Antigone

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Citizenship vs. Family Loyalty Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Blindness vs. Sight Theme Icon
Natural Law Theme Icon
Citizenship vs. Family Loyalty Theme Icon
Civil Disobedience Theme Icon
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Antigone, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Citizenship vs. Family Loyalty Theme Icon

The concept of citizenship and the duties that citizens owe to the state were subjects of huge importance and debate in fifth-century B.C.E. Athens, where Sophocles lived and where Antigone was first performed. Antigone and Creon represent the extreme opposite political views regarding where a citizen of a city should place his or her loyalties.

In the play, Creon has a strict definition of citizenship that calls for the state to come first: "…whoever places a friend / above the good of his country, he is nothing: / I have no use for him." From Creon's perspective, Polynices has forfeited the right to a proper burial as a citizen of Thebes because he has attacked the city. In attacking Thebes, he has shown his disloyalty to the state and has ceased to be a citizen. In fact, Creon is more devoted to his laws than he is to even his own son Haemon's happiness, refusing to pardon Antigone for burying Polynices even though she is Haemon's fiancée. Antigone, on the other hand, places long held traditions and loyalty to her family above obedience to the city or to its ruler. In doing so, she makes the case that there are loyalties to both the gods and one's own family that outweigh one's loyalty to a city.

Citizenship vs. Family Loyalty ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Citizenship vs. Family Loyalty appears in each section of Antigone. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Citizenship vs. Family Loyalty Quotes in Antigone

Below you will find the important quotes in Antigone related to the theme of Citizenship vs. Family Loyalty.
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.

And speech and thought, quick as the wind
and the mood and mind for law that rules the city—
all these he has taught himself
and shelter from the arrows of the frost
when there's rough lodging under the cold clear sky
and the shafts of lashing rain—
ready, resourceful man!
Never without resources
never an impasse as he marches on the future—
only Death, from Death alone he will find no rescue
but from desperate plagues ha has plotted his escapes.
Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Creon
Page Number: 396-405
Explanation and Analysis:

A nervous sentry has informed Creon that someone has begun giving Polynices' body proper burial rites, and Creon reacts furiously, threatening to torture the sentry unless he finds the man responsible. Creon and the sentry have exited, and the chorus remains onstage to deliver a chant about humanity. The chorus claims that mankind is the greatest of the world's wonders, with immense skill and "resources." According to the chorus, men can be stopped by no impasse except death––"from Death alone will he find no rescue." These words directly echo Antigone's claim about the transience of life in comparison to the permanence of death. As the chorus emphasizes, humans may possess impressive talents and abilities but these are rendered somewhat meaningless in the face of the inevitability of death. 

By facing death without fear, Antigone displays a humble awareness and acceptance of the limitations of humanity's power. She knows that she may be killed, yet reasons that this is a worthwhile risk because in defying Creon she is honoring the importance of dignity in death, as well as obeying the will of the gods and natural law. Creon, meanwhile, is blind to the point made by the chorus in this passage that humanity is unable to escape death. Indeed, he is suffering from hubris, an excess of pride and lack of humility. Creon has forgotten that the world of death, the afterlife, and the gods is more powerful than he will ever be as a mortal king. 

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. 

Anarchy!—
show me a greater crime in all the earth!
Related Characters: Creon (speaker)
Page Number: 751-752
Explanation and Analysis:

Creon, still lecturing Haemon, has anticipated that Antigone might object to being killed on the grounds of family. But Creon is resolute in his decision to execute her, because, in his mind, to do otherwise would be like inviting anarchy into Thebes. In this quotation, he exclaims that there is no "greater crime" than anarchy. We can interpret Creon's intense hatred of anarchy in two ways. It's possible that he is simply a tyrannical, dictatorial character obsessed with preserving his own power. Antigone threatens this power, and thus no amount of pity will provoke him to spare her. 

On the other hand, it is possible to read view the presentation of Creon's beliefs in a more sympathetic, nuanced way. Rather than being invested in the power of the state for personal gain, perhaps Creon truly does believe that strict adherence to the laws of the state is the only way to maintain fairness, justice, and harmony. While Creon's treatment of Antigone may be harsh, pardoning her because she is his niece and soon-to-be daughter-in-law could constitute preferential treatment. Of course, while this is a more sympathetic account of Creon's motives, it does not excuse his lack of respect for the dead and the gods. 

Whoever thinks that he alone possesses intelligence,
the gift of eloquence, he and no one else,
and character too…such men, I tell you,
spread them open—you will find them empty.
Related Characters: Haemon (speaker), Creon
Page Number: 791-794
Explanation and Analysis:

Creon has demanded obedience from Haemon, before launching into a lecture about the importance of law, order, and submission to the rule of the state. When Haemon has a chance to speak, he begins in a tentative and deferential way, stressing his loyalty to his father. However, in this passage he notes that it is foolish for any man to think "that he alone possess intelligence." Haemon goes on to tell Creon that the people of Thebes are siding with Antigone, and his warning against hubris can be seen as a rhetorical strategy designed to persuade Creon to take public opinion seriously. 

In this scene Haemon is shown to be diplomatic, humble, and dutiful. His words in this passage are perceptive, and cohere with the overall moral message of the play. Like the men Haemon describes, Creon is blinded by his confidence in his own knowledge and power. Haemon's comment that the men are "empty" highlights the fact that––despite his superficial glory––Creon remains spiritually hollow because he cares more about power than morality and does not respect the gods. 

Am I to rule this land for others—or myself?
Related Characters: Creon (speaker)
Page Number: 823
Explanation and Analysis:

Despite Haemon's careful and submissive manner, Creon has grown furious at Haemon's suggestion that he should spare Antigone's life. He has accused Haemon of behaving in a ludicrous and immoral way, causing Haemon to grow more defensive. Yet Creon refuses to acknowledge that he should take into account the opinion of the people, asking if he should rule "for others" or for himself.

This question is a quintessential example of Creon's corrupt and selfish attitude toward political rule. His statement suggests that adjusting laws based on public opinion would be irresponsible––however, this is the guiding principle of democracy. Clearly, Creon's unswerving belief in the power of the state is self-serving and megalomaniacal, given that he is the leader of the state. Although he insists on strict adherence to the rule of law, he has little interest in actual morality.

What a splendid king you'd make of a desert island—you and you alone.
Related Characters: Haemon (speaker), Creon
Page Number: 826
Explanation and Analysis:

Creon and Haemon have continued to argue, with Creon objecting to the suggestion that he should pardon Antigone because the people are sympathetic to her. When Creon asks rhetorically if he should "rule this land for others" or for himself, Haemon replies that he would make a "splendid king" of "a desert island."

With this sardonic comment, Haemon criticizes Creon for his selfish, tyrranical mode of rule. The image of the desert island also raises the point that Creon isolates himself by refusing to acknowledge the will of the people or to pardon Antigone because she is his niece. As a cruel, dictatorial king, Creon essentially positions himself on a metaphorical desert island, cut off from the rest of the City and only interested in pleasing himself.

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.