THE STORY OF OEDIPUS' HEIRS
When a terrible disaster is wrought on the Argive army of the seven allies and both sons of Oedipus are killed by each other, Creon issues a decree denying funeral rites to Polineices whose corpse is left to rot and be fed to the birds of carrion, and two guards are ordered to guard the place. Antigone decides to bury Polineices. One of the guards comes to Creon with the news that someone unknown ‘left the corpse just now, burial all accomplished, thirsty dust strewn on the flesh, the ritual complete’. Creon, enraged, sends him back to undo the ritual and catch the culprit. The guard ‘...strips the rotten body back to its slimy nakedness...’ and drags Antigone to Creon. The chorus recites the famous Ode to Man (‘Wonders are many, but nothing is more wondrous than man....’). On Creon’s orders Antigone is immured in a sepulchral chamber in one of the rock-tombs where she is to be left ‘with just so much to eat as to avoid pollution to the city by infliction of death by starvation’. As she moans to the chorus that ‘Acheron is her mate...and she is going alive to the place of corpses, a stranger still, never at home with the living nor with the dead’, Creon insists that in her ‘buried life...no stain upon us in this case’.
The blind Teiresias announces to Creon that all augury (omen) through birds has failed. Nor can burnt sacrifices be made for Hephaestus. All the altars are choked and tainted by birds and dogs with leavings from the unburied corpse of Polineices, and the gods no longer accept from the Thebans prayer, or offering, or the flame of meat-altars. He urges Creon ‘to yield to the dead, and not to kill them a second time’. Creon refuses, saying that ‘no mortal can defile the gods’. Teiresias accuses him of thrusting to the grave (taphos) a soul (psyche) belonging to the upper world while leaving in the upper world a corpse unburied and unhallowed, confusing, thereby, the upper and lower worlds, depriving the Nethergods (demonic beings) of their share, and insulting the gods above. He threatens Creon that the Erynies of Hades and those of the gods above will avenge his crime, and predicts that ‘before the sunset he will exchange the corpse of his son for these corpses’. Creon runs to free Antigone and to bury Polineices. The chorus prays to Dionysus, son of Zeus and Cadmus’ daughter Semele, to ‘come….and heal the great disease of Thebes’. But, too late for Antigone hangs herself in her tomb, her betrothed, Creon’s son Haemon, kills himself with a sword, and Creon’s wife, Eurydice, dies by the sword before the altar. The Chorus says that ‘No mortal can escape his destined woe’.
Mythological Deliberations Lectures on the Phenomenology of religion by Piatgorsky, I.