Antigone

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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.
Natural Law Theme Icon

Creon, as head of state and lawgiver in Thebes, believes in obedience to man-made laws. But in defying Creon's command that no one bury Polynices, Antigone appeals to a different set of guidelines—what is often called "natural law." Whether its source is in nature or in divine order, natural law states that there are standards for right and wrong that are more fundamental and universal than the laws of any particular society.

Antigone believes that the gods have commanded people to give the dead a proper burial. She also believes she has a greater loyalty to her brother in performing his burial rites than she does to the law of the city of Thebes that bans her from doing so. The wishes of the gods and her sense of duty to her brother are both examples of natural law. To Antigone, these outweigh any human laws. In Antigone, Sophocles explores this tension and seems to suggest—through Antigone's martyrdom, the people's sympathy, and Creon's downfall—that the laws of the state should not contradict natural laws.

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Natural Law Quotes in Antigone

Below you will find the important quotes in Antigone related to the theme of Natural Law.
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. 

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
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.

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. 

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. 

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.