Essential Passages by Character: Antigone
Essential Passage 1: Lines 82-99
Alas, how I fear for you, daring girl!
Don't worry for me; straighten out your own life.
Then, at least, proclaim this deed to no one;
but keep it secret, and I shall do the same. (85)
Oh, denounce it! I will hate you the more
if you don't tell these things to everyone.
You have a hot heart for chilling matters.
But I know I'll please those I should please most.
If you can—you want the impossible. (90)
Well, then, I shall stop whenever my strength fails.
You should not start an impossible quest.
If you say this, you will be hateful to me,
and the dead will hate you always—justly.
But let me and my foolish plans suffer (95)
this terrible thing, for I shall succumb
to nothing so awful as a shameful death.
Then go, if this seems best to you, but know that
your friends truly love you, however foolish.
Antigone has learned of her uncle Creon’s decree that Polynices, who had fought against his native Thebes, will not be buried. As punishment, he shall instead be left in the open to be devoured by dogs and vultures. Antigone has told her sister Ismene of this new law, and both women lament the dishonor brought upon their brother. Antigone, however, is determined to defy her uncle’s decree and plans to give Polynices an honorable burial. Ismene is well aware, as is Antigone, that Creon has stated that anyone who dares to bury Polynices will be put to death, yet Antigone vows to perform this service to her brother in defiance of the law and its proposed consequences. Ismene urges her sister not to do this, or if she does, then to do it quietly. In contempt, Antigone turns from her sister. Ismene is appalled at Antigone’s seeming hard-heartedness and tells her that she is on a hopeless quest, sure to bring about her own doom. As Antigone leaves, Ismene tells her departing sister that, as irrational as she is, she is still loved by those who are dear to her.
Essential Passage 2: Lines 487-500
But know that hard minds fall the hardest, and
that iron, so powerful of itself,
baked to exceeding hardness, you might see
crack and break into pieces. I know that (490)
spirited horses are broken with a small bit,
for no one is allowed to think big thoughts,
if he is another man's slave. She showed
herself capable of insolence then,
going beyond the laws put before her. (495)
Her second insolence, after she had
done it, was to exult in her deed and
laugh that she had done it. Now I am no man,
but she is a man, if power lies with her
The report is brought to Creon that Polynices has had dust spread...
(The entire section is 1375 words.)
Essential Passages by Theme: Law vs. Love
Essential Passage 1: Lines 42-49
Will you share in the labor and the deed?
What is the venture? Where have your thoughts gone?
Will you lift the corpse with this very hand?
You want to bury him, although it's forbidden in the city! (45)
I'll bury my brother—your brother, too,
though you refuse! I'll not be found a traitor.
Madwoman, even when Creon forbids it?
He has no right to keep me from my own.
As Antigone prepares to defy the decree against burial of her rebel brother Polynices, she is confronted by her sister Ismene for joining Polynices in this seeming rebellion against the state. Ismene reminds her that this act is forbidden, making her a traitor. Yet Antigone says that refusing to bury her brother would be the deed that makes her a traitor. To Ismene’s horror, Antigone says that Creon, though now king, has no right to keep her from obeying the obligations of love, an obligation that requires her to show honor to Polynices by a proper burial. Ismene reminds Antigone that their father, Oedipus, died in dishonor, leaving his sons and daughters a stained legacy that they cannot erase by disobeying the law. Now that their two brothers are dead, it is only Antigone and Ismene who remain to redeem some type of family honor. In addition to being subjects to the state, they are women and therefore subject to the leadership of men. Ismene says that she will not join Antigone, stating that the dead will forgive her, but the state will not.
Essential Passage 2: Lines 162-193
Gentlemen, the gods have set right again
our city's affairs, after shaking them
in a storm, and I have summoned you here
out of all the citizens, knowing well (165)
how you always revered the power of
Laius' throne; then, both when Oedipus saved
the city and when he fell, you stood in
consistent support of their children.
And so, since in the same day they both fell (170)
by twofold fate, each striking and spreading
fratricidal pollution, now I hold
sole power and the throne, because I am
the closest relative of the fallen.
It is impossible to know the soul, (175)
the mind, and character of any man,
until he has proven himself in the law.
For if someone rules an entire city
and does not take hold of the best counsels,
but holds his tongue out of fear, I think him (180)
to be the worst of men, now and always;
and the man who considers more important
than his fatherland his friend, I think him
worthless. For—and may all-seeing...
(The entire section is 1249 words.)