Antigone vs Oedipus the King: Compare & Contrast

Antigone vs Oedipus the King: Compare & Contrast
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In The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles: Oedipus the King; Oedipus at Colonus; Antigone and Rita Dove’s The Darker Face of the Earth both of the protagonists are not equally guilty. Augustus was more innocent due to the atmosphere of the pre-Civil War South. Oedipus freely made his decisions. When Oedipus killed his father, he did so over who had the right to a roadway. Augustus killed his father in order to keep a rebellion secret. The difference is one man was free, while the other man was trying to gain his freedom. Although Oedipus and Augustus’ circumstances were guided by fate, both men had free will to change that fate. Neither chose to change the fate designed for them personally. However, Augustus’ actions were more innocent than Oedipus’ actions due to the more restricting atmosphere of the pre-Civil War South.    

            Both protagonists, Oedipus and Augustus, killed their fathers and had affairs with their mothers, so both were guilty of patricide and incest. The reason Augustus is more innocent than Oedipus is setting. Oedipus killed Louis over the right away where three roads met (Sophocles and Roche 44). Whether Louis was his father or not, Oedipus overreacted to Louis’ men and Louis himself, he could have easily moved aside on the road. Instead, Oedipus killed the King and his entourage, because of the troubling oracle he had heard. Oedipus could have changed his fate here. Instead of killing anyone, Oedipus could have abstained from killing. This would have changed the oracle. If Louis had never died, then Oedipus would never have married his mother. Oedipus’ anger allowed him to fulfill the prophecy. 

            On the other hand, Augustus killed his father and had an incestuous affair with his mother as well. Augustus did not know that was his fate as Oedipus did. Although a voodoo woman predicted that he bode ill for the plantation, Augustus did not know that he would kill his father or have an incestuous relationship.

The destiny of Oedipus, that which causes his tragedy and Jocasta’s destruction, here incest and parricide are by-products of the institution of slavery. Slavery is the ‘curse’ that ‘settled over the land.’ It is slavery that corrupts human society, causing tragedy and destroying life. (African American Review).

This was more of fate than a conscious decision. However, like Oedipus, Augustus could have changed his fate. He did not have to kill his African American father. Many slaves during that time did not turn on each other, maybe their white slave owners, but not on fellow blacks.

Dove shows the slaves’ closeness with the following passage after Augustus killed Hector:

Oh Deat’ him is a little man,
And him goes from do’ to do’,
Him kill some souls and him cripple up,
And him’ some souls to pray.
Do Lord, remember me,
Do Lord, remember me.
I cry to the Lord as de year roll aroun’,
Lord, remember me. (131)


 That was the choice that Augustus made. Augustus’ choice to kill Hector was his own.

 Circumstances and atmosphere also make Oedipus guiltier than Augustus. Oedipus was as free as an individual could be in Greece at that time. He was a son of royalty, adopted by royalty, and finally became king himself. Oedipus was free to look for his parents, consult the oracle, and even travel from place to place. It was not fate that guided his path, but his own actions. He was dealt a rough hand in life, but Oedipus made decisions that led him down this path. The decision to kill another man was Oedipus’ alone. The decision to marry a woman old enough to be his mother was his choice. He made these choices after knowing the oracle’s predictions. Oedipus was a man, which gave him freedom over his life. Oedipus’ freedom made him a guiltier party than Augustus.  

Augustus was less guilty than Oedipus because of his lack of freedom. Augustus was born of a white mother and a black father (Bada 107). Since this concept was almost mythical in the South at that time, Augustus assumed his father was white and his mother was black. Augustus like many other slaves at the time would run away or rebel. Since Augustus was a strong, proud man, the rebellion was the answer. Despite his quest for freedom, the voodoo woman admonished “You are in your skin wherever you go” (Dove 135). Augustus could not change his color or fate. If Augustus had been the product of Amalia and her white husband, his choices and fate would have been different.

Oedipus’s decision to gouge his eyes out to save the city from the curse was noble and self-sacrificing. However, Augustus’ rebellion was nobler and self-sacrificing because it involved a moral ideal. The ideal was not justice for one man, but for all African Americans. Augustus was fighting for the freedom of his race. Oedipus was punishing himself for a crime he committed. Although both men were committing actions that promoted justice, only Augustus was fighting for a natural right. This makes Augustus’ cause more important than Oedipus’.

One final cause makes Oedipus guiltier than Augustus. The Oracle told Oedipus specifically of his fate. Scylla’s visions and interpretations about Augustus were a little vaguer. 

Scylla’s vision is associated in the drama, and resonates with, three deep strengths: the earth, the feminine, and the spiritual values of an African belief system. Her conjurations are clearly earth-centered. She places earth objects–bones, twisted roots, a branch, a round white stone–on a makeshift altar and proceeds to invoke the spirits with words pointing to physical reality: “The body moves through the world. / The mind rests in the body’. (Dove 53) (African American Review)

Oedipus knew what to look for in terms of his life. Augustus did not know. Due to the rarity of a white mother and black father, Augustus could not have known he would kill his own father. The concept of mother and father was different from Augustus than Oedipus. The oracle was clear for Oedipus, but Scylla’s vision was vague. This could also be attributed to the cultural differences of the Greek oracle and African vision of Scylla.

Augustus was more innocent than Oedipus due to circumstance, knowledge, and cause. The settings of Greece and the pre-Civil War caused Augustus to have less blame. The lack of knowledge also made Augustus less guilty. All of these reasons made Augustus a less likable protagonist.

Works Cited:

African American Review. “Reading the Scars: Rita Dove’s The Darker Face of the Earth.” 2000.

15 Dec. 2009’s+The+Darker+Face+of+the+Earth-a062258911

Bada, Valerie. ‘“Dramatising the Verse’ or verifying the Drama: Rita Dove’s The Darker Side of

Earth. A Verse Play. Hanna Wallinger, Thomas Lorenzo, Hermine Pinson, and Kimberley Phillips. Critical Voicings of Black Liberation: Resistance and Representations in the Americas (Forum for European Contributions to African American Studies). New York: Lit Verleg, 2003.

Dove, Rita. The Darker Side of Earth. New York: Storyline Press, 2000.

Kennedy, X.J. and Dana Gioia. An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. 11 ed. New York:  Longman, 2009.

Sophocles and Paul Roche. The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles: Oedipus the King; Oedipus at Colonus; Antigone. New York: Plume, 1996.