I to Iolaos Iole to Ixion


Ismene was one of the unfortunate daughters of king Oedipus of the city of Thebes.

Ismene’s lineage is difficult to explain in ordinary terms because her father was also her brother.

Her grandfather, Laius, was the king of Thebes and was married to Iokaste (Jocasta); because of offenses he had committed in his youth, Laius was told by the oracle at Delphi that his son would kill him and marry his wife; when Laius and Iokaste had a son they plotted to kill the child but, through a series of divinely directed events, their infant son, Oedipus, escaped death and was raised in Korinth (Corinth) as the son of king, Polybos.

When Oedipus grew to manhood the oracle at Delphi told him that he was destined to kill his father so he left Korinth and returned to Thebes without realizing that Thebes, not Korinth, was the home of his true mother and father; on the way to Thebes, Oedipus met Laius on the road and, after an altercation, killed him; Oedipus also encountered the Sphinx on the road to Thebes and after answering her riddle, she killed herself.

When Oedipus arrived in Thebes he was hailed as a hero for outwitting the Sphinx; he became the king of Thebes and, since Iokaste was now a widow, married her without realizing that she was his mother.

Oedipus and Iokaste had four children: Antigone, Ismene, Eteokles (Eteocles) and Polynikes (Polynices); when the children were young adults, Oedipus realized what had happened and that he had, true to the prophecy, killed his father and was now married to his mother; Iokaste killed herself in shame; Oedipus blinded himself and went into a self-imposed exile.

Ismene stayed in Thebes but Antigone went with her father as his guide and companion; Eteokles, as the eldest son, became the king of Thebes and exiled his brother, Polynikes.

After many years of wandering, Oedipus took refuge in the sanctuary of the Eumenides (the Furies) near the town of Kolonus (Colonus); Ismene found Oedipus and Antigone in the sanctuary and tried to warn him that Iokasta’s brother, Kreon (Creon), and Polynikes were both seeking his support in the coming confrontation between Eteokles and Polynikes; Kreon appeared in the sanctuary and kidnapped Ismene and Antigone in order to bring pressure on Oedipus to return to Thebes but the king of Athens, Theseus, rescued the young women before Kreon could make his escape.

Soon afterwards, Oedipus died at Kolonus; Polynikes went to Thebes with his armies to depose Eteokles but both brothers were killed in the fray; Kreon decreed that Eteokles would have a proper burial because he had died defending Thebes but Polynikes’ body would be left to the dogs and vultures because he had died in disgrace by attacking his homeland and trying to depose the rightful king.

Antigone sought the help of Ismene so that Polynikes could be buried properly but Ismene would not be a part of any plan that might antagonize Kreon; without Ismene’s help, Antigone defied Kreon and gave her brother a proper burial.

The age of Antigone and Ismene is a matter of debate; their ages are not clearly given but many scholars believe that Ismene was the eldest simply because her actions were more mature and reserved.

For the complete telling of this story, read The Theban Plays by Sophokles (Sophocles); you can find these plays at your local library or you can order them through the Book Shop on this site which is linked to

How to Cite this Page

Cut and paste the following text for use in a paper or electronic document report.

Stewart, Michael. "People, Places & Things: Ismene", Greek Mythology: From the Iliad to the Fall of the Last Tyrant.

Cut and paste the following html for use in a web report.

Stewart, Michael. &quot;People, Places &amp; Things: Ismene&quot;, <i>Greek Mythology: From the Iliad to the Fall of the Last Tyrant</i>.

Cut and paste the following html for use in a web report. This format will link back to this page, which may be useful but may not be required.

Stewart, Michael. &quot;People, Places &amp; Things: Ismene&quot;, <i>Greek Mythology: From the Iliad to the Fall of the Last Tyrant</i>. <a href=""></a>

I to Iolaos Iole to Ixion


Home • Essays • People, Places & Things • The Immortals
Greek Myths Bookshop • Fun Fact Quiz • Search/Browse • Links • About