Antigone is a Greek tragedy by Sophocles. It contains many lessons in a short drama.

In the opening scene with Antigone and Ismene we learn about the Theban political situation in the play and how that relates to what Antigone is going to perform. Antigone’s father Oedipus, the former ruler along with his wife and two sons are dead. Ismene says that Oedipus was “hated, infamous, destroyed; found his crimes, broke his eyes, that hand that murdered, two in one” (23), the “two in one” refers to his wife, who was both Oedipus’s mother and wife. The number two is recurring here, two being both mother and wife, two brothers who caused the civil war, and two sisters–Antigone and Ismene. Antigone next announces that she is going to disobey the new law that was established by Kreon, the new king of Thebes. The law forbids anyone from burying Polyneices or they will be penalized with death. Polyneices is Antigone’s brother and she cannot leave him unburied because she loves him. It is also the Greek custom to bury the dead and Antigone is serious on that. On the other hand, Ismene, who is “sensible” decides not to be involved with this, her excuse being “the whole country refuses to help”. But Antigone is strong-willed and devoted to her love for her brother, and she would rather die.

In the next bit we see Kreon, the Theban king. Kreon carries himself like a tyrant, the state is at his disposal, like Koryphaios, the chorus leader says. The conversation between the sentry and Kreon can be read like a comedy. The sentry reports that someone has disobeyed his law and buried the dead body. Kreon is obviously irritated, especially by the way the sentry talks. He says “Don’t you know yet your talk irritates me?” “Does it hurt in your ears, sir, or in your soul?” The sentry asks. “What is this? Anatomy?” Kreon says.

When Antigone is caught, she shows her strength through her speech. “But if I had let my own brother stay unburied, I would have suffered all the pain I do not feel now” (39). Both Antigone and Kreon are stubborn. While Antigone does it out of love, Kreon out of ego. Kreon’s son Haimon criticizes him, saying he must relent and listen and that Kreon is “talking like a boy”. The role of father and son switches here. The son speaks out of wisdom while the father whim.

Throughout the play, Kreon appears to be a nasty person, fooled by his power. In the end, when he has to pay the price of his foolishness with both his son and wife, it is hard to know whether to pity him or not. He realizes his mistakes and cannot live anymore; death is what he wants.

Who is most pitiable in the play? Antigone & Haimon? Kreon? Everybody basically? Why? What can we learn from each character?

1 Thought.

  1. Nice overall summary. I like how you’ve pointed out that “twos” reappear throughout the play. But the two-in-one’s are often split up–Antigone and Ismene, Polyneices and Eteokles, Antigone and Haimon (who should have been wed and thus become one, but aren’t able to…at least in life; maybe they become one in death?).

    It is interesting to ask whom we should pity or identify with by the end. Both Kreon and Antigone are stubborn, and they resemble each other in this, and their devotion to their respective causes. In the end, it is Kreon who bends, but should Antigone have bent at all? I’m not sure. I’m not particularly pleased with the way she treats her sister, just as I’m not pleased with the way Kreon treats his son! They are both flawed, it seems to me.

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