The Children of Jocasta is a novel in which Natalie Haynes interprets and modifies the ancient Greek stories of Oedipus, Jocasta, and their children. While Sophocles had told one important portion of the family history by focusing on one of the daughters, Antigone, Haynes focuses on Jocasta and the other daughter, Ismene.
In the first chapter, Ismene is the first-person narrator. She gives a small amount of background information—such as the fact that her parents are dead—but mostly presents the events of a single day. Ismene and her siblings have a tutor named Sophon, who is an elderly man with poor eyesight. Ismene refers to her sister and two brothers by nicknames. Ani is Antigone, Eteo is Eteocles, and Polyn is Polynices; she does not identify herself, but later, the reader learns her name and that her nickname is Isy.
Ismene is so fond of reading that she routinely removes scrolls from the tutor’s study and reads them on her own, then returns them to their proper spot without him noticing. A favorite reading hideaway is the palace icehouse. After leaving one day, as she walks back toward the study, she encounters a mysterious stranger. His face is heavily bandaged, and she can barely see his eyes. As she passes him, she suddenly falls to the ground. A passing servant calls out and drops a trayful of dishes.
Hearing the girl shout that someone has been killed, Ismene realizes she is bleeding all over the scroll and determines that it is she who has been killed. In this chapter, the reader does not learn who the unknown assailant was.