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Following the ending of "Oedipus the King," Oedipus was exiled from Thebes, blind and a beggar. We learn from "Oedipus at Colonus" that his sons, Eteocles and Polyneices engaged in a civil war for the throne of Thebes (covered in "Seven Against Thebes" by Aeschylus). The two brothers kill each other and Creon (Manos Katrakis), brother of Jocasta, becomes king. He orders that Eteocles, who nobly defended his city, shall receive an honorable burial, but that Polyneices, for leading the Argive invaders, shall be left unburied. This leads Antigone (Pappas), sister to both of the slain brothers, to have to choose between obeying the rule of the state, the dictates of familial binds, and the will of the gods. This, of course, is the matter at the heart of this classic tragedy by Sophocles.
It is too easy to see the issues of this play, first performed in the 5th century B.C., as being reflected in a host of more contemporary concerns, where the conscience of the individual conflicts with the dictates of the state. However, it seems to me that the conflict in "Antigone" is not so clear-cut as we would suppose. After all, Creon has the right to punish a traitor and to expect loyal citizens to obey. Ismene (Maro Kodou), Antigone's sister, chooses to obey, but Antigone takes a different path. The fact that the "burial" of her brother consists of the token gesture of throwing dirt upon his face, only serves to underscore the ambiguity of the situation Sophocles is developing. Even though the playwright strips Creon of his son, Haemon (Nikos Kazis) and wife, Eurydice (Ilia Livykou) by the end of the drama, it is not a fatal verdict rendered against the king's judgment, but rather the playing out of the tragedy to its grim conclusion.
Note: I have always enjoyed Jean Anouilh's "modern" version of the play, produced in 1944 and loaded with overtones regarding the Nazi occupation of France. The two plays offer a fascinating analog and students are usually quick to appreciate how Anouilh revitalizes the ancient myth with the political situation in which he lived.
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