Antigone

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Antigone Character Analysis

Daughter (and half-sister) of Oedipus, sister of Ismene, niece of Creon, and fiancée of Haemon. When her brother Polynices dies attacking Thebes, Antigone defies Creon's order that no citizen of Thebes can give Polynices's body a proper burial, under penalty of death. She believes the burial rituals are the unwritten rules of the gods, and must be obeyed regardless of a ruler's political whims. She is bold in her defiance, believes firmly that she is right, and at times seems eager to die for the cause of burying her brother.

Antigone Quotes in Antigone

The Antigone quotes below are all either spoken by Antigone or refer to Antigone. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Blindness vs. Sight Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Antigone published in 1984.
Lines 1-416 Quotes
I have longer
to please the dead than please the living here:
in the kingdom down below I'll lie forever.
Related Characters: Antigone (speaker)
Page Number: 88-90
Explanation and Analysis:

Antigone and Ismene have discussed the grief they feel as a result of the death of their two brothers, Polynices and Eteocles, who killed each other in battle. Antigone has announced that she plans to give Polynices proper burial rites, despite the fact that her uncle Creon, the king of Thebes, has forbidden it and decreed that any person who attempts to do so will be killed. Ismene is shocked and frightened by her sister's words, and says she hopes the dead will forgive her, but she won't defy Creon. Antigone replies that honoring the dead is more important than the living, as life is only brief and temporary, whereas death lasts forever. 

Antigone's words highlight the way in which the Ancient Greek belief in the afterlife could cause a conflicting sense of duty to the world of the gods versus the state. While Creon's status as King of Thebes means he has supreme authority in the world of the living, Antigone reminds her sister that this authority is ephemeral in comparison to the eternal power of the gods. Furthermore, Antigone's choice of words suggests she does not fear death; indeed, this lack of fear is arguably what allows her to behave so courageously over the course of the play. Note that Antigone views morality as an act of "pleasing," suggesting that the imperative to act in an ethical manner is less a matter of individual agency and more submission to the laws that the gods have determined. 

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I will suffer
nothing as great as death without glory.
Related Characters: Antigone (speaker)
Page Number: 112-113
Explanation and Analysis:

Ismene has told Antigone that she is terrified for her, and has promised not to tell anyone about Antigone's plan to bury Polynices. Antigone, however, dismisses Ismene's promise, exclaiming that Ismene should tell everyone. When Ismene expresses doubt that Antigone will be able to go through with her plan, Antigone declares that she is not afraid to carry it out, even if it means dying, because there is nothing worse than "death without glory."

Antigone's words here have a double significance. On one level, they refer to Polynices, who will suffer a "death without glory" unless Antigone intervenes and buries him properly. However, Antigone is also referring to herself, emphasizing that she does not fear death because if she is killed for burying Polynices she will die with glory because she is following the will of the Gods even at great person danger.

Lines 417-704 Quotes
Like father like daughter,
passionate, wild…
she hasn't learned to bend before adversity.
Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Antigone
Page Number: 525-527
Explanation and Analysis:

The sentry has brought Antigone to Creon, explaining that it was she who gave Polynices burial rites. Creon, shocked, has asked Antigone if the sentry's claims are true and how she could have dared to break a law. Antigone replies that she does not fear death, and that it would be far worse to not give her brother a proper funeral than to die. Following this exchange, the chorus remarks that Antigone is strong-willed like her father, Oedipus. In some ways, this comparison is flattering to Antigone; despite his flaws and all that befell him, Oedipus was considered a great man. In behaving like him, Antigone is also exhibiting the masculine virtues of courage and honor that were thought to be rare in women at the time.

On the other hand, this comparison to Oedipus has negative connotations, and hints at the sinister events to come. Oedipus' refusal to "bend before adversity" led him to stubbornly ignore Tiresias' prophecy, thereby inadvertently fulfilling it. Antigone betrays more foresight than her father––she is already aware that she might die for breaking Creon's law. Indeed, this highlights another similarity between Antigone and Oedipus: they are both doomed to live lives dominated by suffering and tragedy. 

Lines 705-1090 Quotes
Spit her out,
like a mortal enemy—let the girl go.
Let her find a husband down among the dead.
Related Characters: Creon (speaker), Antigone
Page Number: 728-730
Explanation and Analysis:

Haemon has arrived, and Creon has checked if Haemon wishes to obey him, to which Haemon replies that he does. Relieved, Creon lectures his son about the importance of obedience, and tells him to reject Antigone and move on. Creon's words show that he takes submission to the authority of the patriarchal family and the state much more seriously than romantic love or the gods. Indeed, his callous statement "Let her find a husband down among the dead" conveys his dismissive attitude toward Antigone's claims about the power of death and the afterlife. Of course, this viewpoint ultimately proves to be foolish; while Creon's words suggest that he has grown cruel from power, this power is meaningless in the face of fate, death, and the gods. 

Love, you mock us for your sport.
Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Antigone, Haemon
Page Number: 894
Explanation and Analysis:

Haemon has exited, telling his father they will never see each other again. Creon has announced that he will spare Ismene, but will exile Antigone to the desert, leaving her food so that the state cannot technically be held responsible for her death. Creon exits, and the chorus delivers a chant about love, which begins by accusing love of mocking humanity. Once again, the Chrous reminds the audience that people, even while they may be convinced and even obsessed by their own power, are in fact controlled by larger forces such as death, the gods, and in this case, love.

This is true even of Creon, who is rigid in his refusal to sympathize with his niece, listen to his son, or otherwise take into account the views of other people. Yet while at this point Creon behaves as if he is immune to the influence of love, by the end of the play the suicides of Antigone, Haemon, and Creon's wife, Eurydice, will leave him a broken man. 

I go to wed the lord of the dark waters.
Related Characters: Antigone (speaker)
Page Number: 908
Explanation and Analysis:

Antigone has entered, accompanied by guards. She converses with the chorus, who express pity at the sight of her; Antigone, too, laments her own fate, expressing sadness at the fact that she will never marry. Instead, she will "wed the lord of the dark waters," meaning Hades, god of the underworld. This statement reflects Creon's earlier statement that Antigone's fate would cure her of her love of death.

While Antigone's passionate insistence on honoring the dead and the gods is admirable, it has robbed her of the chance to live a normal life, including getting married. Yet it is also unsurprising that Antigone feels closer to the afterlife than the world of the living, considering most of her parents and brothers are all dead. 

You went too far, the last limits of daring—
smashing against the high throne of Justice!
Your life's in ruins, child—I wonder…
do you pay for your father's terrible ordeal?
Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Antigone
Page Number: 943-946
Explanation and Analysis:

The chorus have been speaking with Antigone about her tragic fate, implying that she is both noble and that she has defied the natural boundaries of behavior for a mortal woman. In this passage, the chorus tell Antigone that she "went too far," and that her suffering and death could be a kind of retribution for her "father's terrible ordeal." This conversation is important, as it reveals the limitations in the sympathy that the chorus feel for Antigone. Although her intentions to honor her brother and please the gods were good, the chorus emphasize that it is nonetheless inexcusable to defy "the high throne of Justice." 

The suggestion that she is "paying" for Oedipus' sins is significant on multiple levels. It coheres with the overall idea that the house of Oedipus is cursed, and that his relatives will continue to suffer for many generations. Indeed, this suffering is shown to breed even more suffering––after all, Antigone's fate is the result of an earlier familial tragedy, the fact that her brothers fought for opposite sides in the Trojan-Theban war and ended up killing each other. Although Antigone is not personally responsible for the actions of her father or brothers, her life is "ruined" by the terrible consequences. 

But if these men are wrong, let them suffer
nothing worse than they mete out to me—
these masters of injustice!
Related Characters: Antigone (speaker), Creon
Related Symbols: Antigone's Tomb
Page Number: 1019-1021
Explanation and Analysis:

Creon has instructed the guards to build Antigone a tomb and place her in it. Antigone mourns her fate, but has stated that she would not have done anything differently. As she is led away, she exclaims that she is being punished for honoring the gods, and asks the gods to punish those responsible for her death. She calls Creon and his men "masters of injustice," though asks that the gods do nothing worse to them than has been done to her. Antigone's plea to the gods highlights her strong sense of fairness and fundamental belief that she has made the right decision. Despite breaking the law, she feels confident that she is on the side of divine justice. 

This paradox illustrates the importance of natural law versus the law of the state. While particular rulers and regimes can be unjust, the law of the gods is eternal and always correct. Indeed, as Antigone's case proves, the laws of a particular mortal political regime may in fact violate the will of the gods; yet, as the play shows, this violation will not go unpunished. 

Still the same rough winds, the wild passion
raging through the girl.
Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Antigone
Related Symbols: Antigone's Tomb
Page Number: 1022-1023
Explanation and Analysis:

Antigone has been taken away by the guards to be sealed in her tomb. The chorus delivers a chant about all the people in different myths who were killed by being buried alive in a tomb. All were royalty or the children of gods, but none of them survived their fate.

In this passage, the chorus describes how Antigone's "wild passion" was inherited from her father, and that the intensity of this passion is akin to "rough winds." However, this wild and free spirit contrasts with the way in which Antigone is doomed to die: trapped within a tomb from which there is no hope of escape. This contrast again highlights the powerlessness of any mortal human in the face of the forces of fate, while also again connecting Antigone's fate to the previous sins of her father. 

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Antigone Character Timeline in Antigone

The timeline below shows where the character Antigone appears in Antigone. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Lines 1-416
Citizenship vs. Family Loyalty Theme Icon
Oedipus's two daughters, Antigone and Ismene, discuss their grief in the palace. The outraged Antigone tells Ismene that Creon... (full context)
Citizenship vs. Family Loyalty Theme Icon
Civil Disobedience Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
Angry and defiant, Antigone challenges Ismene to help her bury their brother Polynices. Ismene is frightened, both of Creon's... (full context)
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Citizenship vs. Family Loyalty Theme Icon
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Antigone responds that she won't let Ismene join in the glory of burying their brother even... (full context)
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Natural Law Theme Icon
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Ismene continues to plead with Antigone, but Antigone only grows angrier with her and more determined to defy Creon's decree. Antigone... (full context)
Lines 417-704
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Citizenship vs. Family Loyalty Theme Icon
Civil Disobedience Theme Icon
The sentry returns, escorting Antigone. He calls for Creon and presents Antigone as the culprit who defied the law and... (full context)
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Creon asks Antigone if she denies this charge. She does not. Creon dismisses the sentry and asks Antigone... (full context)
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Creon asks why she would dare to break the law. Antigone says that Creon's law was not the law of the gods of the underworld—the gods... (full context)
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Antigone says she knows she must die. Since she has already known so much sadness in... (full context)
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The leader of the chorus notes that Antigone is as passionate and stubborn as her father. Creon responds that he will break her... (full context)
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Antigone is unfazed, and says that to die for the act of bringing honor to her... (full context)
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Creon asks how Antigone can honor Polynices, who killed her other brother, the patriotic Eteocles. Antigone responds that all... (full context)
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Ismene enters, weeping, and says that she will share Antigone's guilt, but Antigone furiously refuses to let Ismene share in the glory of dying for... (full context)
Natural Law Theme Icon
Citizenship vs. Family Loyalty Theme Icon
...turns to Creon and asks him if he'd really kill his son Haemon's intended bride (Antigone is Haemon's fiancée). Creon says his son can find someone new. Ismene pleads that the... (full context)
Lines 705-1090
Natural Law Theme Icon
...importance of not losing one's head over a bad woman. He tells Creon to let Antigone go. (full context)
Citizenship vs. Family Loyalty Theme Icon
Civil Disobedience Theme Icon
Creon says that had he not punished Antigone's defiance of the rule of law, it would be like inviting anarchy to destroy the... (full context)
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Citizenship vs. Family Loyalty Theme Icon
Creon reacts with anger at his son's offering of advice. Again he calls Antigone a traitor. Haemon says the people of Thebes do not see it that way. Creon... (full context)
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Natural Law Theme Icon
The king and his son continue to argue. Creon accuses Haemon of supporting Antigone against his father. Haemon responds that he is trying to keep his father from committing... (full context)
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Natural Law Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...violent. Creon doesn't care. He decides to spare Ismene, but says that he will take Antigone into the wilderness and enclose her in a vault with just a bit of food.... (full context)
Blindness vs. Sight Theme Icon
Natural Law Theme Icon
Civil Disobedience Theme Icon
...that can't be conquered, that taunts people and makes them do crazy things. Guards bring Antigone from the palace. The chorus is heartbroken at the sight of her. (full context)
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Antigone laments her fate, and the fact that she will never experience the joys of marriage.... (full context)
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Civil Disobedience Theme Icon
Antigone continues to mourn her life and death. She says that she would not have done... (full context)
Natural Law Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
As she's led away, Antigone calls out that she is being punished for her devotion to the gods. She then... (full context)
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
...kings or children of gods, yet even they could not escape their fates, just as Antigone cannot escape hers. (full context)
Lines 1091-1470
Blindness vs. Sight Theme Icon
Natural Law Theme Icon
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...and that mortals may rule over the living. He says that as punishment for burying Antigone alive, the gods and the Furies will soon take the life of Creon's own child.... (full context)
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...He asks the leader of the chorus for advice. The leader tells him to free Antigone and bury Polynices quickly. Fearful, Creon gives in. He rushes off to free Antigone himself. (full context)