Antigone (The Oedipus Plays) | Study Guide

Sophocles

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Antigone (The Oedipus Plays) | Episode 4 | Summary

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Summary

Antigone enters, led by attendants to her execution. Upon seeing the Chorus leader she grows tearful, thinking of how she is being led to her death chamber rather than her bridal chamber. Antigone speaks, imploring her fellow citizens to look at her before she leaves to die. The Chorus replies that at least she has fame and praise and that it is admirable that she commanded her own fate. Antigone hopes that she will be remembered for what she has done, much like the goddess Niobe. The Chorus reminds her that she is mortal, but that she will likely be remembered much like a goddess. Antigone feels as though they are making fun of her and demands to know why they are insulting her. She laments the fact that she has no friends to mourn her, and that she will die entombed and alone.

The Chorus sings that in some ways she is still paying for her father's fated mistakes, and that perhaps her death is some kind of compensation. The suggestion pains Antigone, as she thinks about the tragedies of her family constantly. The Chorus reminds her, though, that she is dying of her own "selfish will," and Antigone adds that she also dies alone, unmarried, and friendless. Creon interjects, ordering the attendants to take her away to the cave. Antigone calls it both her tomb and her bridal chamber, and though she is sad she will be happy to be reunited in death with her parents and her brothers. She also rationalizes her burial of Polyneices by saying that, while she wouldn't have done it for her own children or husband—because she could always replace them—she only had two brothers, who are both dead. She begs to know what "holy justice" she has violated by doing what she thought was right and just. But she is content to know that if she is truly in the wrong, the gods will let her know. She is finally led away.

Analysis

Even though Antigone has accepted the consequences of her actions from the beginning, she is understandably sad and frustrated that no one has spoken up to support her. Though the Chorus seems sympathetic, they rightly point out that she has brought this on herself. The Chorus does seem to recognize that Creon is making the wrong decision, but they don't have so much sympathy for Antigone that they are calling him on it outright. They point out that Antigone could have changed course at any time.

Antigone makes a reference to "the daughter of Tantalus, from Phrygia," who died a horrible death by turning to stone for boasting to the gods and who has never been forgotten for her suffering. The Chorus reminds Antigone that the daughter she is speaking of is Niobe, who was divine—and Antigone is merely a human being. Antigone's response is to accuse the Chorus of making fun of her because Niobe was punished for mocking the gods, whereas Antigone has been pious and obedient to them above all others. Her comparison of herself to Niobe has to do with hope she will be remembered for her suffering. Her anguished response to the Chorus here is understandable, then, given that she has risked her life in order to honor the gods and fears that she will die misunderstood.

Antigone's final invocation to the gods reveals that she still believes that they will reward her for her loyalty to them over Creon, and that she believes they will ultimately punish him for what he's done. In a way Antigone's final anguish in this scene makes her a more sympathetic character since the audience catches a glimpse of her very human sadness at the fate that has befallen her. Even though she remains defiant she mourns the life that she might have lived, accepting her role as a bride of death rather than as a bride of Haemon.

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