Bad Blood

Are both Antigone’s brothers polluted?

MARIA HALEY (University of Leeds)

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Abstract: Scholars often view Sophocles’ Antigone as a series of binaries established by the conflict between Creon’s desire to leave his rival Polyneices unburied and Antigone’s opposing desire to bury her brother. This has been read as an allegory of family versus state values, religion versus politics and female versus male agendas. However, despite their differences both Creon and Antigone are punished by the end of Sophocles’ play. Creon’s son kills himself in response to his father’s burial of his betrothed Antigone and Antigone herself perishes in her tomb; neither agenda is vindicated. I suggest that this is because both Antigone and Creon ignore the fact that both Antigone’s deceased brothers are polluting Thebes with their presence.

Their mutual pollution is elicited in Creon’s opening monologue: καὶ πληγέντες αὐτόχειρι σὺν μιάσματι (Antig. 172). Thus according to Creon each brother delivered the other’s fatal blow in a polluting act of fratricide. Yet in pursuing their own respective agendas both Creon and Antigone fail to recognise that this pollution lingers on Polyneices’ unburied body and Eteocles’ buried corpse.

This study will evidence the polluting presence of both brothers’ bodies in Sophocles’ Antigone, and then considers why Sophocles’ characters fail to acknowledge it. I will then determine to what extent Sophocles’ audience would have recognised this oversight by considering contemporary variants of the burial myth. Ultimately, this study will evaluate to what extent both brothers’ burials contributed to Creon and Antigone’s demise.


About the Author: Maria Haley is a Ph.D. candidate in Classical Studies at the University of Leeds, specializing in Greek and Roman tragedy, with particular attention to how performance culture shapes presentations of classical myth. Maria’s previous projects included an examination of kindred curses and contamination in Sophocles’ Theban tragedies, and a comparative thesis on The Death of Agamemnon in Aeschylean and Senecan tragedy. She is currently developing this comparative approach to uncover how Greek and Roman tragedies presented revenge, taking the feast of Thyestes as a case study. In addition to her academic work, Maria is also developing and delivering outreach workshops to implement in schools that do not offer classics, in order to increase the uptake of classics at university level.