Oedipus Rex or Oedipus the King

The Non-Sacred Monster: Antigone as a Self-Determined Tragic Hero

One of the key thematic threads running through the plays of The Oedipus Cycle is the debate regarding the primary importance between the laws of the gods over those of the State. For example, in both Oedipus Rex and Antigone, the eponymous characters are torn between serving the Theban body politique and heeding the moral imperatives inherent to the prophecies of Fate. In these two plays, judgment falls on the side of the gods, whose laws must trump those of manmade “statecraft” (The Oedipus Cycle, 204). For both Oedipus and Antigone, their tragic heroism, the way they prove themselves to be “better in degree” to their fellow man, derives from their ultimate sacrifice to honor the will of the gods and repair the State.

However, within this dramatic framing, there are fundamental differences between father and daughter that show Antigone to be less the chosen “sacred monster” figure embodied by Oedipus, and rather a model of intelligence and reason who serves the common good. It is through her agency, through her moral choices, that she paradoxically fulfills the will of the gods and protects the communal good, while not being the mere, passive observer of their prophecies. Additionally, because her decisions dramatize the...

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