thebes and Corinth.
Laius, the son of Labdacus, becomes the King of Thebes and marries Jocasta, a princess from Corinth, thus becoming Creon’s brother-in-law, not only neighbor. From now on the relationships between the two families become complicated, because the events of the first tragedy by Sophocles, “Oedipus” start to unwind. Laius and Jocasta have their firstborn son, the aforementioned Oedipus. But the oracle whom Laius visits to learn about the fate of his heir, tells him the horrible news: Oedipus will kill his father and have an incestuous relationship with his mother. Horrified, but unable to kill his son himself, King Laius orders one of his shepherds to take the baby into the wilderness and leave it to the wolves. Not knowing about the prophecy, the shepherd sees just a little innocent soul his cruel King wants dead. He decides to cheat, meeting the fellow shepherd from Corinth and asking him to take the baby through the border to some good family to adopt. The Corinthian shepherd takes Oedipus to no less than King Creon and Queen Euridice, who adopt him and raise as their own heir.
Antigone`s Family Tree
The young Prince of Corinth grows up and decides to visit the oracle, asking for his fate. The oracle tells him the same thing: Oedipus is the killer of his father and the lover of his mother. Horrified no less than Laius before, Oedipus decides to flee to Thebes and never meet his (step)parents. So the cruel and dramatic irony of the tragedy is that Oedipus returns to his real family, not knowing about his origins. On his way to Thebes he meets an arrogant old nobleman who demands Oedipus to step away from the road. The Prince refuses, considering himself of no lower origin, and the nobleman attacks him. Oedipus kills him in self-defence, thus fulfilling the first part of the prophecy: the stranger was Laius. Oedipus continues his journey, but when he comes to the city, the Prince learns that the King is dead, and the Queen doesn’t have any children. Oedipus starts helping and soon he is loved by the people so much that they elect him their new King. Queen Jocasta agrees to marry him and they conceive children: Antigone and her brother Polynices are amongst them. Later, when the terrible truth is revealed, Jocasta kills herself and Oedipus plucks his own eyes out (for this was the punishment he himself announced for the murderer of King Laius, whoever they were) and goes into exile to die in shame and poverty.
The events of the first tragedy end here, but the misfortunes caused by the family curse don’t. The tragedy of Antigone written by Sophocles to continue the story of the next generation: Antigone, her brother and the son of Creon, who was born long after Oedipus. The tradition of arranging the marriages between Thebes and Corinth still continues despite the horrible case of Oedipus. This time everyone is fully aware who is their son. Antigone becomes engaged the son of her uncle (and step-grandfather) Creon, Haemon. What could possibly go wrong? It turns out, that despite her duty to marry Haemon and solidify the union of the two kingdoms, Antigone is fiercely loyal to her family, up to the point that there are rumors that she is too, like her father, involved into an incestuous relationship, this time with her brother Polynices. It turns out to be true: Polynices is the only one who Antigone sincerely loves. When this comes out from the shadows, Polynices is killed and the engagement between Antigone and Haemon is immediately broken. Antigone, though, is still considered, and treated as a princess. So everything still could be fine, but one very important tradition of the ancient Greek people was deliberately violated: Creon doesn’t allow to bury Polynices properly. Now Antigone brother’s soul is damned and doomed to wander around, unable to move on to the afterlife. This is too much for Antigone. She begs Creon at first, and the turns to demands, angering the King. When Creon still refuses, Antigone decides to bury her beloved Polynices by herself.
When Creon is away, Antigone fulfills her plan, though questioning Creon’s authority. She violates his order, moreover, she wins the respect of the people for her deed. They now consider Creon a cruel King and Antigone a victim of her own mercy. When Creon returns, he has no other options than to imprison Antigone to solidify his authority as a ruler and punish her for her stubbornness. This decision causes him great troubles, because the people of Corinth are ready to rebel against him, demanding to free Antigone and bury Polynices. King Creon decides to make a gambit: he waits for some time and then goes to the place the imprisonment of his almost-daughter-in-law, pretending that he listens to the demands of his people. But Antigone, not knowing that her freedom is near, hears only that King Creon is approaching her. Stubborn to the end, she decides to take her own life, so that the King, who was so angry at her, won’t have the pleasure of killing her himself. When Creon enters her prison, Antigone is already dead.
Both tragedies are connected with the same meta motif: no one can fight the family curse. The ruling families of Thebes and Corinth are the Montague and the Capulets of Ancient Greece: they are just destined to suffer. In case of Oedipus it is absolutely not justified: he is a good person, who loves his family, parents and wife, he is a wise and just ruler, ready to do anything to avenge the death of his predecessor. Even in his very last moment before his exile we see him thinking about his kids. Polynices inherits the short temper of his father and Antigone, as his daughter, inherits not only the title of the princess, but his fierce devotion to his family. They both are also the victims of an incestuous relationship and tragic fate, thus we don’t know if it is also a part of the curse. The only ones from the family who manage to live through both tragedies are Creon (though his authority as a ruler is shattered, because the people of Corinth love Antigone so much), his wife Euridice and the two other children of Jocasta and Oedipus named Ismene (who is barely mentioned) and Eteocles (who isn’t a good person at all, ready to kill his own brother for the throne, but still for some reasons portrayed as more positive character than Creon). From the Theban plays we don’t learn their further fate, so we can only hope that the family curse has lost its power over them.
Antigone family tree resembles one of ancient Greek gods, where parents and kids, brothers and sisters can also have the incestuous relationship. But one of the major aesops of both tragedies, especially the first one, is that no one is allowed to question or change the will of gods. The gods were perfectly aware about the future fate of Oedipus and Antigone – the two major tragic characters of both plays, but still did nothing to help them. The Fate in this setting is cruel, oblivious and omnipotent, making even the good people like Oedipus and Antigone, who just wanted to bury her brother and preserve her honor from public execution, feel miserable and suffer. No one in the both plays directly deserves the fate they get, and this make the Theban plays by Sophocles the example of iconic ancient Greek tragedy. They became a source of inspiration for many generations of future playwrights, including William Shakespeare himself, they are still played on the modern stages and still gather the huge audience. The millennia have passed, but it still feels modern and touches our hearts as much as it was in the times of Sophocles, because the feelings shown in the plays do not depend on time or culture.