Classic Greek tragedy written by Sophocles. It tells the story of a young girl, Antigone who defies the orders of King Creon and buries the body of her dead brother Polynices. A wonderful play that features the question of which law should one follow - the laws of man or the laws of nature?

Also, there's a wonderful modernization of the play by Jean Anouhil written at the time of the Nazi occupation of France that's well worth reading.

Antigone is Oedipus Intro: Referring to the character Antigone in line 525 of the play Antigone, the LEADER states, "Like father like daughter..." This suggests that Antigone, in some way, "takes after" her father or shares the same character/personality traits. Another way of stating this idea is, "she is her father's daughter."

This is an essay I wrote regarding Antigone's completion of her father's role. Is she Oedipus incarnate?

Antigone is Oedipus’s ultimate accomplishment. She is the one who restored her family’s reputation and rekindled the fading glory of Oedipus that once shone over all the people in Thebes. She possesses the characteristics of her father: decisiveness, courage, pride, and a sense of righteousness, and through these traits she manages to recapture the respect and support of the masses, just like Oedipus once did, through her achievements. “The daughter is as headstrong as the father. Submission is a thing she’s never learned,” remarks the Leader of the Chorus.

We see similarities between Antigone and her late father, Oedipus, in Sophocle’s Antigone. She and her father both struggle to do what is right, while knowing in advance that they are doomed. Perhaps it is because Antigone spent her entire early life at Oedipus’s side and picked up his traits, or maybe she just inherited them, or maybe both. Nevertheless, no matter how or when she attained these characteristics, it is undeniable that at the time of her death, she possessed them to as equal a degree as her father. She faced death boldly, in order to stand up for herself and what she believed in. Oedipus’s trust in the gods’ advice led to his death, when he willingly sacrificed himself in order to help his friend Theseus. Antigone sacrificed herself too, in order to provide a proper burial for her brother, even though her brother had not done many things to earn such kindness. Still, she does, because she believes it is the right thing to do. Attempts made to change her mind fail, because she knows that it is the Heaven’s law, and that it takes precedence over all laws made by mortals on Earth. “Please your fantasy and call it wicked, what the gods call good,” she says to her sister Ismene, who desperately tries to protest. Antigone’s confidence is unfailing; she is sure that there is no way that she could be doing wrong.

This is another trait of Oedipus. Some call it arrogance, but I say self-righteousness. Oedipus never succumbed to sweet talk, fear, or selfishness. Even though he could have lived a much more comfortable life when Creon offered him a chance to return to Thebes, he turned it down because he knew it was a manipulative move and in the end, possessing no virtue. When he was offered a chance to make amends with his son, he rejected it because he saw his son was worthless and pathetic. Antigone thinks similarly. When she was told by Creon that her sentence was death for the illegal burial of her brother, she smugly responded, “I need no trumpeter from you to tell me I must die, we all die anyway. And if this hurries me to death before my time, why, such death is a gain. Yes, surely gain to one whom life so overwhelms.” What courage: boldness even in the face of great danger. She taunts her uncle’s authority when she speaks of higher powers that will recognize what she has done for the dead and reward her. Such faith in one’s own actions is rarely heard of. It can only be the influence of Oedipus, who also believes himself to be infallible at heart.

In the end, we see that Antigone lived for her father while he was alive, lived as father after he died, met her doom like her father, and won back respect like her father. Yes, in the end, everyone respected Antigone. She truly was her father’s daughter: the extension of the lineage, and the only one that preserved the most defining elements of Oedipus’s character. She left in full splendor, waving to the crowd as she was marched to her death, blazing with pride for both herself and her father. At last, the great line of Oedipus had fallen. Yet the end was glorious: there was not a trace of shame left. No one could deny that...not even Creon.

Other essays of interest concerning the Theban plays:
Oedipus as a Ruler
Oedipus isn't Guilty?

Antigone the Unheroic

Sophocles is considered by many literary critics to be among the very greatest dramatists in history, mostly for the emotion and depth in his characters and the powerful social messages contained in his plots. He is most notable as a master of the tragedy, a form of drama that focuses upon the trials and tribulations of one particular tragic hero. What is unusual about his play Antigone is that the story features the downfalls of not one but two such unlucky protagonists - specifically, King Creon and the title character, Antigone. Interestingly enough, these two characters personify the opposing sides of the most fundamental philosophical controversy contained in the drama, the issue of religious law versus state law. However, perhaps because the resolution of the play seems to favor Antigone’s ethics, representing the precedence of the Divine, over Creon’s, representing the State, one cannot consider Sophocles’ treatment of the two viewpoints as egalitarian. Indeed, while clear connections can be made from the flawed Creon to the tragic hero as defined by Aristotle in The Poetics, such connections from the character Antigone are far less apparent. Because her fate, despite being an unfortunate one, does not follow Aristotle’s pattern of an archetypal tragedy, Antigone cannot truly be considered the tragic hero of the play.

One important aspect of Aristotelian tragedy lacking in Antigone’s fate is the concept of anagnorisis, or a change to knowledge from ignorance on the part of the hero or heroine. In general, a tragic hero does not understand the nature of their destiny until a particular, well-defined moment in the play. However, Antigone says in the very first scene, “...; I will bury my brother; / And if I die for it, what happiness! / Convicted of reverence – I shall be content / To lie beside a brother whom I love, / ...” (128)*. Here, the woman is very clearly recognizing what it is she will do – and must do – for her brother, embracing the necessity of her own demise. In contrast, Aristotle’s tragic heroine must experience a moment of true recognition, when she comes to understand her “place in the scheme of things.” Certainly, if Antigone understands exactly the fate to which she will succumb from the moment of her decision, she cannot undergo such a moment of anagnorisis. But this can be further reinforced by considering her lamentation in Episode Four, during which the Chorus, representing society, empathizes with her suffering. In this section of the play, Antigone certainly feels sorrow over her fate, yet she also anticipates the welcoming arms of her father, mother, and brothers as an almost-joyful greeting to her in the underworld. This demonstrates that her decision to disobey Creon’s edict was well thought out, and that she knew and accepted all of the likely consequences even before she performed the burial. A true tragic hero, like Joe Keller in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, however, must not fully realize these consequences until his or her moment of anagnorisis. Finally, Antigone’s final speech of the play, at the end of the fourth Episode, is a clear rebuke of Creon, representing a well-planned attitude of martyrdom on her behalf. By sacrificing herself for what she believes to be the will of the gods, Antigone is both evoking the pity of the Theban populace and antagonizing Creon. Again, this merely reinforces the fact that Antigone knew full well just what her place in the grand scheme things was and was entirely willing to meet this destiny voluntarily. Because such understanding throughout the play contradicts the foundation of the concept of anagnorisis, Antigone must be eliminated as a tragic heroine, even in this single aspect of what Aristotle defines in The Poetics.

Related to the lack of anagnorisis in Antigone’s downfall is her lack of a clear reversal of fortune, or what Aristotle called the peripete. One element of this lack is that she does not begin the play as renowned or prosperous, two of Aristotle’s prerequisites for a tragic hero. Because of this, Antigone’s downfall at the hands of destiny serves not to reverse the tides of fortune, but to continue the pattern of sadness and oppression in her life. Not only does this contradict the required peripeteia or reversal that is found in a true tragic hero or heroine’s story, but it opposes the very spirit of tragedy itself. Specifically, tragedy is dependant upon the audience’s empathy for the tragic hero to evoke more powerful emotions in the viewers’ hearts. When the tragic heroine falls from moderate trials to the very severest of adversity, this empathy is not as accentuated within the audiences’ minds. As such, Antigone’s lack of fortune at the beginning of the play demonstrates the absence of the concept of peripeteia in her story, a lack that has profound consequences upon the audience’s perception of her as a heroine. In addition, however, Antigone is a drama entirely concerned not with a reversal of fortunes but with a fulfillment of a prior destiny; specifically, Antigone’s fall represents a final blow to the house of Oedipus, rubbing salt in the prophetic wounds of long ago. As the Chorus states in the second Ode, “In life and in death is the house of Labdacus (Oedipus’ grandfather) stricken. / Generation to generation / With no atonement, / It is scourged by the wrath of a god. / ...” (142). This quote summarizes for the audience the plagued nature of the lives of Oedipus’ descendents, a predestined web of sorrow in which Antigone cannot help but be trapped. Since the very essence of this family curse is its longevity and unabating nature, an unhappy destiny for Antigone is not a reversal, but a continuation of fortune. Lastly, there is the Chorus’s fourth Ode, which again emphasizes Antigone’s own lack of power at the hands of Fate. In particular, the Chorus compares Antigone’s situation to those of other mythical woman who had been condemned to imprisonment or death, fates which they, like Antigone, were entirely unable to escape. The heart of this Ode is the concept of Fate as unrelenting and unchanging, a distinct contradiction to the peripeteic idea of a reversal of fortune. In general, because Antigone makes no clear transition from success to suffering at the hands of a switch in her destiny, her story does not conform to the tragic figure of peripeteia, another of Aristotle’s requirements for the tragic hero or heroine.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Sophocles’ portrayal of Antigone does not fit her into the mold which characterizes true tragic heroes. First, as previously discussed, Antigone does not begin the play as a “renowned and prosperous” figure. This eliminates one of the simplest requirements for a tragically heroic character, namely, that they fall to doom from an initial position in which the audience can look up to or admire them. Antigone, however, begins the play as a forlorn woman who has lost most of her family and all of her earthly success to the curse on Oedipus’ line. As such, it is impossible for the audience to admire or appreciate her life before her tragic fall, making the feelings of empathy they have for her far weaker and the decreasing the effectiveness of the play. Another issue with Antigone’s characterization that makes it unlikely she would be the tragic hero of the play is her role as a powerful, impassioned woman in a society that is ruled by men. As Aristotle discusses in The Poetics, the valor and fortitude Antigone displays in the face of adversity might be heroic in a male figure, but in the context of a male-dominated culture, seems overly bold and audacious. In general, tragic heroes and heroines remain appropriate to the cultural schemes of which they are a part. Despite the obvious obsolescence of this sexist worldview, it would be folly to reinterpret the very foundation of Antigone to fit into modern society’s reevaluation of gender roles. Since it is unlikely Sophocles’ people would have accepted Antigone’s character as a proper example of a woman, one should be reluctant to identify her as the tragic hero, for this inappropriateness would further interfere with the audience’s feelings of empathy for her.

A last essential aspect of Aristotle’s tragic heroes and heroines is that they be flawed in and of themselves, possessing a particular weakness that the philosopher referred to as harmartia. Considering Antigone’s actions, however, she possesses no such flaw in her character, except a stubborn refusal to accept Creon’s Law over that of the gods. While this stubbornness could ordinarily be considered an instance of the tragic flaw, in Antigone it is instead treated as a particularly strong aspect of the heroine’s personality. A prime example of this treatment is the Chorus’ support of her in Episode 4: “But glory and praise go with you, lady, / ... / ... you have gone your way / To the outermost limit of daring / And have stumbled against Law enthroned. / ...” (148-149). While still implicitly supporting Creon’s judgment, the Chorus nevertheless serves to elevate Antigone for her strength and perseverance in a hopeless cause. In this manner is Antigone’s stubbornness less a flaw than a blessing, for her uncompromising adherence to her principles is something one would do well to emulate rather than avoid. Overall, Antigone possesses a variety of traits that contradict what is expected of a tragic hero by audiences and by Aristotle, making it impossible for her to play this role in Sophocles’ drama.

It is because of these very discrepancies between Antigone’s fate and that of a traditional tragic hero that she cannot be thought of as the central figure of the drama. This is reasonable, because all of the qualities of a tragic hero can be found elsewhere in Antigone: specifically, King Creon possesses all of the required traits. Because of the pitiable, alien nature of Antigone’s character, it is more difficult for the audience to empathize with her than with a well-intentioned but misguided hero like Creon. Distinctions like this one, and the associated decisions about plot, style, and dialogue that must be made by a playwright, are what define Sophocles as a master of tragedy and drama in general. Certainly, the powerful emotions experienced by both the audience and the characters are what make Antigone so notable as an example of great literature. Truly, there are many lessons to be learned about humans and their ability to come to terms with their destinies from the work of Sophocles and from other of the great tragedies in history.

* All quotations are taken from
Sophocles. Trans. Watling, E.F. The Theban Plays. New York: Penguin Classics, 1947.


There are two heroines with this name.

  1. The best known was the daughter of Oedipus, sister of Ismene, Polynices and Eteocles (Table 29). The earliest legends call her the daughter of Eurygania, who was herself the daughter of the king of the Phlegeans, a people of Boeotia. But the most usual version (used by the tragic writers) says that she was the daughter of Jocasta and the consequence of the incest committed by Oedipus with his own mother. When Oedipus, enlightened about his crimes by the oracle of Tiresias, blinded himself and exiled himself from Thebes, Antigone made herself his companion. Their wanderings took them to Colonus in Attica where Oedipus died. After her father's death Antigone returned to Thebes where she lived with her sister Ismene.

    There she met with a fresh trial. During the War of the Seven Chiefs her two brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, found themselves on opposite sides, the former in the Theban army and the latter in the army attacking his native land. In the course of the fighting which took place before the gates of Thebes, each brother died at the other's hands. Creon the king, and uncle of Eteocles, Polynices and the girls, granted a solemn funeral service for Eteocles but forbade anyone to bury Polynices, who had called in strangers against his own country. Antigone was unwilling to comply with this order. Believing that it was a sacred duty, laid down by the gods and the unwritten laws, to bury the dead and especially her close kin, she broke Creon's ban and scattered a handful of dust over Polynices' body, a ritual gesture which was enough to fulfil the duty imposed by religion. For this act of piety she was condemned to death by Creon and walled up while still alive, in the tomb of Labdacus, from whom she was descended. In her confinement she hanged herself and Haemon, son of Creon and her betrothed, killed himself on her corpse while Creon's wife Eurydice, for her part, committed suicide in despair.
  2. Another Antigone is also known to legend. She was Priam's sister and a most lovely girl. She was very proud of her hair, which she claimed was more beautiful than Hera's. In a fit of rage the goddess turned Antigone's hair into snakes. But the gods took pity on the unhappy girl and turned her into a stork, the enemy of snakes.


Table of Sources:

  1. - Sophocles, Antigone
    - Apollod. Bibl. 3, 7, 1
    - Euripides, Phoen. 1670ff.; Antigone (lost tragedy, Nauck TGF, edn 2, pp. 404ff.)
    - Sophocles, Oedip. Col.
    - Hyg. Fab. 72
  2. - Ovid, Met. 6.93
    - Serv. on Virgil, Georg. 2, 320

Antigone as a Tragic Character

Antigone(written by Sophocles), much like Medea, is most likely part of a larger work, as it ties in with Oedipus Rex. Greek drama, being based on the same set of myths, was largely a continuous work with plays building upon the plots of other plays. Antigone is effectively a sequel to Oedipus Rex, and the two could be compared to the Star Wars series as they build upon family lines for characters. Antigone was the daughter of Oedipus, a cursed man who killed his father and married his mother, which led to the suicide of his mother. This is where Freud got the name for the concept of Oedipus Complex. After Oedipus's mother’s suicide, he fled, leaving his children in the care of Creon. After Oedipus’s leave, there are two heirs left to the throne, who end up killing themselves in battle for the throne. This allows Creon to assume the position of King. He decrees that Eteocles, Antigone’s brother who fought alongside Creon, will have a proper burial, whereas Polyneices’s body will be left to the whims of nature. This understandably upsets Antigone, which leads to the opening scene.

The opening scene of Antigone takes place outside of the city gates. Antigone reveals her plans to bury her brother’s body to her sister, Ismene. Antigone hopes that Ismene will aid her in the burial of her brother, but Ismene fearfully declines out of fear of breaking a royal decree. This sets up the recurring theme of women being basically powerless in Greek society , as Ismene feels very powerless to do anything to aid Antigone. She even doubts that Antigone will be able to locate the body of her slain brother. Ismene tries to sway Antigone to give up her plans, but Antigone is enraged by this notion. Antigone says that she no longer would want Ismene’s help if she even decided to offer it. Ismene at least tries to convince Antigone that she should be discreet in her burial ritual, but Antigone rejects this notion as well. This scene develops Antigone as a devoted person, albeit at her own peril.

In the next scene, Antigone has an argument with Creon after the burial of Polyneices. This argument begins to show what some have called Antigone’s “love affair with death”. Antigone, as the opposite of the powerless Ismene, sees the only way to gain power in Greek society is by becoming a martyr for her beliefs. This morbid fascination with death is continued throughout the play. The reasons for Antigone to be powerless are her many obligations to men. She feels to be obligated to her brother, for she felt the need to give him a proper burial. She also is obligated to Haemon, Creon’s son, to whom she is engaged. She also feels somewhat obligated to Creon, as he was the only father figure she has ever known. This obligation to Creon as a father figure develops the theme of struggling against patriarchy in Greek society in a very literal sense. She is rebelling against the powerful father figure, and this unnerves both Creon and almost every other character in the play. In this sense, if Medea was not the first feminist in theatre, it is because Antigone predated her.

As the play progresses, the cause for which Antigone is martyring herself becomes more readily apparent. The play deals heavily with the Greek debate of divine law versus human law. Since divine law was not recorded in Greek times, Antigone only has her conscience to base her understanding of it on. She is going to become a martyr to her own conscience, which tells her that her brother should be rightfully buried, and more indirectly, that women should not be the puppets of their husbands, fathers, or any male figure. Her cause is furthered by the fact that Creon sees himself as the embodiment of human law, and inflects his patriarchal leanings into it. He makes numerous remarks that say effectively say I will not let a woman get the better of me. This develops more fully with his statements of “Is the city not the rulers?” and “Should the city tell me how I am to rule them?". After this statements, Antigone is no longer just a martyr for women, her loyalty to her brother, and divine law, but also against tyrannical government, a subject which probably did not fall on deaf ears in democratic Athens.

The play ends as it should, with Antigone dying, but a few people go along with her to cause some interesting changes in how Creon feels. After her death, Haemon takes his own life, as does his wife Eurydice, causing Creon to be flung into despair. This establishes recognition of pride leading to retribution, which eventually leads to wisdom. So effectively Haemon and Antigone were martyrs against patriarchy and tyranny, and for divine law and loyalty to family. Three of these subjects probably hit home with many of the Greek audience members, although women’s rights were far off in the future, and the feminist aspects of the play probably unnerved the crowd accordingly.

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