A Sister's Love
( Originally Published 1902 )
WHEN OEdipus died he left the kingdom of Thebes to his two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, with the understanding that they should rule year by year, alternately. At the end of the first year, Eteocles, instead of surrendering the throne to his brother, retained it, and a terrible battle was the result, in which battle each was slain by the hand of the other. Creon, the uncle of the boys, took the throne and began his obstinate and brutal rule by denying the right of burial to the brother who had been defrauded of his throne. Death was to be the penalty to be visited upon the one who should undertake to bury the corpse. Antigone, the sister of the two brothers, was indignant and heartbroken at the king's command, and determined, at whatever cost, to bury her brother. His body had been left outside the city wall to be devoured by the vultures. She secretly made her way to it, put a garland of leaves on his forehead and sprinkled soft dirt over the body. The king's guard, who had been threatened with death if he should allow the burial to take place, exhumed the body and set himself to watch for the one who had done the deed. In a calm after a terrible storm, the sister crept to the grave, and, finding her brother uncovered, cried like a bird whose nest had been despoiled. The guard arrested her and took her before the king, who rebuked her savagely, but whom she answered with queenly heroism, charging him with injustice and impiety, and telling him that she would gladly die rather than give up her love for her brother. She was sent away to a cave to perish by starvation, and she slew herself. Her betrothed, the king's son, insane with grief, destroyed himself, and the queen, overwhelmed with sorrow at the loss of her son, took her own life; and the unjust, obstinate king suffered worse than death in the torments of remorse.
Against the dark background of the brother's hate Sophocles has placed the bright and beautiful picture of a sister's love :
" Death is welcome ; I'll do the pious deed, and lay me down By my dear brother ; loving and beloved, We'll rest together."
There are few more beautiful pictures in home life than the delicate love of a sister for a brother, and it often seems more intense when bestowed upon an unworthy object, and more divine when it prompts personal sacrifice in his behalf. In contrast with the brutal impiety of the king, the dramatist places the spiritual instinct of the sister who, though heathen, comes very near to the boundary line of Christianity, as, referring to the life beyond the grave, she says :
" There I shall dwell forever."
True meaning is added to a sister's love in the thought that the affection is not only during the earthly pilgrimage, but is to bind kindred spirits forever.