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Antigone (The Oedipus Plays) | Study Guide


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Episode 5

Professor Bradley Greenburg of Northeastern Illinois University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Episode 5 of Sophocles's play Antigone.

Antigone (The Oedipus Plays) | Episode 5 | Summary



Teiresias, a blind prophet, enters led by a young boy to address Creon. Creon asks him for news, and Teiresias demands that before he reveals it Creon must obey him by doing whatever he tells him to do. Creon reminds him that he has always followed his advice. Teiresias then warns him that his "luck is once more on Fate's razor edge." Creon encourages him to keep going, and Teiresias reveals that when he was listening to the omens of birds he heard a strange cry. He deduced that two birds were fighting, and one plummeted to its death. Teiresias set up an offering to the gods in order to understand the prophecy, but rather than receive confirmation he noticed that slime began to ooze out of the altar and nothing was revealed.

What Teiresias was able to learn came from the young boy, his guide. Teiresias tells Creon that he learned that the policies Creon has made in the state have made it sick, and that the gods will no longer accept their sacrifices. He warns Creon that he has made a serious mistake, and that it's not too late to fix it if Creon will let go of his pride. Creon dismisses Teiresias's advice, saying that he believes he's become a target. He believes that all the prophets have been "bought and sold" and claims that even if Zeus himself commanded it he would not bury Polyneices's body. Teiresias reminds Creon that good advice is more valuable than any possession, and that is what he is offering Creon. He then tells Creon that he will be forced to sacrifice his own child in return for the corpses he has caused, and his city will rebel against him.

Teiresias finally leaves, led by the boy, and the Chorus leader interjects to remind Creon that Teiresias has never uttered a false prophecy. Creon admits that is true. However, he refuses to give in to what Teiresias has said. He asks the Chorus leader for advice, and the Chorus leader tells him to release Antigone from her tomb before she dies and to give Polyneices a proper burial. He reminds Creon that the gods act swiftly when they are upset. With difficulty Creon agrees to do as the Chorus leader advises. Creon gathers his servants and declares that he will go to Antigone to free her himself. He leaves with these servants.


Teiresias's advice to Creon is interesting because initially he suggests that there is a way to alter his fate if he changes his decision, insinuating that his fate has not yet been sealed. Teiresias's prophecy to Creon reinforces the importance of birds as symbols that shift in meaning from scavengers to protection to prophecies. Teiresias is skilled in the prophecy art of augury (predicting omens by watching the behavior of birds), and what he sees is the birds fighting each other, which symbolizes the imbalance that Creon has created in his kingdom. Teiresias recalls that the birds gave the sounds of "evil, unintelligible, angry screaming," which mirrors the arguing and tension that surround Creon. Teiresias warns Creon, "Our state is sick—your policies have done this." There is an insinuation that Creon has polluted Thebes with his strict adherence to laws—both literally by leaving Polyneices's corpse out but also because the gods have been angered by his actions, leaving the citizens vulnerable.

Instead of listening to his warnings Creon hurls insults at Teiresias, accusing him of being money hungry and dishonest. With that his fate suddenly seems to harden, since Teiresias then offers him a new and darker prophecy about losing his son and seeing his city rise against him. This warning has a profound effect on Creon, who now for the first time asks for advice, from none other than the Chorus leader. He seems to believe that he still has time to change the course of fate if he takes swift action to reverse what he's done.

Even though Teiresias doesn't mention Antigone or Polyneices by name, he suggests that the gods have been paying attention to what has transpired, and that even though they have not come to Antigone's rescue they believe that her actions were just. Conversely they have been offended by Creon's actions and so they will punish his son as revenge. In this prophecy Antigone emerges victorious, despite all her suffering.

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