Creon (king of Thebes)

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Creon (/ˈkrɒn/; Ancient Greek: Κρέων, romanizedKreōn, lit.'ruler'[2]), is a figure in Greek mythology best known as the ruler of Thebes in the legend of Oedipus.

A scene from the war of the Seven against Thebes: Capaneus scales the city wall of Thebes, Campanian red-figure neck-amphora attributed to the Caivano Painter, ca. 340 BC, J. Paul Getty Museum (92.AE.86).[1]


Creon had four sons and three daughters with his wife, Eurydice (sometimes known as Henioche): Henioche, Pyrrha, Megareus (also called Menoeceus), Lycomedes and Haimon. Creon and his sister, Jocasta, were descendants of Cadmus and of the Spartoi. He is sometimes considered to be the same person who purified Amphitryon of the murder of his uncle Electryon and father of Megara, first wife of Heracles.


First RegencyEdit

After the death of King Laius of Thebes by the hands of his own son Oedipus, Creon sat on the vacant throne and became the ruler of the kingdom. During this regency, Amphitryon arrived with his fiancée Alcmena and her half-brother Licymnius from Mycenae, seeking exile and purification for the death of his prospective father-in-law King Electryon, whom he accidentally had killed. Creon purified him, and received all three as exiles in Thebes. It was then that Amphitryon gave his sister Perimede as wife to Licymnius. The latter was a bastard son of King Electryon, and the only among the brothers who did not die at the hands of the sons of King Pterelaus of Taphos..

When rancorous Alcmena arrived to Thebes, she declared that she would not marry Amphitryon until he avenged her brothers, who had died during the war between Mycenae and Taphos.[3] Amphitryon then, wishing to marry her but lacking resources for the campaign, asked Creon to assist him.[4]

Cadmean FoxEdit

And so the rule of Creon, in accordance with the Theban curriculum, began with tribulation. For as soon as he came to power, the wrath of Dionysus was upon the city in the shape of a fox that was fated never to be caught. To this fox (known sometimes as the Cadmean Fox) the Thebans each month exposed one child in an attempt to prevent the beast from carrying off many others.

So, when Amphitryon asked Creon for help, he replied he would join the expedition against Taphos if Amphitryon would rid the country of the plague that was ravaging it. Amphitryon then, not being able to cope with the un-get-at-able fox, obtained from Cephalus the dog that his wife Procris had received from Minos, which was fated to catch whatever it pursued. And although the dilemma that arose when the two animals confronted each other was of such nature that it required the intervention of Zeus, the problem was nevertheless solved when the god turned both beasts into stone; and so Creon aided Amphitryon and, when the war was over, Alcmena married her fiancé.[5]

Creon's daughtersEdit

Some time later Alcmena gave birth to Heracles, child of Zeus and not of Amphitryon, and when this son was grown up, he led the Thebans against Erginus, the king of the Minyans who imposed a tribute after his father was killed by Perieres, charioteer of Creon's father Menoceus. It was then that Creon rewarded Heracles by giving him in marriage his own daughter Megara. These two had children: Therimachus, Deicoon, Creontiades, and Ophites, but they were all flung into the fire by their father, when he, in a fit of madness, gave himself to domestic violence. Some say that also Megara died at the hands of her husband, but others say that Heracles gave her in marriage to his own nephew and charioteer Iolaus. It is also said that Creon gave another and younger daughter to Amphitryon's son Iphicles, who already was father of Iolaus by Automedusa, daughter of Alcathous, son of Pelops.[6]

The SphinxEdit

The most serious trial that Thebes had to confront under the first rule of Creon was, however, the calamity of the Sphinx, which appeared laying waste the Theban fields, and declaring that it would not depart unless someone correctly interpreted a certain riddle which she presented. In order to face this adversity, Creon made a proclamation throughout Hellas, promising that he would give the kingdom of Thebes and his sister Jocasta in marriage to him who solved the riddle of the Sphinx. And since when it comes to acquiring power, property and women, there are always many willing to take whatever risks they deem necessary, going through no matter which atrocities, many came and many were destroyed by the Sphinx, who gobbled them up one by one — the price of failure to solve her riddle.

But since all calamities must end some day, the Sphinx was finally defeated by Oedipus, who, having heard Creon's proclamation, came to Thebes and, by solving the riddle, caused the beast to destroy itself. And since Creon fulfilled his promise, Oedipus received both the throne of his own father, whom he had murdered for a trifle on a road not knowing who the man was, and Creon's sister Jocasta as wife, unaware that this woman was his own mother. These are the bizarre gifts with which Creon rewarded Oedipus for having destroyed the Sphinx.[7]

End of first ruleEdit

In this manner ended the first rule of Creon. And whereas some might say his decisions on this important matter were evil, others would absolve him, arguing that Creon had no idea who Oedipus was. Therefore, they would say, Creon could not be blamed, and nor could Oedipus, who didn't know his own identity. And, since these two opinions cannot be reconciled, a third may appear — against all sense — blaming the gods, or Fate, or Fortune, or some other force from above or below. And still others might maintain that Oedipus was, in any case, guilty of murder: for he killed not one man, but two, and for a trivial matter; and Creon could be deemed to have been out of his mind when he offered both throne and queen to a complete unknown on the ground of one single merit. Therefore, they might add, both were guilty, not so much of the offenses that made them famous, but of other faults; and being the one criminal, and the other incompetent, they were both punished and more calamities followed.

Theban cycleEdit

In SophoclesEdit

Creon figures prominently in the plays Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone, written by Sophocles.

Oedipus RexEdit

In Oedipus Rex, Creon is a brother of queen Jocasta, the wife of King Laius as well as Oedipus. Laius, a previous king of Thebes, had given the rule to Creon while he went to consult the oracle at Delphi. During Laius's absence, the Sphinx came to Thebes. When word came of Laius's death, Creon offered the throne of Thebes as well as the hand of his sister (and Laius's widow) Jocasta, to anyone who could free the city from the Sphinx. Oedipus answered the Sphinx's riddle and married Jocasta, unaware that she was his mother. Over the course of the play, as Oedipus comes closer to discovering the truth about Jocasta, Creon plays a constant role close to him. When Oedipus summons Tiresias to tell him what is plaguing the city and Tiresias tells him that he is the problem, Oedipus accuses Creon of conspiring against him. Creon argues that he does not want to rule and would, therefore, have no incentive to overthrow Oedipus. However, when the truth is revealed about Jocasta, and Oedipus requests to be exiled, it is Creon who grants his wish and takes the throne in his stead.


In Antigone, Creon is the ruler of Thebes. Oedipus's sons, Eteocles and Polynices, had shared the rule jointly until they quarreled, and Eteocles expelled his brother. In Sophocles' account, the two brothers agreed to alternate rule each year, but Eteocles decided not to share power with his brother after his tenure expired. Polynices left the kingdom, gathered an army and attacked the city of Thebes in the war of the Seven against Thebes.

The Thebans won the war, but both sons of Oedipus were killed, leaving Creon as ruler once more, serving as regent for Laodamas, the son of Eteocles. Creon gives Eteocles a full and honorable burial, but orders (under penalty of death) that Polynices' corpse be left to rot on the battlefield as punishment for his treason. Such state of non-burial was considered a frightening and terrible prospect in the culture of ancient Greece. Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, who is betrothed to Creon's son Haemon, defies him by burying her brother, and is condemned to be entombed alive as punishment. Antigone tells Creon that it is the duty of the living to bury the dead and that if a body is not buried then the one who died will wander around in nowhere aimlessly for all eternity. Creon finally relents, following advice from the chorus leader (choragos), after Tiresias tells him to bury the body. However, when Creon arrives at the tomb where she was to be interred, Antigone has already hanged herself rather than be buried alive. His son, Haemon, threatens him and tries to kill him but ends up taking his own life.[8]

In Creon's old age, a descendant of an earlier king of Thebes named Lycus invades Thebes and, after killing Creon, takes the crown.[9]

Character traitsEdit

Creon is pitted against Antigone, who holds up the will of the gods and the honor of her family above all else; and thus he appears to be against these values. His behavior, however, suggests otherwise. He aggressively preaches the concept of family honor to his son, Haemon. Creon also believes that his decrees are consistent with the will of the gods and with the best interests of the people, whether true or not. When a legitimate argument is raised against his course of action by Tiresias, he is in fact completely open to changing course, even before he learns of the deaths of his family members.[10]


The Creon of Oedipus Rex is in some ways different and in some ways similar to the Creon of Antigone. In Oedipus Rex, he appears to favor the will of the gods above decrees of state. Even when Oedipus says that, once dethroned, he must be exiled, Creon waits for the approval of the gods to carry out the order once he has been crowned king.

Some explanation for these discrepancies in personality may be drawn from his characterization in the third of the Oedipus plays by Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus. Here, Creon takes on another persona: that of the "hard-faced politician".[11] He is reasonable and modest, staying calm and maintaining his dignity when condemned by Theseus. He is a "colorless figure" beyond his official position, which suggests that his differing personality traits in the books are because he is a flexible figure whom poets can characterize as they please.[11]

Other representationsEdit

Creon is also featured in Euripides' Phoenician Women, but not in Medea—the latter had a different Creon.

Creon is portrayed as a tyrant in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Knight's Tale, and in a later adaptation of the same story, William Shakespeare's and John Fletcher's play The Two Noble Kinsmen. As in Antigone, he refuses to allow the burial of defeated enemies. His enemies' widows appeal to Theseus, who defeats Creon in battle. Though much discussed, he does not appear as a character in either version.

The Roman poet Statius recounts a differing version of Creon's assumption of power from that followed by Sophocles, in his first-century epic, the Thebaid. This alternate narrative may have been based on a previous epic of the Theban cycle written by the Greek poet Antimachus in the 4th or 5th century BC. Antimachus' work has been lost, but in any case, the classic myths often had more than one variation, and playwrights and poets had some freedom to choose or even innovate for dramatic effect.

In Moira Buffini's modernisation of the story, Welcome to Thebes, Creon's widow Eurydice is portrayed as President of Thebes following his death.

Seamus Heaney's The Burial at Thebes (2004) includes a note from the writer comparing Creon's actions to those of the Bush administration.[12]

Natalie Haynes' novel The Children of Jocasta (2017) portrays Creon as the architect of Eteocles' murder of Polynices, so that he can have Eteocles killed as a traitor and become king himself. Antigone inspires the Thebans to turn against him and murder him so that she can become queen.

Family TreeEdit

Royal house of Thebes family tree
  • Solid lines indicate descendants.
  • Dashed lines indicate marriages.
  • Dotted lines indicate extra-marital relationships or adoptions.
  • Kings of Thebes are numbered with bold names and a light purple background.
    • Joint rules are indicated by a number and lowercase letter, for example, 5a. Amphion shared the throne with 5b. Zethus.
  • Regents of Thebes are alphanumbered (format AN) with bold names and a light red background.
    • The number N refers to the regency preceding the reign of the Nth king. Generally this means the regent served the Nth king but not always, as Creon (A9) was serving as regent to Laodamas (the 10th King) when he was slain by Lycus II (the usurping 9th king).
    • The letter A refers to the regency sequence. "A" is the first regent, "B" is the second, etc.
  • Deities have a yellow background color and italic names.

Nycteus (Regent)
DirceB4 & A6.
Lycus (Regent)
EurydiceA7, A8 & A9.
Creon (Regent)
Lycus II
Peneleos (Regent)

In popular cultureEdit

  • Creon appears in the 1959 film Hercules Unchained, portrayed by Italian actor Carlo D'Angelo. The film omits much of his mythology and depicts Creon as a noble high priest and councilor to the reigning King Etocles of Thebes. He is supportive of Hercules' diplomatic efforts to save Thebes from the dispute between the brothers Eteocles and Polynices. At the film's conclusion, Creon is acknowledged as the new king after the deaths of Eteocles and Polynices. The film however maintains a semblance of Creon's mythology as a devout follower of the gods and their will.


  1. ^ J. Paul Getty Museum 92.AE.86.
  2. ^ Robin Hard. The Routledge Handbook of Greek Mythology (2004) p.342
  3. ^ Apollodorus, 2.4.6   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  4. ^ Apollodorus, 2.4.7
  5. ^ Apollodorus, 2.4.6–7
  6. ^ Apollodorus, 2.4.11–12
  7. ^ Apollodorus, 3.5.8
  8. ^ Antigone, line 1360.
  9. ^ Euripides, Heracles 54
  10. ^ MacKay, L.A. "Antigone, Coriolanus, and Hegel". Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 93. (1962), p. 167. (Stable URL)
  11. ^ a b Sophocles. Oedipus at Colonus. Murray, Gilbert, ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1948.
  12. ^ McElroy, Steven. "The Week Ahead: Jan. 21 - 27". The New York Times. 21 January 2007.