| Stories from the Greek Tragedians|
|by Alfred J. Church|
|Thirteen strong, interesting tales from Greek tragedy, admirably retold by Alfred J. Church and retaining remarkably well the spirit of the originals. Includes the stories of Alcestis, Medea, Antigone, Philoctetes, Agamemnon, Iphigenia, Electra, and Orestes among others. Ages 11-14 |
THE STORY OF ANTIGONE
 WHEN the two brothers, the sons of King Œdipus, had
fallen each by the hand of the other, the kingdom fell
to Creon their uncle. For not only was he the next of
kin to the dead, but also the people held him in great
honour 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
honour, 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
 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 honour; 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
"But if it be so, my sister, how can we avail to change
 "Think whether or no thou wilt share with me the doing
of this deed."
"What deed? What meanest thou?"
"To pay due honour to this dead corpse."
"What? Wilt thou bury him when the King hath forbidden
"Yea, 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
"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; and 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 must 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."
"I advise thee not, and, if thou thinkest thus, I would
not have thee for helper. But know that I will bury my
brother, nor could I better die than for doing such a
deed. For as he loved me, so also do I love him
greatly. And shall not I do pleasure to the dead rather
than to the living, seeing that I shall abide with the
dead for ever? But thou, if thou wilt, do dishonour to
the laws of the Gods."
"I dishonour them not. Only I cannot set myself against
the powers that be."
"So be it: but I will bury my brother."
"O my sister, how I fear for thee!"
"Fear for thyself. Thine own lot needeth all thy care."
"Thou wilt at least keep thy counsel, nor tell the
thing to any man."
"Not so: hide it not. I shall scorn thee more if thou
proclaim it not aloud to all."
So Antigone departed; and after a while came to the
same place King Creon, clad in his royal robes, and
with his sceptre in his hand, and set forth his counsel
to the elders who were
 assembled, how he had dealt with the two Princes
according to their deserving, giving all honour to him
that loved his country, and casting forth the other
unburied. And he bade them take care that this decree
should be kept, saying that he had also appointed
certain men to watch the dead body.
But he had scarcely left speaking, when there came one
of these same watchers and said, "I have not come
hither in haste, O King, nay, I doubted much, while I
was yet on the way, whether I should not turn again.
For now I thought, 'Fool, why goest thou where thou
shalt suffer for it;' and then again, 'Fool, the King
will hear the matter elsewhere, and then how wilt thou
fare?' But at the last I came as I had purposed, for I
know that nothing may happen to me contrary to fate."
"But say," said the King, "what troubles thee so much?"
"First hear my case. I did not the thing, and know not
who did it, and it were a grievous wrong should I fall
into trouble for such a cause."
"Thou makest a long preface, excusing thyself, but yet
hast, as I judge, something to tell."
 "Fear, my lord, ever causeth delay."
"Wilt thou not speak out thy news and then begone?"
"I will speak it. Know then that some man hath thrown
dust upon this dead corpse, and done besides such
things as are needful."
"What sayest thou? Who hath dared to do this deed?"
"That I know not, for there was no mark as of spade or
pick-axe; nor was the earth broken, nor had waggon
passed thereon. We were sore dismayed when the watchman
showed the thing to us; for the body we could not see.
Buried indeed it was not, but rather covered with dust.
Nor was there any sign as of wild beast or of dog that
had torn it. Then there arose a contention among us,
each blaming the other, and accusing his fellows, and
himself denying that he had done the deed or was privy
to it. And doubtless we had fallen to blows but that
one spake a word which made us all tremble for fear,
knowing that it must be as he said. For he said that
the thing must be told to thee, and in no wise hidden.
So we drew lots, and by evil chance the lot fell upon
me. Wherefore I
 am here, not willingly, for no man loveth him that
bringeth ill tidings."
Then said the chief of the old men, "Consider, O King,
for haply this thing is from the Gods."
But the King cried, "Thinkest thou that the Gods care
for such an one as this dead man, who would have burnt
their temples with fire, and laid waste the land which
they love, and set at naught the laws? Not so. But
there are men in this city who have long time had ill
will to me, not bowing their necks to my yoke; and they
have persuaded these fellows with money to do this
thing. Surely there never was so evil a thing as money,
which maketh cities into ruinous heaps, and banisheth
men from their houses, and turneth their thoughts from
good unto evil. But as for them that have done this
deed for hire, of a truth they shall not escape, for I
say to thee, fellow, if ye bring not here before my
eyes the man that did this thing, I will hang you up
alive. So shall ye learn that ill gains bring no profit
to a man."
So the guard departed; but as he went he said to
himself, "Now may the Gods grant that the man be found;
but however this may be,
 thou shalt not see me come again on such errand as
this, for even now have I escaped beyond all hope."
Notwithstanding, after a space he came back with one of
his fellows; and they brought with them the maiden
Antigone, with her hands bound together. And it chanced
that at the same time King Creon came forth from the
palace. Then the guard set forth the thing to him,
saying, "We cleared away the dust from the dead body,
and sat watching it. And when it was now noon, and the
sun was at his height, there came a whirlwind over the
plain, driving a great cloud of dust. And when this had
passed, we looked, and lo! this maiden whom we have
brought hither stood by the dead corpse. And when she
saw that it lay bare as before, she sent up an
exceeding bitter cry, even as a bird whose young ones
have been taken from the nest. Then she cursed them
that had done this deed; and brought dust and sprinkled
it upon the dead man, and poured water upon him three
times. Then we ran and laid hold upon her, and accused
her that she had done this deed; and she denied it not.
But as for me, 'tis well to have escaped from death,
but it is ill
 to bring friends into the same. Yet I hold that there
is nothing dearer to a man than his life."
ANTIGONE AND THE BODY OF POLYNICES.
Then said the King to Antigone, "Tell me in a word,
didst thou know my decree?"
"I knew it. Was it not plainly declared?"
"How daredst thou to transgress the laws?"
"Zeus made not such laws, nor Justice that dwelleth
with the Gods below. I judged not that thy decrees had
such authority that a man should transgress for them
the unwritten sure commandments of the Gods. For
these, indeed, are not of to-day or yesterday, but they
live for ever, and their beginning no man knoweth.
Should I, for fear of thee, be found guilty against
them? That I should die I knew. Why not? All men must
die. And if I die before my time, what loss? He who
liveth among many sorrows, even as I have lived,
counteth it gain to die. But had I left my own mother's
son unburied, this had been loss indeed."
Then said the King, "Such stubborn thoughts have a
speedy fall, and are shivered even as the iron that
hath been made hard in the furnace. And as for this
woman and her sister—for I judge her sister to have had
a part in this
matter—  though they were nearer to me than all my kindred, yet
shall they not escape the doom of death. Wherefore let
some one bring the other woman hither."
And while they went to fetch the maiden Ismené,
Antigone said to the King, "Is it not enough for thee
to slay me? What need to say more? For thy words please
me not nor mine thee. Yet what nobler thing could I
have done than to bury my own mother's son? And so
would all men say but fear shutteth their mouths."
"Nay," said the King, "none of the children of Cadmus
thinketh thus, but thou only. But, hold, was not he
that fell in battle with this man thy brother also?"
"Yes, truly, my brother he was."
"And dost thou not dishonour him when thou honourest
"The dead man would not say it, could he speak."
"Shall then the wicked have like honour with the good?
"How knowest thou but that such honour pleaseth the
 "I have no love for them I hate, though they be dead."
"Of hating I know nothing; 'tis enough for me to love."
"If thou wilt love, go love the dead. But while I live
no woman shall rule me."
Then those that had been sent to fetch the maiden
Ismené brought her forth from the palace. And when the
King accused her that she had been privy to the deed
she denied not, but would have shared one lot with her
sister. But Antigone turned from her, saying, "Not so;
thou hast no part or lot in the matter. For thou hast
chosen life, and I have chosen death; and even so shall
it be." And when Ismené saw that she prevailed nothing
with her sister, she turned to the King and said, "Wilt
thou slay the bride of thy son?"
"Aye," said he, "there are other brides to win!"
none," she made reply, "that accord so well with him."
"I will have no evil wives for my sons," said the King.
Then cried Antigone, "O Hæmon, whom I love, how thy
father wrongeth thee!"
 Then the King bade the guards lead the two into the
palace. But scarcely had they gone when there came to
the place the Prince Hæmon, the King's son, who was
betrothed to the maiden Antigone. And when the King
saw him, he said, "Art thou content, my son, with thy
And the young man answered, "My father, I would follow
thy counsels in all things."
Then said the King, " 'Tis well spoken, my son. This is
a thing to be desired, that a man should have obedient
children. But if it be otherwise with a man, he hath
gotten great trouble for himself, and maketh sport for
them that hate him. And now as to this matter. There is
nought worse than an evil wife. Wherefore I say, let
this damsel wed a bridegroom among the dead. For since
I have found her, alone of all this people, breaking my
decree, surely she shall die. Nor shall it profit her
to claim kinship with me, for he that would rule a city
must first deal justly with his own kindred. And as for
obedience, this it is that maketh a city to stand both
in peace and in war!"
To this the Prince Hæmon made answer,
 "What thou sayest, my father, I do not judge. Yet
bethink thee, that I see and hear on thy behalf what is
hidden from thee. For common men cannot abide thy look
if they say that which pleaseth thee not. Yet do I hear
it in secret. Know then that all the city mourneth for
this maiden, saying that she dieth wrongfully for a
very noble deed, in that she buried her brother. And
'tis well, my father, not to be wholly set on thy own
thoughts, but to listen to the counsels of others."
"Nay," said the King; "shall I be taught by such an one
"I pray thee regard my words, if they be well, and not
"Can it be well to honour them that transgress? And
hath not this woman transgressed?"
"The people of this city judgeth not so."
"The people, sayest thou? Is it for them to rule, or
"No city is the possession of one man only."
So the two answered one the other, and their anger
waxed hot. And at the last the King cried, "Bring this
accursed woman, and slay her before his eyes."
 And the Prince answered, "That thou shalt never do. And
know this also, that thou shalt never see my face
So he went away in a rage; and the old men would have
appeased the King's wrath, but he would not hearken to
them, but said that the two maidens should die. "Wilt
thou then slay them both?" said the old men.
" 'Tis well said," the King made answer. "Her that
meddled not with the matter I harm not."
"And how wilt thou deal with the other?"
"There is a desolate place, and there I will shut her
up alive in a sepulchre; yet giving her so much of food
as shall quit us of guilt in the matter, for I would
not have the city defiled. There let her persuade
Death, whom she loveth so much, that he harm her not."
So the guards led Antigone away to shut her up alive in
the sepulchre. But scarcely had they departed when
there came the old prophet Tiresias, seeking the King.
Blind he was, so that a boy led him by the hand; but
the Gods had given him to see things to come. And when
the King saw him he asked, "What seekest thou, wisest
 Then the prophet answered, "Hearken, O King, and I will
tell thee. I sat in my seat, after my custom, in the
place whither all manner of birds resort. And as I sat
I heard a cry of birds that I knew not, very strange
and full of wrath. And I knew that they tare and slew
each other, for I heard the fierce flapping of their
wings. And being afraid, I made inquiry about the fire,
how it burned upon the altars. And this boy, for as I
am a guide to others so he guideth me, told me that it
shone not at all, but smouldered and was dull, and that
the flesh which was burnt upon the altar spluttered in
the flame, and wasted away into corruption and
filthiness. And now I tell thee, O King, that the city
is troubled by thy ill counsels. For the dogs and the
birds of the air tear the flesh of this dead son of
Œdipus, whom thou sufferest not to have due burial, and
carry it to the altars, polluting them therewith.
Wherefore the Gods receive not from us prayer or
sacrifice; and the cry of the birds hath an evil
sound, for they are full of the flesh of a man.
Therefore I bid thee be wise in time. For all men may
err; but he that
 keepeth not his folly, but repenteth, doeth well; but
stubbornness cometh to great trouble."
Then the King answered, "Old man, I know the race of
prophets full well, how ye sell your art for gold. But,
make thy trade as thou wilt, this man shall not have
burial; yea, though the eagles of Zeus carry his flesh
to their master's throne in heaven, he shall not have
And when the prophet spake again, entreating him, and
warning, the King answered him after the same fashion,
that he spake not honestly, but had sold his art for
money. But at the last the prophet spake in great
wrath, saying, "Know, O King, that before many days
shall pass, thou shalt pay a life for a life, even one
of thine own children, for them with whom thou hast
dealt unrighteously, shutting up the living with the
dead, and keeping the dead from them to whom they
belong. Therefore the Furies lie in wait for thee, and
thou shalt see whether or no I speak these things for
money. For there shall be mourning and lamentation in
thine own house; and against thy people shall be
stirred up all the cities, whose sons thou hast made to
lie unburied. And now, my child, lead me home, and
 let this man rage against them that are younger than
So the prophet departed, and the old men were sore
afraid, and said, "He hath spoken terrible things, O
King; nor ever since these gray hairs were black have
we known him say that which was false."
"Even so," said the King, "and I am troubled in heart,
and yet am loath to depart from my purpose."
"King Creon," said the old men, "thou needest good
"What, then, would ye have done?"
"Set free the maiden from the sepulchre, and give this
dead man burial."
Then the King cried to his people that they should
bring bars wherewith to loosen the doors of the
sepulchre, and hasted with them to the place. But
coming on their way to the body of Prince Polynices,
they took it up, and washed it, and buried that which
remained of it, and raised over the ashes a great mound
of earth. And this being done, they drew near to the
place of the sepulchre; and as they approached, the
King heard within a very piteous voice, and
 knew it for the voice of his son. Then he bade his
attendants loose the door with all speed; and when they
had loosed it, they beheld within a very piteous sight.
For the maiden Antigone had hanged herself by the
girdle of linen which she wore, and the young man
Prince Hæmon stood with his arms about her dead corpse,
embracing it. And when the King saw him, he cried to
him to come forth; but the Prince glared fiercely upon
him, and answered him not a word, but drew his two-edged
sword. Then the King, thinking that his son was minded
in his madness to slay him, leapt back, but the Prince
drave the sword into his own heart, and fell forward on
the earth, still holding the dead maiden in his arms.
And when they brought the tidings of these things to
Queen Eurydice, that was the wife of King Creon and
mother to the Prince, she could not endure the grief,
being thus bereaved of her children, but laid hold of a
sword, and slew herself therewith.
So the house of King Creon was left desolate unto him
that day, because he despised the ordinances of the
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics