Antigone Summary

The tragedy written by Sophocles starts from the chorus, reciting the previous events. There once was king Oedipus, a wize and noble man of tragic fate, who ruled Thebes. He did everything he could to avoid his fate - to kill his father and to sleep with his mother - but everything Oedipus did, rightful and honored by itself, just drew him closer to the inevitable end.

Oedipus left two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, and two daughters, Antigone and Ismene, after him. They all are raised by Oedipus’ brother-in-law named Creon. Creon is a rigid ruler who sees the formal rules and laws as the source of the order in his kingdom.

But Creon wasn’t meant to be a king. At first Eteocles and Polynices ruled Thebes together under his guidance. But soon both of the brothers grew pride and decided that each of them deserves to be the sole ruler. Polynices fled the city and allied with foreigners, gathering an army and trying to conquer Thebes and overthrow his brother. Eteocles defeated the city and succeeded, but after the devastating fight both of the brothers were found dead.

The tragedy starts from Creon making a hard decision to bury one brother - Eteocles - as a hero who defended his motherland and fell like a king. Polynices should be left on the crossroads to rot, as a traitor who brought the foreign army to the walls of his native city. In the meanwhile Creon’s son, Haemon, who spoke to Ismene before, suddenly makes a proposal to Antigone.

But Antigone can’t enjoy this. All her thoughts are about Polynices, her brother, left for disgrace. She objects the decision of Creon, saying that if that order may even seem right from the king’s point of view, it is still very, very wrong and inhumane. But Creon doesn’t want to think about humanity or displeasing Gods - he thinks that he does what he has to.

At night Antigone comes to Ismene and says that she is going to bury their brother - even if she will be sentenced to death for disobeying the king’s order. Ismene tries to stop her, reminding Antigone that they are just weak women unable to change anything. Seeing that Antigone is adamant, Ismene says that she loves her the way she is and doesn’t ask about anything more.

The next day after Polynices was laid on the crossroads, one of his guards enters the palace with report that someone covered the dead body with dirt at night, giving it a symbolic burial. Creon is furious. He orders to remove the dust from the body, find and bring the law offender to him immediately. To his shock and surprise the guardians bring Antigone to him, saying that she tried to repeat the “burial”.

Creon sends the guards away and locks Antigone in her room saying that he won’t allow her grief to ruin his plans. She is the future queen and wife for his son Haemon, so he orders her to stay at home - he, in his turn, will do his best to not let anyone know what she has done. Antigone confronts him, saying that she is the daughter of her father, king Oedipus, and she isn’t afraid of death while doing what she thinks is right. She asks Creon, if all of his people are wrong to be glad that someone buried Polynices? Can it be that only Creon knows what is right, but not any of the other people? Creon accuses Antigone that she is pitying the traitor but the girl responds that she is loving her deceased brother and she won’t reject her humanity even in the grave danger.

Creon tries to talk with her three times, but the last time Ismene hears the argument and rushes to defend her sister. The king says that she is guilty too, Ismene objects that she didn’t help Antigone but is ready to die with her, because what Antigone did is right.

Creon leaves and orders his son to come. He says that Haemon’s fiancee broke his law so she will be sentenced to death and immured in the wall alive. Haemon tells his father that all the Thebes are ready to revolt considering Antigone a heroine who fulfilled what everyone of them wanted to do but was afraid to. Creon harshly says that he is the king and he decides what is right or wrong, not the average people and even his son doesn’t have the right to judge him. He adds that if Antigone is so concerned about pleasing the Gods, they will probably save her from her death. This is the final straw for Haemon, he bitterly tells his father that he has no son anymore and leaves.

Antigone is in her cell, preparing for death. She is afraid and crying, but she still thinks that she did what she had to. As her last will the girl asks her guardian to deliver a letter to Haemon, offering him her ring for it. She writes the last words, confessing her love to Haemon and asking to forgive her for inability to step away from her principles. Antigone asks him to be happy without her.

The next day Antigone, crying about the injustice of the world, is immured alive and Haemon is nowhere to be seen. But a few days later a blind prophet Tiresius comes to Thebes saying that the Gods are angered by violating the natural order of things: a dead Polynices is left without burial and Antigone is buried alive. The sacred flames aren’t burning no more, the omens are dark and the city is about to be cursed as it was at times of king Oedipus.

Creon is very stubborn, but at last he has to give up for the sake of his city. He orders to break the wall where Antigone is buried - but when the workers take away the stones they hear Haemon crying. The prince decided to stay with his beloved. But Antigone hung herself in despair and Haemon sits inside cradling her dead body. Seeing Creon he draws his sword and rushes to his father. The guards protect their king and Haemon, seeing that there is no chance for him to avenge Antigone, kills himself with that sword.

Devastated by the loss of his only son, Creon returns back to the palace to tell his wife Euridice that their son has died and what was the death of him. Euridice listens to him with unsetting tranquility and then goes to her chambers and slits her throat unable to live without her only son and with the man who - though indirectly - is his killer.

Creon is left alone to mourn his fate and his deceased family members. He tearfully asks them to forgive his stubbornness and stupidity and the chorus concludes that Creon learnt a bitter lesson that the basic principles of humanity are far above any governmental laws.
 

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