Antigone Summary

Buy Study Guide

Polyneices and Eteocles, two brothers leading opposite sides in Thebes' civil war, have both been killed in battle. Creon, the new ruler of Thebes, has declared that Eteocles will be honored and Polyneices disgraced. The rebel brother's body will not be sanctified by holy rites, and will lay unburied to become the food of carrion animals. Antigone and Ismene are the sisters of the dead brothers, and they are now the last children of the ill-fated Oedipus. In the opening of the play, Antigone brings Ismene outside the city gates late at night for a secret meeting: Antigone wants to bury Polyneices' body, in defiance of Creon's edict. Ismene refuses to help her, fearing the death penalty, but she is unable to dissuade Antigone from going to do the deed by herself.

Creon enters, along with the Chorus of Theban Elders. He seeks their support in the days to come, and in particular wants them to back his edict regarding the disposal of Polyneices' body. The Chorus of Elders pledges their support. A Sentry enters, fearfully reporting that the body has been buried. A furious Creon orders the Sentry to find the culprit or face death himself. The Sentry leaves, but after a short absence he returns, bringing Antigone with him. Creon questions her, and she does not deny what she has done. She argues unflinchingly with Creon about the morality of the edict and the morality of her actions. Creon grows angrier, and, thinking Ismene must have helped her, summons the girl. Ismene tries to confess falsely to the crime, wishing to die alongside her sister, but Antigone will have none of it. Creon orders that the two women be temporarily locked up.

Haemon, Creon's son and Antigone's fiance, enters to pledge allegiance to his father. He initially seems willing to obey Creon, but when Haemon gently tries to persuade his father to spare Antigone, the discussion deteriorates and the two men are soon bitterly insulting each other. Haemon leaves, vowing never to see Creon again.

Creon decides to spare Ismene and to imprison Antigone in a cave. She is brought out of the house, and she bewails her fate and defends her actions one last time. She is taken away, with the Chorus expressing great sorrow for what is going to happen to her.

Teiresias, the blind prophet, enters. He warns Creon that the gods side with Antigone. Creon accuses Teiresias of being corrupt, and Teiresias responds that because of Creon's mistakes, he will lose one child for the crimes of leaving Polyneices unburied and putting Antigone into the earth. All of Greece will despise him, and the sacrificial offerings of Thebes will not be accepted by the gods. The Chorus, terrified, asks Creon to take their advice. He assents, and they tell him that he should bury Polyneices and free Antigone. Creon, shaken, agrees to do it. He leaves with a retinue of men to help him right his previous mistakes. The Chorus delivers a choral ode on/to the god Dionysis, and then a Messenger enters to tell them that Haemon has killed himself. Eurydice, Creon's wife and Haemon's mother, enters and asks the Messenger to tell her everything. The Messenger reports that Haemon and Antigone have both taken their own lives. Eurydice disappears into the palace.

Creon enters, carrying Haemon's body. He understands that his own actions have caused these events. A Second Messenger arrives to tell Creon and the Chorus that Eurydice has killed herself. With her last breath, she cursed her husband. Creon blames himself for everything that has happened, and, a broken man, he asks his servants to help him inside. The order he valued so much has been protected, and he is still the king, but he has acted against the gods and lost his child and his wife as a result. The Chorus closes by saying that although the gods punish the proud, punishment brings wisdom.