Antigone Questions and Answers
by Sophocles

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How does Antigone die?

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The manner of Antigone's death is grounded in the religious beliefs of the Greeks. Creon has decreed that it is forbidden to bury the body of Polynices, Antigone's brother, as he was a traitor to Thebes. Antigone, though, as a woman, has the sacred responsibility to conduct funerary rites for members of her family and thus attempts to bury the body. When Creon discovers that Antigone is the culprit, he faces a dilemma. Antigone is his niece. To kill a member of his own family would bring the wrath of the gods down upon him and Thebes, precisely what he is trying to avoid. He solves the problem by walling Antigone up in a cave where she will gradually starve to death. Since he is not actively murdering her, and in a sense offers the gods the opportunity to save her, he hopes to avoid ritual pollution. Antigone, despairing of her fate, commits suicide by hanging just before Creon changes his mind and orders her to be released. 

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In the play, Antigone is sentenced to death by her uncle, King Creon, for the crime of burying her brother, Polynices. Polynices had been killed during an attempt to take Thebes from his brother, Eteocles, who also died during the battle. Under Creon’s decree, the punishment for burying Polynices is death by stoning.

Creon does not sentence Antigone to death by stoning, however. He orders her entombed alive, so as to avoid the public spectacle of her death. The sentence is still death, but it is a death away from the eyes of the public. Further, it is neither a swift nor a merciful death, but rather one from the prolonged suffering of deprivation.

Antigone accepts her death sentence as the price for doing what she knew to be the right thing, but she does not submit to despair or to the cruel death Creon attempted to impose on her. Rather, she takes her life by her own hand, hanging herself within the tomb:

[I]n the furthest part of the tomb we descried her hanging by the neck, slung by a thread-wrought halter of fine linen….

In this way, Antigone defies Creon even in her death, for she chose both the time and manner of it.

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