Antigone is both the daughter and the sister of Oedipus (since he married his own mother). Now that Oedipus and his brothers are dead, Antigone and Ismene are the last of the Labdacus family. After her father went into exile, Antigone and her sister were raised in the house of Creon. Her brothers Polyneices and Eteocles were casualties in a brutal war for power, each brother dying by the other's hand. Creon has declared that Eteocles will be honored with burial since he was a defender of Thebes, while Polyneices' body is left to the vultures and dogs. It is this edict that drives Antigone to defy the state, since she believes her brother Polyneices deserves the same treatment as Eteocles. Some critics see Antigone as too self-righteous, even alienating, but others claim her as a seminal feminist, determined to do what is right even in defiance of patriarchal law. Indeed, Antigone captured the public imagination immediately after the first performance of the play more than 2,500 years ago, as her deeds expanded the possibilities of human action, reconceived the role of women in society, and delineated a new type of character, one who sets her individual conscience and belief in divine principle above and against the power and authority of the state.
Antigone's last surviving sibling, Ismene is the foil for her stronger sister. In comparison to Antigone she has almost no agency, primarily because she is utterly terrified of disobeying men in power. She does not believe that women should ever violate the laws of men, since they are stronger and deserve subservience. Ismene does not help to bury Polyneices, but tries to claim responsibility for the burial later so that she can die with Antigone. Antigone refuses her help and Ismene is spared. This reflects both her great love for her family and her place as a symbol of the status quo who is rewarded for remembering her place.
Chorus of Theban Elders
The Chorus comments on the action and interacts with Creon, actively interceding with advice at a critical moment late in the play. The Chorus is comprised of the Theban elders, vital for maintaining order in the city, and Creon summons them to win their loyalty. They watch the unfolding events with sympathy and a discerning eye: they pity Creon and Antigone, but also comment critically on their faults.
The ruler of Thebes in the wake of war, Creon cherishes order and loyalty above all else. He cannot bear to be defied any more than he can bear to watch the laws of the state defied. He has Polyneices' body defiled while Eteocles is honored because he feels that he cannot give equal to share to both brothers when one was a traitor and the other was loyal. He does not recognize that other forms of justice exist, and in his pride he condemns Antigone, defies the gods, and brings ruin on himself.
The Sentry brings the news that Polyneices has been buried, and later captures Antigone. His speech is an interesting experiment in the history of Greek drama, as it attempts to approximate the rhythms and diction of natural speech. Similarly, his psychology reflects that of the simplest logic and reason - his only concern is preserving his life, and he asks basic questions, contrasting with Creon, Haemon, Ismene, and Antigone's lofty speeches on principles and ethics.
Haemon is the son of Creon and Eurydice and is engaged to be married to Antigone. In a dramatic dialogue with his father, Haemon defends the moral basis of Antigone's actions while warning his father that the people of Thebes sympathize with her determination to bury Polyneices. He and his father part in anger, as he simply asks his father to do what's right for Thebes, and his father stubbornly follows the path of least resistance. Haemon's devotion to Antigone is clear; at her death, he is so distraught that he tries to kill his father and then kills himself.
Teiresias, or Tiresias, is a blind prophet who warns Creon that the gods do not approve of his treatment of Polyneices' body or the punishment of Antigone. Creon insults Teiresias, believing that he's simply blackmailing him for money, but the prophet responds with a prophecy foretelling the death of one of Creon's children and a warning that all of Greece will despise the king if he does not relent. Creon realizes that Teiresias has never been wrong and that he must do his bidding. The prophet is an important part of Sophocles' vision: through Teiresias, the will of the gods is made known, and his very existence implies that there is a definite will of the gods that is far above the domain of man's law.
The Messenger reports the suicides of Antigone and Haemon to the Chorus and Eurydice. He leaves to follow Eurydice when she runs off in grief.
Eurydice is Creon's wife and Haemon's mother. Broken by her son's suicide, she kills herself, calling curses down on Creon for having caused the tragedy.
The Second Messenger reports Eurydice's suicide to the Chorus and Creon. Creon, already broken by Haemon's death, is forced to confront the suicide of his wife as well.
Antigone Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Antigone is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Greek audiences may not have been familiar with the particulars of Antigone's story, but they would have recognized the setting of the play and the initial context of its plot - namely, the city of Thebes and the seeming curse that afflicts all...