Scroll down to read an Excerpt from Antigone & Creon: GUARDIANS OF THEBES and to see information about the caves just outside of Thebes.
Antigone & Creon: Guardians of Thebes takes place just after Antigone’s two brothers, Eteokles and Polynikes, have killed each other in a war for the throne of Thebes. After decades of advising kings and serving as regent, Creon is now king of Thebes himself. Furious with his nephew Polynikes for having led an army against his beloved city, Creon refuses to let the bodies of the leaders of Polynikes’ army be buried. This is sacrilege and so Creon’s niece, Antigone, defies him and performs funeral rites for Polynikes. Creon then commands that Antigone be walled up in a cave to die.
But not everyone in Thebes agrees with King Creon’s decision. Ismene, the sister of Antigone, and Haemon, Antigone’s husband, and even Queen Eurydike, all want King Creon to release his niece. While they attempt to change his mind, Antigone & Creon covers the events that led to the war: from the discovery of the shameful secrets of Jocasta and Oedipus, to the wanderings of Antigone and Oedipus, to the increasing rivalry between Eteokles and Polynikes.
Review by the Historical Novel Society
The authors’ magnificent Tapestry of Bronze series continues with this latest volume, a richly atmospheric and refreshingly multi-faceted look at the story made famous by Sophocles’ Antigone: the clash of wills and ideologies between King Creon of Thebes and his high-spirited niece Antigone over the burial rites of her dead brother. When Antigone defies Creon’s orders, the king sentences her to entombment without food or water, and the stage is set for a tense, gripping variation on the familiar ancient Greek story.
The novel is told in rapidly rotating sections with different focal characters; readers get all sides of the famous quarrel, all related by three-dimensional characters. At one point Creon muses, “They say that wine poured into the earth wakes the ghosts of the dead so that they can speak to us. I’ve never known that to work.” But something very like that happens in these Tapestry of Bronze novels. Enthusiastically recommended.
-- Steve Donoghue (click here to see review at HNS website)
Review by a Professor of English
Antigone and Creon: Guardians of Thebes by Victoria Grossack and Alice Underwood is their fifth, latest and best installment of the Tapestry of Bronze series.
Antigone is certainly the most iconic and evergreen character in Greek legend, a timeless embodiment of civil disobedience for the right reasons. She gives our authors a lot to work with. Appropriately, they do her full justice. Not only is she fleshed out psychologically far beyond what Sophocles could accomplish in his drama; her life is given surprising (but defensible) plot twists. So -- as was not the case with their earlier Jocasta -- the complacent reader will have the narrative rug pulled out from under them on occasion.
This book works on every level: as a thriller and a mystery, as a deep evocation of ancient Greece right down to the minutiae of its folkways, as thoughtful entertainment. Grossack and Underwood join the likes of Mary Renault, Robert Graves and Norman Mailer as unsurpassed revivifiers of antiquity. Hollywood should option this!
Meanwhile, prepare to be enthralled by the print version....
-- Bob Mielke, Professor of English, Truman State University
Our Books (in English)
Excerpt from Antigone & Creon: GUARDIANS OF THEBES
Antigone lifts her hands towards him, palms upturned. “My lord king, why did you try to deny my brother’s ghost passage to the Underworld?”
Color rises to the old man’s cheeks. “Polynikes was a criminal! A traitor! He besieged his own city—”
“He had been wronged,” Antigone interrupts. “Eteokles was supposed to share the throne—”
“That does not justify what he did to Thebes: the criminal deserves to be left to crows!”
She raises her voice, hoping that even if she fails to convince her uncle, she can make others see the righteousness of her actions. “The gods demand all men be given burial, so that their shades may find rest—”
“Silence!” Creon bellows. “The gods demand that you obey me, your king! And for your defiance I will give you the burial you wished for your brother. My order stands: you will never see the light of day again.”
He points, and Antigone’s gaze follows the direction of his outstretched arm, indicating the space beneath a rocky overhang. “The twin caves were discovered after you and your father departed Thebes,” Creon continues, “about a year before Eteokles and Polynikes reached manhood. They rarely agreed on anything at that point, but both recognized that the caves were suitable for royal tombs. Eteokles has been buried in his; you, Antigone, will occupy the other.”
The entrance to each cave has been walled in, the white-washed stucco painted with two bands of swirling blue spirals, symbols of eternity. The bronze-bound wooden door of the right-hand tomb is closed, a young woman kneeling to place a wreath of flowers before it, but the door for the other – the tomb that should have been Polynikes’ – has been removed, leaving a rectangle of darkness. Beside the gaping hole Antigone sees a small stack of square-cut stones, a large pile of mud bricks, a broom, and a wooden bucket filled with glistening wet mortar.
A cloud passes before the sun; Antigone shivers as the shadow sweeps over her shoulders. She looks back at the grim-faced soldiers, at the mob gathered behind. She has not convinced the people of Thebes, but she knows she has followed the law of heaven.
Creon nods to a priest standing near his chair. “Begin the ceremony.”
Haemon shifts, looks up at the king. “Father—”
“Silence!” Creon thunders again.
The priest – Antigone cannot remember his name, but at least it is not her husband – steps closer to her. “Know now, daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, that your fate rests with the immortal gods. You shall be given food and drink; you shall not die by Theban hand. If it is the gods’ will that you be spared, then you shall be spared.”
“You think to keep your hands clean, Uncle,” Antigone says, “but the gods know which of us has obeyed their law!”
“They know which of us has been faithful to Thebes,” he snaps. Then he looks down at his wife Eurydike. “Give her the basket.”
“Antigone…” Eurydike rises from her chair and steps forward; a servant woman follows her, carrying a large basket. “Oh, Antigone.”
In the decade since Antigone last saw her, Eurydike’s face has become lined with wrinkles and her dark curls have turned gray. But her gentle manner has not changed; she reaches out to squeeze Antigone’s hand. The older woman’s fingers are warm and soft, and carry the fragrance of lavender that Antigone remembers from long ago.
“Aunt Eurydike…” Antigone’s voice trembles, and for the first time she feels her resolve weaken.
“Please,” Eurydike whispers, “take it.”
It was Aunt Eurydike – not Antigone’s remote, elegant mother the queen – who had tended the scrapes and bruises of childhood, who offered comfort and hugs, soothing songs and kindly advice. Though she had meant to refuse the food and water, Antigone cannot deny her aunt this last act of charity. She accepts the basket from the serving woman; its wicker handle is rough against her fingers.
Eurydike kisses Antigone’s cheeks, leaving the cool trace of her tears to evaporate from Antigone’s skin. The crowd murmurs at this. Some hiss, and a few shout that Antigone deserves no such kindness, but others seem uncomfortable.
“Enough!” Creon declares. “Astakus, put her inside.”
The buzz of the crowd swells in volume. The young soldier Astakus grabs her upper arm with a calloused hand and yanks her away from Eurydike. Clutching the heavy basket, Antigone stumbles as the man drags her toward the tomb, but his powerful grip holds her upright. He pushes her into the shadows; she stubs her toe on the threshold but somehow keeps from falling.
She sets the basket on the cave’s packed-earth floor and turns to look outside. The small patch of sky she can see is blue and cloudless. In order to see the glowing orb of the sun she would have to step outside – but the two armed men standing on either side of the door will not permit this. The crimson petals of a poppy, crushed beneath their heavy sandals, lie scattered in the dirt.
Her uncle’s voice commands: “Brick her in.”
The jeering crowd parts to make way for two workmen in leather aprons. The first uses the broom to sweep dust from the marble threshold; the second, a baldheaded fellow, kneels and begins to set a layer of cut stones into place. It does not take long to finish this row, a foundation to ensure that pooling moisture will not weaken the base of the wall; soon his partner is troweling on a layer of clay mortar and begins to lay the mud bricks. The smell of moist earth fills Antigone’s nostrils.
Before long the wall is halfway to her knees.
She looks out, hardly able to believe what is happening – but the ugly shouts of the crowd, the tears on her aunt’s cheeks, the distress on the face of her husband Haemon, the sight of her sister Ismene with one hand pressed to her mouth all assure her that this is real.
The men are sealing her in this tomb.
“This is wrong,” she tells them.
The bald man sets the first brick of a new row into place; mud oozes out beneath it. Without looking up, he fits the second brick alongside, and then the third.
Perhaps they did not hear her over the noise of the mob. “I couldn’t let my brother’s ghost wander forever!”
At this the man glances up, his eyes pitiless. “Your brother Polynikes and his army killed my son.”
The second mason spreads thick brown mud over the new row of bricks. “My wife was out visiting her shepherdess sister when those traitors first appeared.” He rubs his arm, smearing a streak of mud over his freckled skin. “Haven’t seen her since.”
Antigone cannot meet his gaze. She glances back into the dim chamber; her eyes have adjusted to the gloom now and she can see the low, uneven ceiling.
“Why are you even talking to that traitorous porni?” growls the soldier Astakus.
“I’m not a traitor!” Antigone cries. “I tried to stop the battle – I tried to convince Eteokles to honor his oath! His oath-breaking and Creon’s sacrilege will bring down the gods’ anger on Thebes – don’t you see that? What I did, I did for Thebes!”
“I know what it is to serve Thebes,” snarls the soldier. “My father and I fought together – and I saw what the invaders did to my father’s body, after they killed him.”
Suddenly cold, Antigone hugs her arms tight across her chest. Such anger – such hatred. Are there no words that might reach them?
“Even Eteokles wouldn’t want his twin to stay unburied!”
The freckled man snorts. “Tell it to him, Princess,” he says, smoothing a new layer of mortar onto the growing wall, now waist-high. “Eteokles is right next door. Oh, but he’s dead too.”
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The setting we chose for much of the novel – a pair of caves just east of Thebes, which serve as royal tombs – is based on a real pair of caves. The caves are not in the best condition today, but they are still there, as you can see in this picture taken by David Sheppard and used with permission. They are, according to an interview Victoria once had with the Archaeological Director of Thebes, supposed to be the actual tombs of Polynikes and Eteokles.
The Tapestry of Bronze is a series of interlocking novels set in ancient Greece, starting several generations before the Trojan War. Archaeological evidence indicates that this “Golden Age of Heroes” aligns with Bronze Age dates. Our series forms a tapestry, because the books tie together, though each novel focuses on one strand of story. Jocasta, Children of Tantalus, The Road to Thebes and Arrows of Artemis are available for purchase today. And more are in the works!
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