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    Antigone and the Oedipus Cycle    

I get alot of questions about the name I use on IRC, ICQ, my email, and other things. So I decided to write up a little something that I can refer them to, which will also be educational for others as well. Here it goes...

The name Antigone (pronounced Ann-tig-o-knee) is a name taken from the stories that are collectively called The Oedipus Cycle. The three stories are, in order, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone. The first person to record these stories on paper was Sophocles, but he certainly didn't write them. They are based on stories that were handed down by word of mouth for a very long time. If you have never studied Tragic Literature, then it would be helpful for you to know that Tragedies are moral stories that were meant to be cathartic.

The Greek Tragedy genre of literature is purposely written to provoke extreme emotions of sadness, hate, happiness, despair, etc in the audience. The greeks believed that by watching these plays and feeling these emotions together in a group, they would be able to be more balanced emotionally in their "real lives" and less likely to fall victim to violent emotions, which would impair their judgment. This was considered good for society in general.

The Greeks also firmly believed that you could learn from the mistakes of others (to some degree), but that things were largely decreed by the Gods. They believed that foolish things like pride and ego were a sin, and that if you were not willing to take advice and learn from the wisdom of others, you were doomed to failure and misery. The story of Oedipus is a prime example of this sentiment.

Oedipus was an ill-fated man who was told by the Oracle At Delphi that he was doomed to kill his father and marry his mother. He didn't know that he was actually adopted (or that his real parents had sent him away precisely because of this prophecy), or that he had been rescued by a Shepard and brought to his home, and so he vowed to escape his fate. He left home, never to return, and set out to make his way in the world. As he was coming back from visiting the Oracle, he met a man and his guards on the narrow mountain pass. The men tried to run him off the side of the mountain and kill him, and he fought for his life. He killed the men in self-defense, and continued on his way.

He eventually reached Thebes, which was tormented year after year by a Phoenix. The king had been murdered, and anyone who could answer the Phoenix' riddle would marry the queen and become king. Oedipus answered the riddle correctly. After many years of pleasant life, and having been a wise and revered king, Oedipus found out that he had, indeed, killed his father (the king, on the mountain pass) and married his mother (the queen) and, still worse, he had four children by her (Antigone, Ismene, Eteocles, and Polynices). His mother/wife hung herself when she found out, and when he came upon her body, he took the pins from her dress and plucked his eyes out in grief and horror. He was exiled, and set out to wander the desert with his daughters, Ismene and Antigone, until he was ready to die. According to the oracle, the city which gave him sanctuary and burial would be blessed in the future and shielded from war and unhappiness. He eventually came to Athens to die.

In the story of Antigone, the sons of Oedipus have been fighting a long war over the throne of Thebes. Eteocles, (the younger brother) gathered an army and marched on Thebes and seized the throne. He banished Polynices, (the elder brother), who then gathered an army and led it against Thebes to reclaim his rightful place. The end of the war sees both brothers dead, each killed by the other. Eteocles was given a hero's burial, while Polynices was ordered to be left on the battlefield, unburied, to be eaten by wild animals.  According to Creon, then king and Oedipus' uncle/brother-in-law, anyone who gave Polynices a proper burial would be killed as a traitor. At that time, it was believed that in order for honor to be done and for the soul to rest in peace, a proper burial with all of the ceremonies had to be given. This was a decree by the Gods, and to not do this was a great dishonor to the dead as well as a cause of shame for the still living relatives.

Antigone endeavored to give her brother Polynices an honorable burial, and was entombed alive by her uncle, Creon, as punishment. Not content to starve to death in a cave, Antigone promptly killed herself. Creon's son, who was betrothed to marry her, broke into the tomb seconds too late and found her already dead. He killed himself in his grief. When his mother heard of her son's death, she subsequently killed herself, and in the great tradition of Greek tragedy, Creon changed his mind about entombing antigone just seconds too late to prevent the tragedies, and was left to suffer alone for his foolish pride and ignorance, having lost both his son and his wife because of his cruelty.

Antigone died for her principles, and stood bravely alone against tyranny when she knew it would cost her life. She could have kept her safe existence had she obeyed Creon, yet she willingly gave up everything to uphold the principles that she held most dear. More than anything, these stories illustrate the hopelessness and despair that belong to the man who will not put reason and compassion before his own foolish pride.

Also important in these stories is the idea of staying true to one's ideals. The underlying theme seems to be that a life lived against the grain of your morals and principles is not worth living. Obviously, most of us will never be called upon to give our lives up so that we can uphold our morals, but sometimes in life, in order to have a clear conscience and a clean soul, you have to be willing to make a sacrifice, however big or small it may seem.

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