Creon (//; Greek: Κρέων, Kreōn) is a figure in Greek mythology best known as the ruler of Thebes in the legend of Oedipus. He had four sons and three daughters with his wife, Eurydice (sometimes known as Henioche): Henioche, Pyrrha, Megareus (also called Menoeceus), Lycomedes and Haimon. Creon and his sister, Jocasta, were descendants of Cadmus and of the Spartoi. He is sometimes considered to be the same person who purified Amphitryon of the murder of his uncle Electryon and father of Megara, first wife of Heracles.
Oedipus the King
In Oedipus the King, Creon is a brother of queen Jocasta, the wife of King Laius as well as Oedipus. Laius, a previous king of Thebes, had given the rule to Creon while he went to consult the oracle at Delphi. During Laius's absence, the Sphinx came to Thebes. When word came of Laius's death, Creon offered the throne of Thebes as well as the hand of his sister (and Laius' widow) Jocasta, to anyone who could free the city from the Sphinx. Oedipus answered the Sphinx's riddle and married Jocasta, unaware that she was his mother. Over the course of the play, as Oedipus comes closer to discovering the truth about Jocasta, Creon plays a constant role close to him. When Oedipus summons Tiresias to tell him what is plaguing the city and Teiresias tells him that he is the problem, Oedipus accuses Creon of conspiring against him. Creon argues that he does not want to rule and would therefore have no incentive to overthrow Oedipus. However, when the truth is revealed about Jocasta, and Oedipus requests to be exiled, it is Creon who grants his wish and takes the throne in his stead.
In Antigone, Creon is the ruler of Thebes. Oedipus's sons, Eteocles and Polynices, had shared the rule jointly until they quarreled, and Eteocles expelled his brother. In Sophocles' account, the two brothers agreed to alternate rule each year, but Eteocles decided not to share power with his brother after his tenure expired. Polynices left the kingdom, gathered an army and attacked the city of Thebes in a conflict called the Seven Against Thebes.
The Thebans won the war, but both sons of Oedipus were killed, leaving Creon as ruler once more, serving as regent for Laodamas, the son of Eteocles. Creon gives Eteocles a full and honorable burial, but orders (under penalty of death) that Polynices' corpse be left to rot on the battlefield as punishment for his treason. This (the state of non-burial) was considered a frightening and terrible prospect in the culture of ancient Greece. Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, who is betrothed to Creon's son Haemon, defies him by burying her brother, and is condemned to be entombed alive as punishment. Antigone tells Creon that it is the duty of the living to bury the dead and that if a body is not buried then the one who died will wander around in nowhere aimlessly for all eternity. Creon finally relents after advice from the chorus leader (Choragos), after Tiresias tells him to bury the body. However, when Creon arrives at the tomb where she was to be interred, Antigone has already hanged herself rather than be buried alive. His son, Haemon, threatens him and tries to kill him but ends up taking his own life. (Antigone, line 1269)
In Creon's old age, a descendant of an earlier king of Thebes named Lycus invades Thebes and, after killing Creon, takes the crown.
Creon is pitted against Antigone who holds up the will of the gods and the honor of her family above all else, and thus he appears to be against these values. His behavior, however, suggests otherwise. He aggressively preaches the concept of family honor to his son, Haemon. Creon also believes that his decrees are consistent with the will of the gods and with the best interests of the people, whether true or not. When a legitimate argument is raised against his course of action by Tiresias, he is in fact completely open to changing course, even before he learns of the deaths of his family members.
The Creon of Oedipus the King is in some ways different and in some ways similar to the Creon of Antigone. In Oedipus the King, he appears to favor the will of the gods above decrees of state. Even when Oedipus says that once dethroned he must be exiled, Creon waits for the approval of the gods to carry out the order once he has been crowned king.
Some explanation for these discrepancies in personality may be drawn from his characterization in the third of the Oedipus plays by Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus. Here, Creon takes on another persona: that of the "hard-faced politician." He is reasonable and modest, staying calm and maintaining his dignity when condemned by Theseus. He is a "colorless figure" beyond his official position, which suggests that his differing personality traits in the books are because he is a flexible figure whom poets can characterize as they please.
There is also a major plot discrepancy between the two plays concerning Creon's ascent to the throne. At the end of Oedipus the King, Creon takes the throne directly from Oedipus. Antigone, however, implies that Eteocles and Polynices had been given shared rule following Oedipus' excommunication, that Eteocles had taken control, and that only afterwards did Creon rule.
He is portrayed as a tyrant in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Knight's Tale, and in a later adaptation of the same story, William Shakespeare's and John Fletcher's play The Two Noble Kinsmen. As in Antigone, he refuses to allow the burial of defeated enemies. His enemies' widows appeal to Theseus, who defeats Creon in battle. Though much discussed, he does not appear as a character in either version.
The Roman poet Statius recounts a differing version of Creon's assumption of power from that followed by Sophocles, in his late first century epic, the Thebaid. This alternate narrative may have been based on a previous epic of the Theban cycle written by the Greek poet Antimachus in the 4th or 5th century BC. Antimachus' work has been lost to us, but in any case the classic myths often had more than one variation and playwrights and poets had some freedom to choose or even innovate for dramatic effect.
- MacKay, L.A. "Antigone, Coriolanus, and Hegel". Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 93. (1962), p. 167. (Stable URL)
- Sophocles. Oedipus at Colonus. Murray, Gilbert, ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1948.
- McElroy, Steven. "The Week Ahead: Jan. 21 - 27". The New York Times. 21 January 2007.