Antigone Vs. Oedipus: Differences, Similarities, Genderm, Role Reversal
Characters and tragic heroes from Sophocles’ plays, Oedipus and Antigone – two of the many sacred stories of ancient Greek mythology – King Oedipus, the father, and daughter, Antigone, share a number of similarities, as well as a few differences. Both of these stories give frequent reminders of that society’s view of women as lesser beings than men, so these gender roles are key elements in each story, however, the reversal of these roles has the potential to completely change the actions, reactions, events, and conclusions of both stories.
Oedipus and Antigone do, as previously mentioned, share many similarities, but they also both have differences that separate them, and these are very important. Firstly, Oedipus is short-tempered, and many times throughout the story acts out in anger, making rash decisions, and saying or doing things that he would not if he was not angry. This gets Oedipus into a great deal of trouble on multiple occasions. Early in the story, while talking with Jocasta, Oedipus admits:
“…in anger I struck the driver who was forcing me off the road…I killed them all” (Oedipus 779, 785).
Oedipus admits that he acted out of great anger, and he soon realizes that he committed a terrible crime. Antigone, on the other hand, is more even-tempered than her father. In relationship to the gods, Antigone is respectful of them, and she obeys the laws that they have set, specifically that which requires that the dead be buried. In contrast, Oedipus defies the gods. He seeks to be above them in the eyes of the people of Thebes, to have them take his word before theirs, and to look to him, their king, before looking to the gods. Oedipus says:
“You are praying. Your prayers will be granted if you hear my words obediently and are prepared to do what this disease requires.” (Oedipus 213-215).
Oedipus speaks as if he is the one that will answer the prayers of the people and that he will be their savior, making no mention of the gods. A third difference between Oedipus and Antigone is peripeteia: the transition from happiness to misery and that, which, according to Aristotle, must be experienced by the tragic hero. Oedipus can certainly be said to have gone from happiness: being happily married, a king loved by his people, and a delighted father, to misery: becoming hated by the gods and despised by the people. Antigone, on the other hand, was not necessarily happy to begin with, and is completely knowing and expectant of her fate. Antigone confirms:
“You are to live, while my soul perished long ago, which is why I could help the dead” (Antigone 536-537).
Antigone reveals that she died a long time before the events of the story took place. Despite these differences, Antigone and Oedipus share far more similarities. Even the chorus cannot deny that.
“The maiden’s unyielding nature shows she was born of an unyielding father” (Antigone 451-452).
This statement is made by the chorus not too far into Creon’s questioning of Antigone when she comes in, admitting to what she did, and completely without shame. Antigone’s hubris can also be seen during that same encounter with the king. Oedipus’ hubris is so great that it gets him into quite a bit of trouble. Antigone, as mentioned above, certainly displays a form of this hubris, which may not necessarily be as firm and overpowering as that of her father, but there is no doubt that this trait is seen in her throughout the story. Secondly, both Oedipus and Antigone choose to ignore reality. Oedipus is told the prophecy on his life by both the gods and Tiresias, and then reminded of it by his wife and mother, Jocasta, but he constantly refuses to accept it.
Antigone hears the edict made by Creon, which says that whoever buries Polynices, a traitor to the city of Thebes, will suffer death by public stoning. Antigone is well of aware of this, ignores the consequences, as well as the warnings and attempts at persuasion made by her sister, Ismene, then does the deed anyway. Thirdly, both Oedipus and Antigone are stubborn, as well as determined. It is important to note the difference between the two. Oedipus is determined to find out his origin, despite Jocasta’s eventual pleading with him to leave it alone. At the same time, he is very stubborn, as he refuses to accept the prophecy, which is revealed to him multiple times. Antigone is also both determined and stubborn. She is determined to bury her brother, Polynices, with or without help and no matter what decrees or edicts have been made. She is stubborn when presented to Creon, refusing to show any form of remorse, shame, or guilt, which Creon so readily expects from her. Antigone says:
“Then why do you delay? For nothing in your words pleases me, or will ever please me, just as whatever I say will always displease you” (Antigone 476-478).
Antigone and Oedipus are both quick and decisive and act without hesitation, however, because of these actions, ultimately, they are responsible for the self-infliction of their individual, unfortunate ends.
In Greek mythology, society’s views on gender were very specific. Men were expected to be strong and masculine, while women were considered inferior to men. The reason for this goes back to Pandora’s Box.
“The curiosity and foolishness which drove Pandora to open the box were forever after viewed as typical attributes of women and supposedly justified their inferiority to men. Additionally, they came to be known as sneaky, conniving temptresses who would carelessly complicate the lives of men. While men were known for their strength, women were associated with trickery. Women’s confinement intended to prevent them from giving in to their inherently wicked nature which would inevitably lead them to trouble” (Heise, Wahl, and Schmuhl).
Women’s rights were just barely greater than those of slaves during that time. Antigone’s role as a female is important, because this is an example of a woman coming out her place and going beyond where her rights and status allow her. Throughout the story, Creon refers to people as men and completely excludes women. While the guards try to capture the guilty criminal who went against the king’s edict, they unknowingly refer to “her” as “he.”
“Which of the men dared do that?…I hope he will be found, I really do!” (Antigone 244, 314).
The possibility of any Theban citizen rebelling against the king is a deal of great magnitude anytime it becomes reality, but for that rebel to be a woman would be completely preposterous. King Creon reacts to the finding of Antigone, asking many questions:
“How did you seize her? Where did you bring her from?…Do you understand what you are saying? Do you mean the words you are speaking?…How was she seen? Was she caught in the act?” (Antigone 388, 390-391, 393).
Even King Creon cannot believe the fact that he is being defied by a woman. Oedipus, on the other hand, fits the strong, “manly” standard, and he is a very powerful leader.
In all of this, it has been made clear that there are many connections between Oedipus and Antigone, but what would the stories have been like had Oedipus and Antigone been in reversed roles? Antigone, as the dearly loved queen of Thebes who has a terrible prophecy on her life that she is trying to avoid, would have much less power to do the things Oedipus did in that situation. Antigone would not have the right to act out in anger as Oedipus did so many times, like on the road to Thebes, or in conversations with Tiresias and Creon, and Antigone would probably not have been able to defy the gods as Oedipus did. However, in all these limitations, many of the routes that were taken by Laius and Jocasta, Oedipus’ parents, as well as by Oedipus himself, only sped along the fulfillment of the prophecy.
Perhaps if Laius, Jocasta, and Oedipus had simply revered the gods and prayed to them to revoke or change the prophecy, things would have gone differently. Antigone, as a woman, would probably not have been allowed to travel alone to Thebes either, so the events that took place would have either not happened at all, or happened very differently.
Oedipus, placed in Antigone’s situation, is looked upon with pity as a product of disgrace, (parent’s sin) only to make things worse by defying the king in an act of supposed honor. This story may have been less interesting since Antigone’s role as a woman is of great importance because of the rarity of events like those taking place. Creon, himself, said:
“That is why decrees must be defended and not left to be undermined by a woman. If one is to be toppled, then better by a man” (Antigone 650-651).
With Oedipus in that position, things may have gone very differently. There may have been an actual chance at Creon’s throne being overturned. Although the city of Thebes was supposedly on the side of Antigone and supported her honorable deed, they dared not back this woman instead of their king, who is a dominating male. Oedipus, however, may very well have been able to win the active support of the people of Thebes and then overpower Creon’s rule and decree.
Oedipus and Antigone, both great stories of tragedy, go together hand in hand. It is always interesting to see traits and personalities shared among generations. Even more interesting, the greatness of a continuing line of tragic heroes within a single family makes for a great story that has equally great sequels in store.