Antigone by Sophocles: Summary, Characters

Antigone Summary

Antigone Summary: In the 1960s, Rosa Parks refused to give her seat up to a white person and started one of the biggest legal fights of the era. Granted, while that was a premeditated act of civil disobedience, in Antigone, a tragedy written by Sophocles around 441 BCE, the heroine has a similar choice. She chooses to disobey the law and bury her brother not because she wants to make any big political statement but because he has every right to it.

Antigone begins with The two sons of Oedipus, Eteocles and Polyneices, who are fighting for the kingship of Thebes. Both men die in the battle. Their successor, Creon, decides that King Eteocles will be buried, but Polyneices, because he was leading a foreign army, will be left on the field of battle. Antigone, his sister, buries him anyway.

Antigone By Sophocles

Antigone is caught burying Polyneices and is condemned to death. Her fiance and Creon’s son, Haemon, learns about this and tries to convince Creon to change his mind. It’s only then that the seer Tiresias appears. After a long discussion, he finally persuades Creon that the gods want Polyneices buried. By then it’s too late — Antigone has hung herself, Haemon kills himself when he finds her, and Creon’s wife kills herself when she learns about her son.

Summary Of Antigone

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.

Antigone Sophocles Summary

Antigone Sophocles Summary

Antigone picks up in the same (uber-dismal) place that Oedipus at Colonus leaves off. Oedipus has just passed away in Colonus, and Antigone and her sister decide to return to Thebes with the intention of helping their brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, avoid a prophecy that predicts they will kill each other in a battle for the throne of Thebes.

But upon her arrival in Thebes, Antigone learns that both of her brothers are dead. Eteocles has been given a proper burial, but Creon, Antigone’s uncle who has inherited the throne, has issued a royal edict banning the burial of Polyneices, who he believes was a traitor. Antigone defies the law, buries her brother, and is caught. When Creon locks her away in prison, she kills herself.

Meanwhile, not realizing Antigone has taken her own life, the blind prophet Teiresias, Creon’s son and Antigone’s fiancé Haemon, and the Chorus plead with Creon to release her. Creon finally relents, but in an instance of too-late-timing, finds her dead in her jail cell. Out of despair, Haemon and Creon’s wife have by now also killed themselves, and Creon is left in distress and sorrow.

Sophocles Antigone Summary

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 odeon/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.

Antigone Scene 1 Summary

Outside the city gates, Antigone tells Ismene that Creon has ordered that Eteocles, who died defending the city, is to be buried with full honors, while the body of Polynices, the invader, is left to rot. Furthermore, Creon has declared that anyone attempting to bury Polynices shall be publicly stoned to death. Outraged, Antigone reveals to Ismene a plan to bury Polynices in secret, despite Creon’s order. When Ismene timidly refuses to defy the king, Antigone angrily rejects her and goes off alone to bury her brother.

Creon discovers that someone has attempted to offer a ritual burial to Polynices and demands that the guilty one be found and brought before him. When he discovers that Antigone, his niece, has defied his order, Creon is furious. Antigone makes an impassioned argument, declaring Creon’s order to be against the laws of the gods themselves. Enraged by Antigone’s refusal to submit to his authority, Creon declares that she and her sister will be put to death.

Haemon, Creon’s son who was to marry Antigone, advises his father to reconsider his decision. The father and son argue, Haemon accusing Creon of arrogance, and Creon accusing Haemon of unmanly weakness in siding with a woman. Haemon leaves in anger, swearing never to return. Without admitting that Haemon may be right, Creon amends his pronouncement on the sisters: Ismene shall live, and Antigone will be sealed in a tomb to die of starvation, rather than stoned to death by the city.

The blind prophet Tiresias warns Creon that the gods disapprove of his leaving Polynices unburied and will punish the king’s impiety with the death of his own son. After rejecting Tiresias angrily, Creon reconsiders and decides to bury Polynices and free Antigone.

Why did Antigone kill herself?

‘For you chose to live when I chose death’, Antigone says to Ismene, who was afraid to help her bury their brother. Antigone was ready for death, but for a death that would be inflicted on her by others, not for a death that she would inflict on herself. Why then did she kill herself?

How is Antigone to be executed?

Under Creon’s decree, the punishment for burying Polynices is death by stoning. Creon does not sentence Antigone to death by stoning, however. … He orders her entombed alive, so as to avoid the public spectacle of her death. The sentence is still death, but it is a death away from the eyes of the public.

Does Antigone kill herself?

Although Creon has a change of heart and tries to release Antigone, he finds she has hanged herself. Creon’s son Haemon, who was in love with Antigone commits suicide with a knife, and his mother Queen Eurydice, also kills herself in despair over her son’s death.