Who is the brother that is refused burial in Antigone?

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gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The brother denied burial in Antigone is called Polynices. His corpse is left outside to rot by the ruler of Thebes, Creon. Creon forbids anyone to bury his body, with death being the penalty for defiance of this decree. Antigone, one of Polynices’s sisters, ever-mindful of her family duties, proudly challenges Creon's edict and is entombed alive as punishment. Indomitable to the last, she takes her own life rather than submit to a slow death in the tomb.  Therefore, although Polynices is already dead before the play begins, he gives rise to the central action, conflict, and tragic resolution.

 Creon takes such a harsh stance on the issue of Polynices’ burial because Polynices is deemed a traitor to Thebes. Polynices once ruled Thebes along with his brother Eteocles, but the two brothers fell out, Polynices was banished, and raised an army from Argos to march on Thebes. The two brothers died by each others’ hand in the fierce fighting that followed, thus fulfilling a curse that their father Oedipus placed on them.

Oedipus’s family are indeed ill-fated. Oedipus was singularly afflicted by the appalling discovery that he unknowingly killed his father and married his mother, leading to his mother and wife, Jocasta, killing herself, while he put out his own eyes. As already stated, his sons Polynices and Eteocles, kill each other, and his daughter Antigone is put to death. The story of Oedipus and his family ranks as one of the grimmest in Greek mythology.

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