Antigone Summary and Analysis
The Chorus extols the power of love, which affects all beings - including the gods. Love has the power to make even the strongest person go mad and pervert even the best minds - and the Chorus believes that the fight between Creon and his son can be traced to the wickedness of love. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, is undefeatable and makes all men toys in her hands. Love strikes the Chorus, too: they weep at the approach of Antigone, "making her way / to her bed."
Antigone enters, bemoaning her "last road" as she walks towards her death. Her husband is to be Acheron, "Lord of Death" (l. 810), and she will rest with him, deprived of marriage hymns. The Chorus tries to comfort her by telling her that she will be honored with hymns of praise, for she stayed true to her own laws. Antigone denies this, comparing her fate to the goddess Niobe who was locked away in "rocky growth" and was subdued into death. The Chorus sees this as a wonderful comparison - proof that Antigone is now immortal, like a goddess, but Antigone accuses them of mocking her and of trying to find a way to justify this cruel death where she has no place with human beings, living or dead, and no city to call home. Finally, the Chorus takes a stand and says that Antigone is extreme and impetuous, and deserves her fate because she went too far. She crossed the purveyor of high justice, and now must endure her father's legacy, which is eternal pain and punishment. Antigone weeps for her doomed ancestors.
Creon enters and says that Antigone should be taken away immediately - and left alone in her tomb. Antigone prepares herself for death, and says she is coming home forever now, to be held with her own people, most of whom are dead now under the curse of her family tree. She knows she has done the right thing, but still thinks that the punishment is too cruel. She's never had a man, never had a wedding, never shared love with a husband or raised a child. She will go to the hollow of the dead without ever knowing why - for she did not violate divine justice, and knows that the gods will not help her in her misery. She says that she doesn't know who to pray to, only that she does not want to repent for her supposed sin. She hopes that those who condemned her suffer as much as she does.
The Chorus sees her words as signs of her unchanged fiery character, while Creon grows impatient with the guards. Antigone tells the "princes of Thebes" to look at her, the last of her line, punished because she has given "reverence to what claims reverence" (ll. 1000-1). She is led away as the Chorus speaks of others who have suffered at the hands of the Fates.
The blind prophet Teiresias enters, led by a young boy. The old sage asks Creon to heed his advice as he has in the past. The signs say that the gods do not approve of the treatment of Polyneices' body. On the altars, there is "the carrion meat of birds and dogs, / torn from the flesh of Oedipus' poor son" (ll. 1074-5). The gods do not take the prayers or sacrifices of the Thebans, and the birds' cries are muffled because the birds' throats are glutted with the blood of Polyneices. Teiresias expounds on the importance of taking counsel, and says that a man who makes a mistake and then corrects it brings no shame on himself.
Creon accuses Teiresias of being a greedy manipulator. The ruler insinuates that the old sage has been bribed. Teiresias says that the wise should learn to heed advice, and he accuses princes of loving to take advantage of people. Then Teiresias gives him a prophecy: within a few days, one of his children will die because Creon kept one above the earth who should have been buried, while putting below the earth one who should walk among the living. The gods, as a result, will exchange a "life for a life." According to Teiresias, Creon has violated the proper treatment of both the living and the dead. All the cities will despise Creon, because the carrion animals will run amok, and birds shall carry the stench of death everywhere. The prophet leaves in anger.
The Chorus functions not just as a literal set of characters - namely the tribe of elders - but also in a number of other capacities. First, they separate the key segments of action so that characters are given time to accomplish whatever they set out to do, and so that the audience can digest the heated emotions of the previous scene. Often, in thunderous dramas such as this, comic relief scenes and jester-like characters might serve the same purpose, but here the Chorus also offers tribute to the divine at every opportunity - to Zeus, to Love, to Bacchus, etc.
Of all the choral poems, the ode to Bacchus is perhaps the most unexpected, because love seems the one element most absent from Antigone. Indeed, for all his professed love of Antigone, Haemon seems genuinely unaffected by passion - making the Chorus' claim that the fight between Creon and Haemon is rooted in love rather unconvincing. Even more so, at the end of the play we're not sure whether it's love that causes Haemon's tragic end, or loathing for his father. It is fully appropriate, then, to wonder whether the Love the chorus is referencing is between Haemon and Antigone, or Haemon and Creon - for Haemon worships his father and only wants Creon to give him good advice for him to follow. Upon learning that his father is not only fallible, but mortally foolish, Haemon loses the one thing he held above all: his love for Creon.
Antigone is not an unfeeling heroine. Indeed, once she has been condemned to death, she doesn't doubt her decision, but rather continues to challenge the process of life that would allow foolish mortals to reign over divine law. These last speeches by Antigone are powerful and affecting because they seem to take her out of the bounds of the story - as if to literally ask, "why must I die when I've done nothing wrong?" For all her feminist claims, Antigone has no desire to be a martyr. We sense her desire to marry, to have a wedding, to have sex, to have a child - but now she has no one to pray to, because she has learned that the gods won't interfere on her behalf.
Her last speech is worthy of closer examination:
City of my fathers, Thebes!
Gods of my people!
They take me against my will.
Look, O you lords of Thebes:
I am the last remnant of kings.
Look what these wretched men do,
For my pure reverence!
Antigone brings together all the horrors, dreams, and fears that have plagued her and will stay with her in her underground tomb. She appeals to the gods, imploring them to save her from men - for she is the last remnant of the true Thebes, the one that belonged to her father, and the one that belonged to the legacy touched by a divine plague. But now, for the sake of 'reverence,' or show to the gods, Antigone will die - and she asks that the gods intervene to show Creon that he is not acting in true reverence of the gods, but against them.
As in Oedipus, it is up to a blind prophet to make our king see straight, and Creon is aghast at Teiresias' terrible prophecies. Remember, Creon does not listen to Antigone because she is a woman, and will not listen to Haemon because he is young - and at first he won't listen to Teiresias because he thinks the soothsayer is only after money. Now we understand why Creon delivered the seemingly irrelevant diatribe on money earlier - because it gives him a convenient excuse not to listen to anyone who disagrees with him and isn't easily dismissed. Ultimately, however, he must listen to Teiresias, because the prophet is never wrong. In other words, Creon cannot argue with empirical evidence; he cannot argue with what he sees. Teiresias is himself offended, however, by Creon's initial dismissal of him and leaves with a precise understanding of Creon's tragic flaw - his projection of anger onto those weaker than him, his impulsivity, and his ego.
Antigone Essays and Related Content
- Antigone: Major Themes
- Antigone: Essays
- Antigone: E-Text
- Antigone: Questions
- Antigone: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Sophocles: Biography
- Antigone Summary
- About Antigone
- Character List
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Lines 001-241
- Summary and Analysis of Lines 242-525
- Summary and Analysis of Lines 579-785
- Summary and Analysis of Lines 786-1090
- Summary and Analysis of Lines 1091-1350
- Antigone's Family Tree
- Related Links on Antigone
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources