In the last act of Seven Against Thebes, the Messenger (called the Herald in some translations) arrives to deliver news to Antigone and Ismene about the disposition of their brothers’ bodies. Along with their father’s transgressions, the brothers’ fighting had brought bad luck to Thebes. In the brothers’ bloody contest over control over Thebes, the forces within the city’s walls, led by Eteocles, had successfully defended it against the attack from the Argives, led by Polynices. However, in the battle, the brothers had killed each other.
The Messenger has come to deliver the decision of the Senate of Thebes, which is the city’s governing authority. The city leaders have declared Eteocles to be the savior of Thebes. His posthumous fate is to be accorded full funerary rites and to be honored by being buried in the royal tomb. In contrast, the city judges Polynices a traitor who has brought disgrace upon himself. As a punishment, his fate is to receive no funerary rites. Even worse, he will remain unburied. His body will be cast outside the city gates and left out in the open, exposed to the elements and animals.
While it seems that this decree indicates that the city is safe and unity has been restored, the harsh treatment of Polynices infuriates Antigone. Her decision to bury her brother indicates that dissent still plagues the city and that its fate may be continued conflict rather than the peace the Senate has declared.