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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Oedipus Trilogy by Sophocles-Online Book Summary
Table of Contents | Oedipus the King Message Board | Oedipus at Colonus Message Board | Antigone Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version



Creon's son, Haimon, rushes in to plead for a pardon for Antigone. He tells his father that the citizens of Thebes are disturbed that she should suffer more, and he begs for mercy. Creon, however, refuses to consider a pardon, and the two exchange bitter words. Finally, Haimon furiously dismisses Creon and rushes out. Creon suddenly compromises and decides to spare the life of Ismene, but still refuses to pardon Antigone. He decrees that Antigone must be sealed in a cave outside the city walls and left to die.


In a moving ode the Chorus praises the power of love, and the goddess Aphrodite is hailed to work her will on all those involved in this tragic scene. Antigone is brought in by the guards, and the Chorus is saddened by her pitiful look. But Antigone will not ask for mercy from Creon, and she refuses to humble herself for violating Creon's edict. Instead, Antigone chants her own ode and prepares to embrace her grave as a "bridal bed," an everlasting prison in which she will be condemned to a solitary death. Creon enters and orders the guards to carry out his sentence. Antigone is led away to the cave.


As the guards lead Antigone away, the Chorus chants a melancholy song about well-known, defiant figures of the past who have been subject to cruel and harsh punishment for their beliefs. Antigone is included in the ode as one on whom "deathless fate" laid a hard hand.


The blind prophet Teiresias now enters to warn Creon that the gods are offended by his treatment of Polyneices and will avenge themselves on the city. Creon uncharacteristically refuses to heed the warnings of the holy prophet, and Teiresias predicts that the gods will show their displeasure by taking the life of Haimon. Frightened by this horrible prediction, Creon appeals to the Chorus for guidance and then rushes out to give Polyneices a religious burial and to free Antigone from certain death.


The final ode of the Chorus is a joyful song of praise dedicated to the gods for giving Creon the wisdom to see the errors of his rash judgment.


Amid an air of celebration and rejoicing, a messenger enters to inform the audience that Haimon has killed himself after a bitter argument with his father. Antigone is also dead, having hanged herself. Eurydice, hearing the news of her son's death, also killed herself. Meanwhile, Creon returns carrying Haimon's body in his arms. He is overcome with remorse and sorrow and he begs the Chorus to lead him away. As he exits, Creon accepts responsibility for all the tragic events of the play and prays for his own death. The Chorus concludes the action by stating the moral of the play:

There is no happiness where there is no wisdom;
No wisdom but in submission to the gods.
Big words are always punished,
And proud men in old age learn to be wise.


In Antigone Sophocles examined the characters of Creon and Antigone as human beings caught up in an age-old conflict-between following human laws and following divine laws. Antigone chooses to believe that divine laws are more important than man-made laws, and she willingly accepts her own death to prove the respect she has for religious duty. Creon, on the other hand, chooses to believe that man-made laws are more important than religious ideals. As a consequence of both their beliefs, the characters reflect noble and worthy principles of self-sacrifice and dedication to individual, personal laws of conduct.

Although the play is entitled Antigone, many critics consider Creon to be the tragic figure of a man who holds firmly to what he believes in, even though it costs him his son and his wife. Antigone, even though she suffers and dies, remains basically unchanged throughout the play and is never given an opportunity to express her warm and gentle spirit with either her sister Ismene or her fiancee Haimon. In spite of these apparent flaws, however, the character of Antigone is one of the most popular performance roles in theater history.

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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Oedipus Trilogy by Sophocles-Study Guide

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