Myths and Legends of All Nations Famous Stories from the Greek, German, English, Spanish, Scandinavian, Danish, French, Russian, Bohemian, Italian and other sources
Page: 68When these two brothers, the sons of King Œdipus, had fallen each by the hand of the other, the kingdom fell to[Pg 120] Creon, their uncle. For not only was he the next of kin to the dead, but also the people held him in great honor because his son Menœceus had offered himself with a willing heart that he might deliver his city from captivity.
Now when Creon was come to the throne he made a proclamation about the two princes, commanding that they should bury Eteocles with all honor, seeing that he died as beseemed a good man and a brave, doing battle for his country, that it should not be delivered into the hands of the enemy; but as for Polynices, he bade them leave his body to be devoured by the fowls of the air and the beasts of the field, because he had joined himself to the enemy and would have beaten down the walls of the city and burned the temples of the gods with fire and led the people captive. Also he commanded that if any man should break this decree he should suffer death by stoning.
Now Antigone, who was sister to the two princes, heard that the decree had gone forth, and chancing to meet her sister Ismené before the gates of the palace, spake to her, saying:
"O my sister, hast thou heard this decree that the king hath put forth concerning our brethren that are dead?"
Then Ismené made answer: "I have heard nothing, my sister, only that we are bereaved of both of our brethren in one day and that the army of the Argives is departed in this night that is now past. So much I know, but no more."
"Hearken then. King Creon hath made a proclamation that they shall bury Eteocles with all honor, but that Polynices shall lie unburied, that the birds of the air and the beasts of the field may devour him, and that whosoever shall break this decree shall suffer death by stoning."
"But if it be so, my sister, how can we avail to change it?"
"Think whether or no thou wilt share with me the doing of this deed."
[Pg 121] "What deed? What meanest thou?"
"To pay due honor to this dead body."
"What? Wilt thou bury him when the king hath forbidden it?"
"Yes, for he is my brother and also thine, though perchance thou wouldst not have it so. And I will not play him false."
"O my sister, wilt thou do this when Creon hath forbidden it?"
"Why should he stand between me and mine?"
"But think now what sorrows are come upon our house. For our father perished miserably, having first put out his own eyes; and our mother hanged herself with her own hands; our two brothers fell in one day, each by the other's spear; and now we two only are left. And shall we not fall into a worse destruction than any, if we transgress these commands of the king? Think, too, that we are women and not men, and of necessity obey them that are stronger. Wherefore, as for me, I will pray the dead to pardon me, seeing that I am thus constrained; but I will obey them that rule."