The Oedipus Tyrannus is concerned with the fall of the Theban king; the Coloneus, with the close of his life; and the Antigone, with a later episode in the fortunes of his children. But the order of composition was, Antigone, Tyrannus, Coloneus; and the first was separated from the last by perhaps more than thirty years of the poet's life. The priority of the Antigone admits of a probable explanation, which is not without interest. There is some ground for thinking that the subject—though not the treatment—was suggested by Aeschylus.

The sisters Antigone and Ismene are not mentioned by

Earliest trace of the story.
Homer, Hesiod, or Pindar1. Antigone's heroism presupposes a legend that burial had been refused to Polyneices. Pindar knows nothing of such a refusal. He speaks of the seven funeral pyres provided at Thebes for the seven divisions of the Argive army2. Similarly Pausanias records a Theban legend that the corpse of Polyneices was burned on the same pyre with that of Eteocles, and that the very flames refused to mingle3. The refusal of burial was evidently an Attic addition to the story. It served to contrast Theban vindictiveness with Athenian humanity; for it was Theseus who ultimately buried the Argives at Eleusis. If Creon's edict, then, was an Attic invention, it may be conjectured that Antigone's resolve to defy the edict was also the conception of an Attic poet. Aeschylus is the carliest author who refers to the edict against burial, and he is also the first who tells of Antigone's resolve. His Theban trilogy consisted of the Laïus, the Oedipus, and the Seven against Thebes4. At the end of the last play a herald proclaims an edict just published by the Council of Thebes; sepulture shall be given to Eteocles, but denied to Polyneices. Antigone at once declares her resolve; she will bury Polyneices. The Theban maidens who form the Chorus are divided. One half of their number goes to attend the funeral of Eteocles; the other half accompanies Antigone to her task. There the play ends.

1 Salustius, in his Argument to this play (p. 5), notices that the fortunes of the sisters were differently related by other writers. Mimnermus (c. 620 B.C.) spoke of Ismene having been slain at Thebes by Tydeus, one of the Argive chiefs. Ion of Chios (c. 450 B.C.) said that both sisters were burned in the Theban temple of Hera by Laodamas, son of Eteocles, when Thebes was taken in the later war of the Epigoni. Here, then, we have an Ionian contemporary of Sophocles who did not know the legend of Antigone's deed,—another indication that the legend was of Attic growth.

2 Pind. Ol. 6.15; Nem. 9. 24.

3 Paus. 9.18.3.

4 With regard to this trilogy, see Introd. to the Oedipus Tyrannus, p. xvi.

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (3):
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 9.18.3
    • Pindar, Nemean, 9
    • Pindar, Olympian, 6
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