Antigone (an-TIHG-eh-nee), the daughter of Oedipus and sister of both Eteocles (who defends Thebes) and Polynices (an exile from the city who attacks it). After Eteocles and Polynices have killed each other in battle, Creon, Antigone’s uncle and now king of Thebes, decrees that Eteocles’ body shall be buried with honors befitting a national hero but that Polynices’ body shall be left unburied, a prey to scavengers. Divine law, Greek custom, and simple humanity demand, however, that Antigone see her brother buried; she must choose, therefore, between obedience to the temporal rule of Creon and the duty she owes to a brother she had loved. Although she knows that her fate will be death, she chooses to bury the body of her brother. She is undoubtedly strong-willed and defiant. Having been apprehended by the guards posted to prevent the burial, she replies to Creon’s wrathful accusations of treason with an equal ferocity. She emerges as immensely heroic, for she alone seems clearly to understand that the king’s law is inferior to divine law and that if sacrifice is required to follow the right, such sacrifice must be made. She is always aware of the glory of her deed and dies for love in the largest sense of the word, but her concurrent awareness of her youth and her loss of earthly love humanize her and make her a profoundly tragic figure.
Creon (KREE-on), the king of Thebes. Although he gives lip service to the necessity for order and for obedience to the law, he is a tyrant who has identified the welfare of the state with his own self-interest and self-will. He commits hubris through his violent misuse of his temporal power; he too has a duty to bury the dead, and his unjust condemnation of Antigone to death is murder of a near relative, although he changes her sentence from stoning to burial alive to avoid the formal pollution that would accompany such a deed. He has a regard for the external forms of religion but no understanding of its essential meaning. When Tiresias brings the gods’ curse on his actions, he relents, but too late to save Antigone or his son.
Haemon (HEE-mon), Creon’s son, who is engaged to wed Antigone. He attempts to placate his father. Failing in this, he declares his fidelity to Antigone. When Creon comes to release Antigone from the cave in which she has been entombed, he finds that she has hanged herself and that Haemon is embracing her suspended body. Haemon attempts to kill his father, then falls on his own sword.
Ismene (ihs-MEE-nee), Antigone’s sister, as gentle and timid as Antigone is high-minded and strong. She pleads a woman’s weakness when Antigone asks her to help with Polynices’ burial, yet her love for her sister makes her willing to share the blame when Antigone is accused.
Eurydice (ew-RIHD-ih-see), Creon’s wife. She kills herself when she is informed of Haemon’s death.
Tiresias (ti-REE-see-uhs), a prophet who brings to Creon a warning and a curse that cause him belatedly to revoke his decision to execute Antigone. He is the human in closest affinity with the divine; his intercession is therefore equivalent to divine sanction for Antigone’s deeds.