Antigone

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Fate vs. Free Will 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.
Fate vs. Free Will Theme Icon

The ancient Greeks believed that their gods could see the future, and that certain people could access this information. Independent prophets called "seers" saw visions of things to come. Oracles, priests who resided at the temples of gods—such as the oracle to Apollo at Delphi—were also believed to be able to interpret the gods' visions and give prophecies to people who sought to know the future. Oracles were an accepted part of Greek life—famous leaders and common people alike consulted them for help with making all kinds of decisions. Long before the beginning of Antigone, Oedipus, Antigone's father, fulfilled one of the most famous prophecies in world literature—that he would kill his father and marry his mother (these events are covered in detail in Sophocles's Oedipus Rex). Despite his efforts to avoid this terrible fate, it came to pass. When Oedipus learned what he had inadvertently done, he gouged out his own eyes and was banished from Thebes. Before dying, he prophesied that his two sons, Polynices and Eteocles, would kill each other in the battle for Thebes (see Oedipus at Colonus). This, too, comes to pass.

Yet when the prophet Tiresias visits Creon in Antigone, he comes to deliver a warning, not an unavoidable prophecy. He says that Creon has made a bad decision, but that he can redeem himself. "Once the wrong is done," Tiresias says, "a man can turn his back on folly, misfortune, too, if he tries to make amends, however low he's fallen, and stops his bullnecked ways." While Oedipus never has a choice—his fate was sealed—in this case Creon seems to have more free will. He chooses to remain stubborn, however, until it's too late and he is caught in the grip of a terrible fate that he can't escape.

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Fate vs. Free Will Quotes in Antigone

Below you will find the important quotes in Antigone related to the theme of Fate vs. Free Will.
Lines 1-416 Quotes
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. 

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Lines 417-704 Quotes
Blest, they are truly blest who all their lives
have never tasted devastation. For others, once
the gods have rocked a house to its foundations
the ruin will never cease, cresting on and on
from one generation on throughout the race—
like a great mounting tide
driven on by savage northern gales,
surging over the dead black depths
roiling up from the bottom dark heaves of sand
and the headlands, taking the storm's onslaught full-force,
roar, and the low moaning
echoes on and on
Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker)
Page Number: 656-666
Explanation and Analysis:

Creon has condemned Antigone to death for burying Polynices, also condemning Ismene despite Antigone's insistence that Ismene is not guilty and that her offer of solidarity came too late. Although Ismene has protested on the grounds that Creon's son, Haemon, is in love with Antigone, Creon has not relented.

After all the characters exit, the chorus delivers a chant about the fact that tragedy that has befallen the house of Oedipus "will never cease, cresting on and on." The chorus describes the pain and suffering of Oedipus' family in lyrical terms, comparing it to a powerful storm. Note that there is no redemption at the end of this suffering; indeed, the only purpose of it is to demonstrate the irreproachable power of the gods. 

Lines 705-1090 Quotes
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. 

If a man could wail his own dirge before he dies,
he'd never finish.
Related Characters: Creon (speaker)
Page Number: 970-971
Explanation and Analysis:

Antigone and the chorus have reached the conclusion that her terrible fate is indeed the result of her father's misdeeds, and Antigone has ended her lamentation by saying that at her death she will not allow for any love to be shown or words to be spoken. At this moment, Creon enters, heartlessly declaring that if they could, men about to die would continue lamenting forever. Creon's words are exceedingly harsh, highlighting his absolute lack of sympathy for Antigone.

On the other hand, Creon's comment also points to the fact that people tend to indulge in lamentations because it is only at the point of death that they are able to fully understand (and likely regret) their actions. This observation is both perceptive and ironic, considering that at this point Creon still cannot foresee the extent to which he will regret his own actions. This irony suggests that people's judgment of others is usually hypocritical. 

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. 

Lines 1091-1470 Quotes
Then reflect, my son: you are poised,
once more, on the razor-edge of fate.
Related Characters: Tiresias (speaker), Creon
Page Number: 1099-1100
Explanation and Analysis:

Tiresias the seer has entered, led by a young boy. He addresses Creon, who seems tentatively willing to listen. In this passage, Tiresias warns Creon that he is at a pivotal juncture, "poised... on the razor-edge of fate." Tiresias' clarity here is key––although in Greek tragedy the advice of seers is often presented as difficult to comprehend, in this instance Tiresias is exceptionally direct. This makes it all the less excusable that Creon ultimately chooses to ignore him.

Note that Tiresias' words stress the intermingling of free will and fate. The events that have led up to this moment were doomed to take place, and Tiresias' vision of the future illustrates that the events to come are similarly predetermined. On the other hand, Tiresias stresses that the decision facing Creon is his to make, thereby placing responsibility on him for the consequences of his choice. 

These arrows for your heart! Since you've raked me
I loose them like an archer in my anger,
arrows deadly true. You'll never escape their
burning, searing force.
Related Characters: Tiresias (speaker), Creon
Page Number: 1206-1209
Explanation and Analysis:

Creon has reacted furiously to Tiresias' advice, accusing Tiresias of being a false prophet who has accepted bribes. In response, Tiresias responds by informing Creon that he will pay for Antigone's death by losing a child of his own. Before he exits, he tells Creon that Creon has angered him, and that as a result he is releasing metaphorical arrows aimed at Creon's heart. Tiresias warns that Creon will "never escape their burning, searing force." This is a climactic moment in which it is clear that Creon has sealed his own terrible, tragic fate. However, the fact that Creon had so many chances to redeem himself proves that this fate has come about as a result of his own free will. 

Tiresias' words also confirm the long-lasting nature of his curse. Creon will be punished not only with one terrible event, but an eternal legacy from which he will never be able to escape. This emphasizes the theme of curses and suffering living on through many generations, and children paying for their parents' wrongdoing. 

Take me away, quickly, out of sight.
I don't even exist—I'm no one. Nothing.
Related Characters: Creon (speaker)
Page Number: 1445-1446
Explanation and Analysis:

Creon, terrified by Tiresias' curse, has decided to free Antigone and bury Polynices. However, this decision has come too late, and not only Antigone but also Haemon have both killed themselves. Creon has entered, carrying Haemon's body and cursing himself; moments later, a messenger informs him that Creon's wife, Eurydice, has also killed herself after hearing of Haemon's death. At this point, Creon is mad with grief and longs to die, and in this passage asks to be taken away, saying that he is "nothing." Despite Creon's foolish mistakes and cruel behavior, his terrible ordeal at the end of the play is likely to elicit pity. Having spent the majority of the play "blind" to the consequences of his actions, Creon is now able to fully comprehend what he has done. 

Creon's longing for death is ironic, as up until this point he has mocked Antigone for her willingness to die. Indeed, Creon's statement "I don't even exist––I'm no one. Nothing" suggests that living with the knowledge that his pride led to the suicides of his wife, son, and niece is a fate far worse than death. Finally, Creon's fate shows that the gods vindicated Antigone as she requested, forcing Creon to lose his family members just as Antigone experienced the death of her parents and brothers. 

The mighty words of the proud are paid in full
with mighty blows of fate, and at long last
those blows will teach us wisdom.
Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Creon
Page Number: 1468-1470
Explanation and Analysis:

Creon has been led offstage by his attendants, destroyed by grief and guilt over the suicides of his wife and son. Alone onstage, the chorus speak directly to the audience, explaining that proud people are punished by fate and thereby taught wisdom. This statement makes the moral message of the tragedy clear: Creon was consumed by hubris – a too-great confidence in his own knowledge and power – and because of this was punished in order to restore the natural order.

While Creon has suffered one of the worst fates imaginable and considers himself a broken man, the chorus emphasizes that this suffering is not meaningless. Rather, like his brother-in-law Oedipus (Oedipus was married to Creon's sister), Creon will eventually be able to grow wiser as a result of his experience – as will the audience.