“Updating” myths or fairytales has always struck me as an endeavour at best pointless, at worst insulting. Guilty of believing our own times are somehow unique – uniquely wise, uniquely moral, uniquely complex – we imagine that by retelling stories we can somehow cleanse them of whatever offence we project onto them. With a handful of exceptions, it falls flat.
So why I decide to write a story based on Sophocles’ Theban cycle, except focusing on Creon? And not only that, but for it to become a serial of only two installments on nthposition? is rather mysterious though I am sure a good analyst of a certain school could have fun with it. Someone has already coined the Creon Complex, in political science, and one of my unpublished papers is on the concept as a sort of archetype. If it doesn’t find a home, I may simply release into the wild of the blogosphere.
A university production of Oedipus Rex featured a patient Creon trying to calm down a histrionic Oedipus, who knocked over some of the scenery during one exit (I am unsure if it was the same performance referenced here. The idea of Creon as a kind of long-suffering sidekick to the tragic hero stayed with me, even though it doesn’t particularly survive into the other Theban plays.
For the purpose of representing this serial on the blog (and who knows, maybe continuing it here) I have decided to split into four, rather than two parts, and release each over different days. Of course those who wish to can read both parts straightaway on Nthposition …
That damn family. Always marrying their mother, attacking their city, killing their brother. Generally defying the legitimate authority. And not enough for them to destroy their own family, but to destroy mine too. Who did they think they were?
I, Creon, wander the lands. Outcast. Alone. Shamed among men. I am nothing. No one. I can hear snatches of conversation about me, as travellers go by on the road. “Most unhappy of men,” they say. “He was the death of his wife, his son,” they say.
Pity me, for it is all true. I killed my son, I killed my life. Of course, they killed themselves, my son and that bitch, but it is as if I had run Haemon through. Haemon, who I loved. And my Eurydice! I am Creon, but of course no one cares about me except as the uncle and brother-in-law of Oedipus, and the uncle and, well, grand-uncle of Antigone. You only care about me because of that marriage, and the hellish brood it spawned.
Or do you? Who knows? You seem ignorant of what I talk about, from your looks when I mention those names. No horror from you when I talk of Oedipus, or righteous indignation when you hear me say I was the one who did for Antigone. I have travelled far, far north, and while I recognise the words you spoke – or rather grunted – they sound harsh, ugly. And you speak each word rather slow, and your faces look baffled at my smooth rush of words. You do not look like people of the Attic shores.
Still, your bread and water (and you meat and wine, is that too much to hope for?) is as good as any palace of Thebes, especially to a man who has wandered the mountains and valleys, friendless, despised by all you meet. Drinking rainwater, eating grass and dead leaves. Call no man happy until he is dead, but call no man unhappy until he has fallen to the state of a non-man, a void walking on the face of the earth.
No, you mustn’t have heard of me. You have that mountain look about you, and yet you have not the suspicious looks of hill folk. Looking at your house, filthy and decrepit, your straggly kids and goats, your children, thin and with flies flying around, I wonder about you. Some youngest son, some weakling, some fool or incompetent, given the worst land and marrying the ugliest woman. You are too stupid to resent we when I speak the obvious truth. You were certainly not born for great things, great things like seeing your sister marry her son, and seeing the blood of your own son shooting out, his own blood pumping through the air onto my own face, after dashing his own sword into his neck. Or great things like seeing your wife dead, her corpse still warm, after hanging herself on a silken cord.
You look puzzled still, puzzled and a little horrified. Horror has fascination as its root. You are desperate to know more, I see, despite the anger you feel you should feel at me. More about Oedipus and Haemon and Antigone and Eurydice and Antigone and Oedipus and Jocasta and Laius and Oedipus and Jocasta and Antigone and Oedipus and Oedipus and Oedipus and Oedipus…
To hades with them! Anyway. I apologise. They have followed me here, its true. There are Furies, although they are not women. They are your own thoughts, your own self. I apologise too, for looking down on you. Simple! Untutored in the way of the world! What a glorious condition, how noble, how admirable. Looking at you, honest farmer, and your wife, beautiful in her own way, I envy you. Envy in the noblest, truest sense. I wish my life was like yours.
I want to propose something. I know people of your sort are hospitable naturally, it is the way of the mountain folk, even the most flinty-eyed of them, to give freely of their own to travellers. I have not slept in one place for two nights following for many a weary night. I would be glad of the rest. In return, I wish to tell you my story. You will speak of it, I know, the rest of your days, and you will remember on your death bed not your stupid, slow children, or the scrabble to make something out of your dry tract, but the days you hosted me.
Yes, the true history of Creon. King of Thebes. Uncle of Oedipus, also Brother-in-law of Oedipus. As I said. Uncle of Antigone, also Great-Uncle of Antigone. As I said. Father of Haemon, Husband of Eurydice. The man who cleaned up after the House of Laius. The man who went too far, I admit. The man who ruined his whole life.