Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.
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 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.
Polynices is the elder brother but Eteocles turns the people against Polynices and Eteocles ends up on the throne. Polynices finds support and leads an army to attack Thebes. Before attacking Thebes he finds his father and seeks his support. Oedipus will not give his support, yet he does attain a promise from Antigone that she will ensure he is properly buried.
Polynices then attacks Thebes and Eteocles defends it. In this battle both Polynices and Eteocles end up dying.
A major ally to Eteocles is Creon. Creon is Oedipus' brother-in-law (and uncle) who ends up as king in Antigone. It is this support that ensures that Eteocles is buried with honors for he is the one 'who hath fallen fighting for our city'.
Eteocles does not play a major role in Antigone yet the background story, which Eteocles does play a major role in, sets the stage for Sophocles Antigone. This is a dysfunctional family, but Antigone still loves her family and wants what is best for everyone. Yet due to the fight between Eteocles and Polynices, Antigone may not be able to accomplish this goal.
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