Antigone, the title character of Sophocles’s tragedy, defies her uncle Creon because she believes the gods wanted her to do what she did: honor her brother. The young woman had gone against her uncle by performing funerary rites for her dead brother Polynices and sprinkling dust on his corpse. In this way, she symbolically buries him, which King Creon has expressly forbidden. He had decreed that the punishment would be death. After her actions are discovered, the king has his nephew’s body moved, but Antigone finds him and repeats her actions. This time, she is apprehended and brought to Creon.
Refusing to apologize for her action, instead, she insists she has done the right thing. She would have risked any punishment, including death, to fulfill her obligation. But she owes it to the gods to honor all members of her family equally. The political divisions in Thebes do not enter into such a decision. She tells Creon that he is not a god like Zeus and so did not have the right to forbid the burial (lines 499–500).
It wasn’t Zeus, not in the least,
who made this proclamation—not to me.
When Creon counters that she is dishonoring Eteocles, her other dead brother, whom he believes was the rightful ruler, she maintains that. Polynices deserves the same treatment as Eteocles. She would be dishonoring herself and her family if she did not honor both with the proper rites.