The Student's Mythology A Compendium of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Assyrian, Persian, Hindoo, Chinese, Thibetian, Scandinavian, Celtic, Aztec, and Peruvian Mythologies
Page: 31ŒDIPUS—ETEOCLES AND POLYNICES.
Ques. What was the story of these princes?
Ans. Œdipus was the son of La´ius, king of Thebes. He was exposed by his father immediately on his birth, to avoid the fulfillment of an oracle which declared that La´ius was destined to fall by the hand of one of his children. Œdipus was found by a herdsman, who brought him to [Pg 168] Pol´ybus, king of Corinth. This monarch was childless, and adopted the infant as his own.
When Œdipus was grown to manhood, he desired to learn something of his real parentage, and went to consult the oracle of Delphi. The god warned him to shun his native country, declaring that if he returned thither, he would become the murderer of his father, and be guilty of crimes which would draw upon him the vengeance of the gods. Œdipus understood this of Corinth, and instead of returning to that city, proceeded to Thebes. Here he slew his father La´ius in an accidental encounter, and, after his victory over the Sphinx, which we have already mentioned, he fulfilled the other predictions of the oracle.
Œdipus reigned many years in Thebes before he discovered his parentage, and the crimes which he had unknowingly committed. In his despair, he put out his eyes, and went into exile, leaving the throne to his sons Ete´ocles and Polyni´ces. It was agreed between the brothers that they should reign each a year alternately. Ete´ocles first ascended the throne; but when the year had expired, he refused to resign the crown. Polyni´ces was indignant at this breach of faith, and fled to Argos, where he married the daughter of King Adrastus. This monarch assembled a large army to enforce the claims of his son-in-law. The command of the expedition was given to seven [Pg 169] chieftains, who were to attack each one of the seven gates of Thebes.
After all the Argive leaders, except Adrastus, had perished before the walls, it was proposed that Ete´ocles and Polyni´ces should decide the war by single combat. The brothers fought with such animosity that both fell, mortally wounded. The battle was then renewed, and the Argives were totally defeated. Creon, the uncle of the fallen princes, was now king of Thebes; he had the body of Ete´ocles honorably buried, but he left the remains of Polyni´ces exposed to the dogs and vultures, and forbade, under pain of death, that any one should bestow on him the rites of sepulture. He thus carried his vengeance beyond the grave, as, according to Greek superstition, the souls of the unburied were excluded for a hundred years from the Elysian fields.
Antig´one, the daughter of Œdipus, had, meanwhile, accompanied her father in his exile, and watched over him with touching devotion until death released her from this filial duty. She no sooner learned the cruel order of Creon, than she resolved, at whatever hazard, to perform the funeral rites for Polyni´ces. She succeeded in approaching the corpse, which she covered with earth, making the usual libations.
While thus engaged, Antig´one was seized and brought before Creon. She defended nobly the pious act which she had performed, and was condemned by the tyrant to be entombed alive.
[Pg 170] The misfortunes of Œdipus and his children have been celebrated by three Greek tragedians: Æschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. In the tragedy of Sophocles which bears her name, the character of Antig´one is beautifully drawn. We have the sternest heroism, tempered always by the tenderness of filial piety and sisterly devotion. The whole presents the finest ideal of womanly excellence which can be found in the writings of any ancient poet.