Eteocles, Antigone's Brother in Antigone

Instructor: Laura Foist

Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.

In play ''Antigone,'' written by Sophocles, the character Eteocles does not play a major role, but his actions before the beginning of the play are vital to the plot of ''Antigone''. In this lesson we will learn what his background story is and how it affects ''Antigone''.

Antigone's Dysfunctional Family

Antigone is a tragedy about family. We are all intimately familiar with the love of a family, and even dysfunctional families typically love each other and want to take care of each other. Antigone's family is a very dysfunctional family, as her mother is also her grandmother. Sophocles' play Antigone begins 'at daybreak the morning after the fall of the two brothers, Eteocles and Polynices'. They fell as they were fighting over the throne of Thebes.

This family was cursed when Antigone's grandfather, Laios, kidnapped a neighboring king's son. Ever since then tragedy has followed the family. Once Oedipus (Antigone's father/brother) realize that he has married his own mother he plucks out his eyes and ends up dying.

Who the kingdom should fall to, after Oedipus' death, is unclear. His twin sons, Eteocles and Polynices, set out to fight over who should be king. Eteocles ends up turning the people against Polynices and refuses to give him the throne. This sets off a war where Polynices and Eteocles both die.

The tragedy continues where Antigone commits suicide because she was not allowed to honor her brother, Polyncies, by burying him after he died.

Eteocles in Antigone

Eteocles is only mentioned three times in Antigone:

  • 1) Setting the original scene as the morning after Eteocles and Polynices fall
  • 2) Antigone wondering why Eteocles is to be buried with honors but Polynices is to be left unburied
  • 3) Creon explaining his rationale for burying Eteocles with honors (but not Polynices)

Despite the lack of presence that Eteocles has in Antigone he plays a major role in the story since he was the brother who was buried with honors, he was part of the fight which led to the death of both brothers, he is the one allowed to go to peace while the brother must remain in torment. It is this torment that leads Antigone to commit suicide, and she often wonders 'hath not Creon destined our brothers, the one to honored burial, the other to unburied shame?'

We can better understand the plot of Antigone when we understand the background story which Eteocles does play a major role. This way we can understand what has led to this final tragedy where all of Antigone's family has died.

Eteocles' Background

Eteocles and Polynices are the twin sons of Oedipus. After Oedipus leaves the throne in shame (having learned that he killed his own father and married his own mother) these two sons fight over the throne.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it now
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account