Posted: August 12th, 2013
The passage is set at a time after the death of Oedipus’ two sons, Eteocles and Polyneices that resulted from a battle. The two brothers were fighting over leadership of Thebes after the throne was left vacant by their father who had been exiled. In a previous agreement, the two had agreed to alternate in ruling only for Eteocles to breach to act in a contrary manner. After his term had expired, Eteocles refused to vacate the throne for his brother. Feeling aggrieved, Polyneices sought the help of his father who declined and cursed both his two sons.
Seeking the help of a neighboring king, Polyneices assembles troops and proceeds to attack his brother. It is in this battle that both lose their lives.
Their uncle Creon ascends to power as the new king and declares that Eteocles would be honored through burial in his native land while Polyneices will be disgraced by being left unburied and at the mercy of wild animals. This was because Polyneices had gone ahead to attack his brother. As a manner of tradition, it was the norm that every citizen of Thebes be accorded proper burial rites in their homeland. This issue brought out the wrath of Antigone the deceased’s sister. She seeks to defy the king’s orders and accord Polyneices his deserved burial rights.
Her sister Ismene does not agree with her due to fear of a death penalty but she remains adamant in her quest. Therefore, Antigone sneaks off at night to the battleground where the bodies still lay and performs the necessary rites on Polyneices’ body. It is then that a guard rushes off to inform the king of Polyneices burial. This brings us to the point where we see the guard enter to report Antigone’s action. At first, he tries to clear himself from any involvement in what had just taken place. The way he addresses the king leaves the impression that something of importance had just happened, which prompts the king to make further inquiries.
This passage is drawn from a time when Thebes was in mourning and suffering from political unrest. It had just lost two of its great leaders who sadly had plunged its citizens into political turmoil with their constant wrangles. King Creon was so far their only hope of restoring the previous peace. In context with the reading, the passage helps to bring out the concept of power and authority both in ancient and contemporary times. It draws attention to elements of power wrangles and the extent of a ruler’s authority on their subjects including their effects. The characters from this passage demonstrate this through various ways.
For instance, the brothers Etiocles and Polyneices are engaged in a tussle for power over leadership of the kingdom left vacant by the exile of their father. The animosity caused by this struggle ultimately leads to a battle in which they both lose their lives. After Creon becomes the new king, he uses his power to defy ancient tradition by ordering that Polyneices’ body should be left unburied. This brings to the spotlight the extent to which leaders wield their authority, both historically and in modern times. On the other hand, Antigone also goes against the king’s orders by proceeding to bury her brother. This passage therefore highly displays a political context.
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