Antigone (The Oedipus Plays) | Study Guide


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Professor Bradley Greenburg of Northeastern Illinois University explains the motifs in Sophocles's play Antigone.

Antigone (The Oedipus Plays) | Motifs


Razor's Edge

Teiresias advises Creon that there is still time to avoid tragedy when Teiresias cautions Creon that his "luck is once more on Fate's razor edge." This image suggests a precarious position. If Creon fails to appease the gods in his actions, his delicate balance "on Fate's razor edge" will falter.


Many characters in Antigone make metaphoric references to ships and sailing the seas. Creon introduces the metaphor in Episode 1 when he says, "after much tossing of our ship of state, the gods have safely set things right again." Creon sees himself as the caretaker and captain of that ship, and though his reference to the gods hints that he understands they are the ultimate overseers, his respect for their authority lessens from this point onward. The Chorus also makes many references to men sailing stormy seas in order to gain more knowledge and power, but they caution that this knowledge is not always used for good—a warning to Creon as he continues to command his ship-state. Creon's son, Haemon, also attempts to use the metaphor of the ship as state to caution Creon that "sailors who keep their sails stretched tight, never easing off, make their ship capsize." Sadly Haemon's warning comes true, and Creon pays for his arrogant leadership decisions.

Unconsumed Sacrifices

Because the gods are displeased with Creon's actions regarding the burial of Polyneices and the punishment of Antigone, they refuse to accept sacrifices or prayers from the City of Thebes. These unconsumed sacrifices come to represent the rottenness of the city that is led by a man who puts himself above the gods.


Antigone risks the displeasure of Creon and her personal safety to honor the law of the gods by burying her brother. When she sees his bare body she casts handfuls of dirt onto him. In this way the dirt shows her devotion to her family and her religion above her devotion to the state that has forbidden his burial.


Blindness comes up in both physical and abstract ways throughout the play. Teiresias is a blind prophet: though he can't see the future with his own eyes, he can foretell it by paying attention to other signs. Teiresias gives Creon advice that Creon seems blind to until it is too late, even though Creon can see with his own eyes that his decisions are costing him the trust of his citizens and the love of his family. Creon's symbolic blindness causes him to seal his tortured and miserable fate because he will not open his eyes in time to affect it.


In almost every case the incest of Oedipus and Jocasta leads to the destruction of the family tree through suicide or choice. Antigone hangs herself; Eurydice and Haemon stab themselves; and Polyneices and Eteocles die fighting each other.

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