Antigone (The Oedipus Plays) | Study Guide

Sophocles

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Antigone (The Oedipus Plays) | Episode 3 | Summary

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Summary

Creon's son, Haemon, enters, and the Chorus leader wonders whether or not he has heard the news about Antigone. Creon immediately breaks the news to Haemon and then asks him if he is angry or if he will be loyal to his father's decision. Haemon tells Creon that he will be loyal to his decision, and Creon applauds him for his choice—he's grateful that Haemon is not one of those "useless children." He also encourages Haemon to "spit [Antigone] out" since she is now their enemy. Creon further expounds on the notion that all must obey their leader's laws, making obedience paramount, because a lack of leadership is what destroys a city. Creon also reveals his feelings about the inferiority of women, proclaiming that they must "never let some woman beat us down"; only men can do such things. The Chorus leader agrees with him.

Haemon reveals to Creon that the citizens do not fully support him in his punishment of Antigone, and that she is undeserving because she was doing what she felt was right. Haemon reassures Creon that he supports him but encourages him to consider different viewpoints on the issue. He gives Creon the analogy of a tree branch learning how to bend in the wind so as not to snap off and echoes Creon's earlier "ship-as-state" metaphor when he reminds him of how "sailors who keep their sails stretched tight, never easing off, make their ship capsize." He uses these analogies to advise Creon to "end [his] anger" at Antigone since being a good leader calls for flexibility. The Chorus leader interjects to say that Haemon has made just as excellent a point as Creon.

Creon grows irritated, asking Haemon sarcastically if he should just allow the city to rule him. Haemon points out, "A city which belongs to just one man is no true city." Creon becomes angry and accuses Haemon of siding with Antigone, but Haemon couches it as concern for Creon. Haemon believes Creon is being unjust and will be punished by the gods. Exasperated Creon commands his attendants to bring Antigone in so he can have her killed in front of Haemon. In response Haemon immediately disowns him, saying that his father will never see him again. He leaves, running back to the palace. The Chorus leader asks Creon how he will kill Antigone, and Creon reveals that he will leave her alive in a cave in the middle of nowhere to die a slow death.

Analysis

Haemon serves as a counterpoint to Creon, who shows little sympathy to his own son. Haemon has done all he can to convince Creon that he doesn't have to follow through with his plan to kill Antigone, and he presents his case in a rational and respectful way. Haemon is even careful to make his argument based on the reaction of the citizens rather than his feelings about Antigone. That is, he seems aware of his father's misogyny toward women as well of his disdain for decisions made out of love. Haemon apparently understands his father's logic in a way that enables him to argue in language and terms that will resonate with Creon. He even uses the same metaphor of commanding a ship that Creon uses earlier in the play, only this time it's to question Creon's capabilities as captain of that "ship-as-state."

Creon ultimately defends his decision despite the fact that Haemon essentially disowns him, revealing the ways in which Creon is blinded by his arrogant belief that he is always right. Haemon makes a great point to Creon when he tells him that the people are not behind him on this issue—and that he risks alienating them further if he carries it out. But the irony is lost on Creon that, by trying to make his citizens see him as a strong leader, he is actually being seen as a tyrant. He can't consider for even a second that he might be making the wrong decision and only worries that reversing his stance will bring chaos to the city and threaten his newly found rule. "There's no greater evil than a lack of leadership," he claims, unable to see how his own unjust punishment of Antigone will bring about even more evil.

In this episode Creon also reveals his disdain not only for Antigone but for women in general when he demands to "never let some woman beat us down." Even though Creon may reflect prevailing attitudes about women from this era, Sophocles hints throughout the play at the possibility that Antigone is the true hero. In that light he seems to be criticizing Creon's attitude toward women.

Haemon points out to Creon that a leader who rules based only on his beliefs is not actually a leader of people—only a leader of himself and one who also risks angering the gods by creating unjust laws. Creon's revelation of how he will kill Antigone also reveals him to be crueler than previously thought, since to die a long, slow death is tantamount to torture. At the same time, by killing Antigone outside of the city limits Creon will avoid any observations from his citizens.

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