“Antigone” was written by Sophocles and it was performed for the first time in 442 B.C. The center of Sophocles attention is a tragic hero facing his own destiny sent to him by the gods. Antigone’s plot is linked to the story about Oedipus. The prophets told King Laius he shouldn’t have any more children but he didn’t listen to him and had Oedipus. His family was punished for his disobedience. Oedipus, without knowing who Laius was, killed him and then married his mother and Laius widow Jocasta. In the incestuous marriage they had four children: Antigone, Ismene, Eteocles and Polyneices. His two sons were on opposite sides. Polyneices was leading the seven heroes and came after Thebes and Eteocles was the Theban ruler and he defended his city. Both of them died in the confrontation and the story of Antigone begins then.
Creon, Jocasta’s brother and the only remaining male relative of Ismene and Antigone, became the new ruler. He decided Eteocles should be properly buried because he was trying to protect Thebes and he wanted Polyneices to be thrown away to rot and be eaten by dogs and birds for betraying Thebes. The main conflict of the play is between Creon and Antigone who had completely different opinions; Antigone believed in the law which came from above and Creon believed in himself and his law. Antigone wanted to defend her family’s relations and Creon wanted to protect his country from traitors and assaults. There was no greater sin for him than betraying your own country. It was something unforgivable which can’t be justified by god’s law.
“King Oedipus” and “Antigone” are two plays which made a significant impact on European culture and literature which is based on Ancient Greece literature. “Antigone” was translated years after and processed in nearly all the countries of the Western Europe. There are many political and feminist opinions about the play because its centre is a female character (which was unusual for those times) that stood up to male’s dominance and used her strength to stand side to side with men. In Ancient tragedies women were often described as insane, unstable but never as reasonable and decisive like Antigone. Sophocles merged literature and theater because Antigone was easy to read and to perform on stage. The reader can imagine a scene in his head because of the descriptions. The play is divided into 7 acts.
Theme: Antigone’s blame for burying her brother because she respected god’s laws and not Creon’s laws.
Time: Creon’s reign
The sun was coming up. Antigone was exiting the palace and Ismene came after her. Antigone was telling her sister about the recent events and news brought to her by Creon. In order to introduce the reader to the play the previous events are described in footnote. The play begins in medias res.
When Polyneices and Eteocles grew up they were supposed to take over Thebes from Creon. They agreed to rule in turns. Eteocles was the first ruler despite being younger. When his year was over he rejected to step down and he banished Polyneices from Thebes. Polyneices went to Argos and married Argos’s king Adrastus’s daughter. He got Adastrus to help him fight against his brother. The men of Argos besieged Thebes but Thebans managed to put up resistance. In the end Eteocles suggested it would be best if he confronted Polyneices because the whole fight was about their conflict. In the battle both of them died. Thebans decided they had won because Eteocles wounded his brother first. Men of Argos thought they were winners because Eteocles died first. There was another fight which ended up in an armed struggle. Thebans won and banished the enemies.
The plot returns to the present where Antigone speaks about Creon’s new rule about her brothers. He had only one brother buried and he forbid Polyneices’ burial and grieving about him. He left him out to be eaten by animals because he broke Creon’s rules and he had to be punished. Antigone told her sister they need to maintain their honor and save their brother’s. Antigone decided to break Creon’s rules and bury her brother but Ismene didn’t dare to do it. Ismene reminded her sister of the curse on her family; when their father learned his sin he made himself blind and their mother committed suicide. She advised Antigone not to against Creon’s decision because, after their bothers’ death, they are the only ones left alive. According to Ismene women were weaker and they were in no condition to go against men and start conflicts with them. Woman’s destiny was always ruled by someone stronger and Antigone had to make peace with that.
Ismene could pray to the gods but she decided to listen to the law of the people. Antigone got angry with her and didn’t want her help anymore. She was ready to die in order to bury her brother. The underground world was supposed to be more respected than the world itself and Ismene by refusing to bury her brother broke god’s law.
The Chorus starts singing about the history of conflicts between brothers. They sang about the seven doors of Thebes which were defended against the enemies’ armies by Eteocles. Eteocles went from door to door fighting but when it was time to pay tributes the brothers weren’t alive anymore. They also sing about Creon and how he became king because there was no direct male descendant.
Creon came with two of his chaperons. He called the assembly to decide what to do with Oedipus’s sons. He knew they respected the ruler’s will so he decided Eteocles should be properly buried and respected in order to rest in the underground. Creon decided that Polyneices shouldn’t be buried or lamented and that he should be left out to be eaten by animals for betraying Thebes. He also ordered the guards to guard the body so that no one would take and bury it.
In that moment, a guard came and told Creon someone did a holy ceremony with the body and covered it up. The guards started fighting and decided to tell Creon about it. The Chorus’s leader thought that gods had something to do with it. Creon was furious and he thought the rebels were working against him and Thebes. He became indecisive; first he wanted to listen to the assembly but then he told them that the god’s law doesn’t apply to this. Creon thought that the rebels paid someone off to do it. For Creon there was no bigger evil than money because it tore down cities and made people leave their homes. According to Creon, money was a bad teacher and an indicator of low resourcefulness. He threatened the guards with a suit if they don’t find the responsible one. A guard got offended and told him it was awful when the court has to make a decision. Creon wasn’t interested in what they had to say because he wanted to know who did it.
The Chorus starts again. In the first verse they sing about human force which is greater than any other. Man ruled everything there is on Earth. They sailed the sea and worked on the land. They sing about human’s force over animals, birds and underwater creatures. People could catch everything and tame everything. In the second verse the chorus sang about human virtues and flaws. It was given to him to decide whether they’ll respect the word of god.
The guard brought Antigone. He caught her with the body. He described everything he saw to Creon. After coming back from Creon they removed the powder from the body and uncovered the half rotten corps. They sat a bit further away so that they wouldn’t feel the smell. Then they heard a girl crying over the body. They caught her again putting powder, milk, wine and honey on the body. When they caught her she showed no fear. Antigone admitted to her sins and the guard had compassion for her.
While Antigone was standing in front of Creon she admitted to have wanted to bury her brother. She knew what the law was but she didn’t care much for it because it wasn’t given to her by Zeus. She didn’t want to get the gods angry with her and she wasn’t scared to die. The choirmaster thought she got her attitude from her father. Creon decided to punish her for committing a crime and then bragging about it. He could forgive her because it would mean they’ve exchanged roles; he would be the woman and she would be the man. He believed both her and her sister should be killed.
The guard went to get Ismene and when she realized the trouble Antigone was in she decided to confess with her. She got into a fight with Antigone who thought her sister Ismene was a weak spirited person because she bowed down to human laws. Ismene’s life had no meaning if she didn’t have her sister. Ismene was taken away by the guards and we don’t find out how her story ends. Antigone was Haemon’s fiancée and he was Creon’s son. Creon didn’t want his son to marry the wrong woman.
The Chorus starts singing about the evil brought by misery and trouble. In the next verses they sing about Oedipus’s bloodline. A weak man sometimes gets so overwhelmed with hope it makes him evil and puts him in a miserable state.
Haemon came and he always agreed with his father’s choices. He was obedient and loyal. Haemon listened to his father’s advices and he would never allow passion to make him stray off of his way. Creon couldn’t forgive Antigone because it would mean he allowed a woman to rule over him and it wasn’t right to lose his power to a woman. He had to be a role model for his people and he needed to be consistent in his decisions.
Haemon went amongst the people to hear what they think about his father’s decision. When he came back he changed his mind and begged Creon to have mercy on Antigone and spares her life. The world felt sorry for Antigone because she had to die for doing the right thing. The Choirmaster and Haemon tried to convince Creon to listen to the people and have mercy for Antigone. The ruler doesn’t stand alone because his reign can’t exist without the people around him. Creon believed his son to be inexperienced and accused him of helping Antigone. He ordered the guards to bring Antigone so she could die in front of Haemon. Haemon left furious and Creon decided to throw Antigone into a dungeon and give her enough food to survive.
The Chorus sang about Eros and love which makes fathers and sons go into a personal war.
They brought Antigone and the Choirmaster felt sorry for her. During her walk Antigone invites everyone to follow her to Had and cries because of her destiny. She stood with her head held high because the evil illnesses never got to her. She was the only one going to Had by choice.
Antigone speaks about what awaits for her now on the cliff. She felt sorry for herself because she was innocent and alone going to a dungeon. She won’t be alive or dead in the dungeon. The Choirmaster, while Creon is away, goes and comforts Antigone knowing she did the right thing.
While Antigone was walking she remembered her parents who were waiting for her now. The Chorus stood by Antigone because she respected god’s laws. Antigone spoke to her parents and brothers because their love was more valuable to her than any obligation. She would act differently if it was about a husband or child because she was able to find a new man and start a life, but she could never bring back her brothers or have new ones because her parents were dead. She will be punished for doing the right thing and respecting god’s law. She was taken off of the stage.
In the song The Chorus sang about another woman who had a similar faith like Antigone and people who disrespected god’s law and made a sin against their family.
Prophet Tiresias came and he was brought by a boy. He told Creon that the birds told him something bad will happen. He observed their behavior and he heard some strange noises so he decided to make a sacrifice to the gods but they rejected him. It was god way of telling Tiresias that Thebe’s honor was ruined because they didn’t bury Polyneices. They’ve let his body to rot and be eaten by animals. Tiresias warned Creon he was wrong but that he has enough time to make everything right because he wasn’t aware of everything when he did it. Creon accused Tiresisas of only wanting his money and that he stops speaking because Polyneices will not be buried. Tiresias predicted a death in his family because he refused to listed to the gods.
The boy took Tiresias and Choirmaster warned Creon that Tiresisas was never wrong in his prophecies. Creon had to do something fast before someone close to him gets hurt. Creon decided to tell his servants to dig up a grave for Polyneices. He went with his servants. The Chorus is happy about Creon changing his mind and deciding to forgive Antigone. They hope for a happy outcome.
A messenger arrives. He gives a speech about Creon’s reign from the minute he came to the throne. Creon had two sons and one of them was Haemon. His other son killed himself to keep the victory on Thebes’s side as Tiresias predicted would happen. Now Haemon also committed suicide. In the moment Eurydice left the palace with the servants the messenger described all that had happened. Her husband Creon went to burry Polyneices and then they went to Antigone’s cell only to her a scream. She hung herself and Haemon was crying next to her. Haemon’s eyes radiated with anger and hatred for his father. He tried to attack him but Creon managed to defend himself. Filled with anger Haemon stabbed himself.
When Eurydice heard about it she went to the palace with her servants. The Choirmaster became suspicious because of the silence and he sent the messenger to chaperon her. Creon came holding Haemon’s hand and Haemon was carried by servants. The Chorus started lamenting because off all the deaths. Creon cried because of his son and realized his own madness brought him to this situation. The messenger came with bad news. The doors of the castle opened and showed Eurydice dead. Creon told the servants to get him away and calls for his own death.
The Choirmaster told that the first condition of happiness is a mind and the necessity to respect god’s laws. An arrogant man will always be shot down by destiny and brought to the realization of his own guilt.
Characters: Antigone, Ismene (Oedipus’s daughters) Creon (their uncle and the king), Eurydice (Creon’s wife), Haemon (Creon’s and Eurydice’s son), Tiresius (Prophet), guard, messengers
Antigone thought that the god’s law was above all and family was more worthy to her than a husband and child. From the beginning to her suicide she knew she was right and she was ready to die for her cause. She never got scared of her own decision but she did cry over her destiny. Antigone couldn’t accept the king’s rules because her conscious was something she didn’t want to live with. It wasn’t important to her if she dies before her weeding or giving birth because she knew her family was waiting on the other side. She was angry with her sister for not having enough courage to stand up to Creon and respect the god’s law. Ismene on the other hand believed her sister was ruled by passion which made her unreasonable. Her suicide proved to Creon he never had her faith in his hands because she picked her own death.
Ismene was Antigone’s opposite because she acted according to her fears. Ismene had no strength to stand against Creon’s laws and she got into a fight with Antigone. When she realized her sister was facing a death sentence she wanted to help but Antigone didn’t let her. Antigone told her that she picked her death and Ismene picked her life. Ismene was too weak to stand up to anyone and after wanting to help Antigone she was taken away and we know nothing of her destiny. It was assumed she died without getting married or having children.
Creon was a stubborn ruler who only believed in his own laws. He though a woman wasn’t allowed to show her own will and manage his decisions. He didn’t want to listen to his son because he thought Antigone played with his mind and that he was too inexperienced to make any choices. Despite his stubbornness and persistence Creon changed his mind at the last second but it was too late. Creon didn’t listen to the people before Tiresias arrival and a talk with the Choirmaster. His stubbornness caused his both sons and Eurydice to commit suicide.
Haemon was Creon’s younger son and Antigone’s fiancé. In the beginning he was described as a man who never questions his father’s decisions and always bows down to him because he thought his father was setting up a path for his future. He thought his father knew what was best for him so he accepted break the engagement with Antigone. He changed his opinion when he found out no one agreed with his father and that everyone felt sorry for Antigone being killed for doing the right thing. He came into a fight with his father who wouldn’t listen to him because he thought him to be immature and inexperienced. When he found Antigone dead in her cell he took a sword and tried to attack his father. Haemon ended up stabbing himself to death.
Tiresias was a prophet which appeared in ”King Oedipus”. Tiresias always had some bad prophecies which were significant not only for the characters but for the whole plot. He appeared in the sixth act and since he was old and blind a little boy was helping him. Creon valued him because his prophecies were true. He came to let Creon know that the god’s didn’t want to take his sacrifice because Thebes didn’t respect god’s laws by letting Polyneices’s body to rot and be eaten by animals. Creon was punished for his bad choices by losing his son and wife. Tiresias was trying to spare Creon the truth and let destiny do it all after Creon accused him of doing everything for the money. He was filled with anger when he was leaving the palace.
Sophocles (495 – 406 B.C.) was born near Athena and he came from a wealthy family. He was a play writer and one of the three great tragedians next to Aeschylus and Euripides.
Even though he was a poet he was vividly involved in political business.
He wrote over hundred tragedies and only seven were saved: Oedipus the King, Antigone, Electra, Ajax, The Trachiniae, Epigoni, Oedipus on Colonus.
He introduced the third character into the plays and he placed a man, passion and action into the center of the plot and also he let go of the mythical Greek world.