Sophocles' Theban Plays

Status: published

Shimmying down the list brought me to Sophocles. I started off with hisTheban plays\"\", beingAntigone, Oedipus the King (or Rex), and Oedipus atColonus.

Antigone picks up roughly where Aeschylus' Seven AgainstThebes left off. The sons of Oedipus have killed each other. [K|C]reon,Oedipus' brother-in-law/uncle ends up king. Antigone wants to bury both of hersbrother properly but Kreon forbids such a burial for Polyneikes, the brotherwho attacked Thebes. Antigone does it anyway. Kreon has her killed. But, wackytwist, Kreon's son was in love with her and kills himself because he can't livewithout her. To top things off, Kreon's wife offs herself as well when shediscovers that her husband's tyranny has caused so much death. It wascounter-productive to say the least. Basically, the gods really like funeralrights. Kreon got in the way of what the gods want, so bad things had to happento him. That's textbook Greek tragedy. On the bright side, at least the girlwho is her father's sister didn't end up marrying her double-cousin.

Oedipus of Oedipus the King is probably the most famous characterof Greek tragedy. Unfortunately, thanks to Freud, people have some pretty funnyideas about Oedipus' appetites. Oedipus doesn't actually want to kill hisfather and sleep with his mother. This just sort of happens because Apollo saidso. This is unfortunate because Oedipus is generally a pretty awesome king who,before becoming king, saved Thebes from that damned Sphinx in a play that issadly now lost. Rather, Freud argues that the continual retelling ofOedipus-related stories by the Greeks was a symptom of a Greek preoccupationwith murdering one's father and fucking one's mother, a preoccupation thatOedipus himself did not share. He killed his father in self defense. The twodid not recognize each other since Oedipus was abandoned as an infant. And hewas abandoned because his parents heard Apollo's prophecy about what Oedipuswould eventually do. Prophecy's a bitch like that, I guess. In fact, Oedipus isso appalled by what he has done that he gouges out his own eyes when he findsout. And he tries to have himself executed since he had vowed to bring thekiller of the previous king, his father, to justice. His demand for executionis refused and he is later exiled. Now, I can't really fathom Freud's idea thatsome people are preoccupied with fucking their mothers. The father thing,however, makes sense at a lot of points in history. Generally, a prince can'tbecome a king until his father is dead. And poor ancient Roman guys weren'teven real adults until their fathers died. They had no role in politics andcouldn't marry. I can easily see how being a 40-year-old unmarried "adolescent"could induce murderous rage.

Oedipus' exile is told in Oedipus at Colonus. The blind king isescorted by his daughter, that classy dame Antigone. In opposition to Oedipusinsane sons, Antigone is the epitome of virtue. The plot of the play revolvesaround a whacky new prophecy: keeping Oedipus and eventually Oedipus' corpsewould mean prosperity for Thebes. Now, when the Thebans change their mindsabout exiling Oedipus, he has already made it to Colonus, the Athenianequivalent of a suburb. And because the Thebans wouldn't execute him like hewanted and instead exiled him, Oedipus really doesn't give two fucks about whathappens to them. As such, he refuses to go back. So Kreon kidnaps Antigone andOedipus' other, less awesome, daughter. The king of Athens puts a stop to thisnonsense. As repayment, Oedipus blesses Athens by immediately deciding to dienear Athens but where no-one can ever find his corpse. Thus, Athens got all theprosperity and good luck and such that the gods told Thebes they could have. Soif anyone asks why ancient Athens was great, don't say philosophy or democracyor math or any of that stuff. No, it's because they once helped out a blinddude. I'm not saying you shouldn't be nice to the blind; I'm just saying thatthere were likely other factors at play.