own flesh and blood—dear sister, dear Ismene, how many griefs our
father Oedipus handed down! Do you know one, I ask you, one grief
that Zeus will not perfect for the two of us while we still live
and breathe? There’s nothing, no pain—our lives are pain—no private
shame, no public disgrace, nothing I haven’t seen in your grief
and mine. (Antigone, 1–8)
Antigone’s first words in Antigone, “My
own flesh and blood,” vividly emphasize the play’s concern with
familial relationships. Antigone is a play about
the legacy of incest and about a sister’s love for her brother.
Flesh and blood have been destined to couple unnaturally—in sex,
violence, or both—since Oedipus’s rash and unwitting slaying of
his father. Antigone says that griefs are “handed down” in Oedipus’s
family, implicitly comparing grief to a family heirloom.
In her first speech, Antigone seems a dangerous woman,
well on her way to going over the edge. She knows she has nothing
to lose, telling Ismene, “Do you know one, I ask you, one grief
/ that Zeus will not perfect for the two of us / while we still
live and breathe?” Before we even have time to imagine what the
next grief might be, Antigone reveals it: Creon will not
allow her brother Polynices to be buried. Ismene, on the other hand,
like the audience, is one step behind. From the outset, Antigone
is the only one who sees what is really going on, the only one willing
to speak up and point out the truth.