At the beginning of the play, Antigone informs her sister, Ismene, about an order from King Creon. Creon has declared that one of their brothers, Eteocles, will receive a proper burial. The other brother, Polyneices, will not be honored with a burial. Eteocles died defending the city, while Polyneices died attacking it, which is why Creon only wants the former to be buried.
Antigone tells Ismene (as R. C. Jebb translates it) that their unburied brother will turn into a “welcome store for the birds.” They will “feast” on him “at will.” To prevent this desecration, Antigone tells Ismene that she plans to ignore Creon’s edict and give her brother the burial that she thinks he deserves.
As burying someone can be a lot of work, Antigone asks for her sister’s help. Ismene does not feel comfortable taking part in her sister’s project. She lists many reasons. She reminds Antigone that they were “born women” and shouldn’t “strive with men.” Continuing her internalized sexism, Ismene adds, “[W]e are ruled of the stronger, so we must obey in these things.”
Antigone, however, doesn’t seem to think that men are stronger than women. She believes that she has the power to go against Creon and do the right thing when it comes to burying her brother. While Ismene won’t help her out, she promises to keep Antigone’s intentions a secret.
For Antigone, the burial carries multiple meanings. It’s a way to demonstrate her love and her loyalty to her brother. It’s also a way to show her fidelity to the gods. According to Antigone, the gods would not approve of Creon’s choice to leave Polyneices’s corpse out in the open. By covering her brother, Antigone is trying to stay on the good side of the gods.