The ancient Greeks bequeathed us a pantheon of heroes whose adventures and tragedies have reverberated through the ages. But in this pantheon, the heroine’s story often gets relegated to the margins. While gods and men wrestle with destiny, women are regularly confined to roles of suffering or secondary importance. But there are exceptions—characters whose lives evoke the struggles, big and small, that many women have faced throughout history. One such character is Ismene, the often overlooked sister of the more famous Antigone, both daughters of the tragic figure, Oedipus.
The lives of Antigone and Ismene are enmeshed in the larger family saga of Oedipus, who, through a twist of fate, ends up killing his father and marrying his mother. Ismene first enters the stage in Sophocles' “Oedipus Rex” in a quiet role, standing beside Antigone but not uttering a word. She comes into her own in the latter plays, “Oedipus at Colonus” and “Antigone,” where her character shines as a figure of earthly heroism.