Oedipus’ two sons, Polynices and Eteocles, each lead an army which clashes at the gate of Thebes. The two brothers kill each other. Their uncle, Creon, orders an honorable burial for Eteocles but orders that Polynices’ body be left to rot, vowing death to anyone who disobeys his command.
Antigone, Creon’s niece and sister of the two fallen combatants, tries to persuade her sister Ismene to help her bury Polynices’ body. The fearful Ismene refuses. Antigone buries the body herself, contending that the laws of the gods supersede the laws of the state.
Discovering what Antigone has done, Creon sentences her to death, even though she is betrothed to his son, Haemon, who pleads for her life. Antigone is led to a cave where she is to be entombed and left to die. Tiresias, the seer, finally persuades Creon that his edict defies the will of the gods. Creon rushes to the cave but arrives too late. Antigone has already hanged herself.
Haemon discovers Antigone’s corpse, rushes his father with a sword, spits on him, and then impales himself. Upon hearing that her son is dead, Creon’s wife commits suicide. Creon’s reign is over. He goes into exile outside the city-state.
The first written and performed play of the Oedipus trilogy, which also includes OEDIPUS THE KING (about 429 B.C.) and OEDIPUS AT COLONUS (about 407 B.C.), ANTIGONE suggests that Oedipus’ whole line is doomed to ultimate disaster.
Kitto, H. D. F. Greek Tragedy: A Literary Study. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1954. Addresses types and elements of Greek tragedies, and compares Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Discusses problems with the early exit of Antigone and argues that she is more than “mere antithesis to Creon” who is “more than the stubborn fool who kills her.”
Melchinger, Siegfried. Sophocles. Translated by David A. Scrase. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1974. Provides a biography of Sophocles and explains Greek theater, chorus, staff, and actors, as well as each scene of Antigone.
Oudemans, Th. C. W., and A. P. M. H. Lardinois. Tragic Ambiguity: Anthropology, Philosophy, and Sophocles’ “Antigone.” New York: E. J. Brill, 1987. Applies Greek theology to Antigone and explains separative and harmonizing interpretations. One chapter explicates each episode of the play, another, the Greek tragic elements. A thorough study.
Segal, Charles Paul. “Sophocles’ Praise of Man and the Conflicts of the Antigone.” In Sophocles: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Thomas Woodward. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966. Focuses on the individuality of Creon and Antigone instead of, as many other studies do, on their contrasts and conflicts. Identifies aspects of Athenian democracy in the play.
Winnington-Ingram, R. P. Sophocles: An Interpretation. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980. Compares the common religious and political themes and plots of Sophocles’ extant plays. Compares Antigone and Creon, assuming that all of Sophocles’ plays focus on a hero who “suffers a wrong.” Sees Antigone as “no reasoner.”