What happens to Ismene at the end of Antigone?

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Ismene lives the rest of her life alone, carrying the knowledge of her family's curse, and the weight of her own indecision which led to Antigone's death.

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While there is no real indication of what happens to Ismene, she does appear to survive the play. At the very least, there is no indication that she is actually dead.

Sophocles never returns to Ismene after she asks Antigone to let her die together with her sister. Antigone refuses; she doesn't believe that it's best for Ismene to die. Antigone is going to die because she decided to give her brother a proper burial; she doesn't think that Ismene should take the punishment when she was not brave enough to perform the deed that led to it.

Ismene's fate is not revisited. One can assume that she continued her life, though she was likely mourning for the people she loved. She was already in such despair that she was willing to die with Antigone. Therefore, she was probably even more unhappy once Antigone was gone and she was left behind alone.

Ismene doesn't have any part in the story after Creon decides that he is not going to kill her with Antigone. Her part—to be scared to bury her brother and then to try to be killed with her sister—is done. All the events play out without her influence because she couldn't bring herself to bury Polynices.

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When Creon condemns Antigone to death for trying to bury her brother Polyneices, Ismene confesses to Creon that she assisted Antigone:

...Say, didst thou too abet
This crime, or dost abjure all privity?

I did the deed, if she will have it so,
And with my sister claim to share the guilt.

However, Antigone refuses to allow Ismene to confess to something she didn't do.

ANTIGONE: Claim not a work in which thou hadst no hand.

Creon believes that Antigone and Ismene had a hand in trying to bury Polyneices, and he condemns them both to death.

Creon's son Haemon tries to intercede on Antigone's behalf, but Creon refuses to change his mind. The Chorus questions Creon's judgment in condemning both sisters, and Creon agrees to release Ismene, almost as if on a whim and with a wave of his hand.

...These sisters twain he shall not save from death.

Surely, thou meanest not to slay them both?

I stand corrected; only her who touched
The body.

Ismene doesn't appear again in the play.

One reason that Ismene doesn't appear in the play after her release by Creon is that Ismene plays no part in the events that unfold after her release.

The second reason is that there were only three actors who shared the major roles in Antigone, as well Sophocles's other plays. After Ismene's departure from the play, one of the actors plays Creon. Another actor plays Eurydice and the Second Messenger who reports Eurydice's suicide. The third actor plays the Messenger who reports the deaths of Antigone and Haemon. There weren't enough actors available to play Ismene (or Antigone) in the latter part of the play.

There is a further Greek legend attached to Ismene after the events of Antigone. Ismene was betrothed from childhood to Atys who fought the civil war that led to the deaths of Polyneices and Eteocles and which is the basis of the plot of Antigone.

Atys was killed in the civil war by Tydeus, who later killed Ismene—at the goddess Athena's instigation—while she was making love with Theoclymenus, a fugitive seer-prophet from Argos.

The legend isn't as compelling as the thought of Ismene living out the rest of her days as the last surviving child of Oedipus, carrying with her the burden of the curse on Oedipus's family as a result of his defiance of the will of the gods many years before her birth.

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Antigone initially explains to Ismene that Creon has decreed that anyone caught burying Polyneicês shall be stoned to death in the public square. However, Antigone says that she is willing to bury her brother regardless of the king's threats in order to appease the gods and honor Polyneicês. Ismene responds by telling her sister that she is insane for disobeying the king and refuses to help her, which upsets Antigone, who tells her sister that she will hate her soon. Once Creon accuses Antigone and her sister of disobeying his orders, Ismene attempts to earn her sister's respect by confessing that she also planned on helping Antigone bury Polyneicês. Antigone immediately responds by dismissing her sister's attempts to redeem herself and shuns Ismene. At the urging of the Chorus, Creon decides to spare Ismene's life and sentences Antigone to death. Ismene's fate is not directly stated, but one can assume that she continued living after her sister's death as Oedipus's last surviving child.

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Ismene, Antigone's sister, appears in two key scenes in the play. In the play's beginning, Ismene refuses to help Antigone bury their brother Polyneices. This causes Antigone to break with her sister; she tells Ismene, "I shall be hating you soon." Ismene appears later, in Scene 2, and attempts to share Antigone's blame, and therefore her fate, death at Creon's hands. Antigone denies that Ismene played any part in burying Polyneices, but Creon condemns her, also. The scene ends with Creon sending both Antigone and Ismene away under guard.

Ismene is not seen again, but she is mentioned once. At the end of Scene 3, following his confrontation with Haimon, Creon says that Haimon "shall not save these girls from death." When Choragos asks if Creon has sentenced both Antigone and Ismene to death, Creon replies:

No, you are right.

I will not kill the one whose hands are clean.

Ismene's life is spared; Antigone is soon entombed to die. What becomes of Ismene after that is not addressed, but she surely could not have lived in peace. As she said to Creon when she explained why she was choosing to die with Antigone, "But how could I go on living without her?"

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What happens to Ismene at the end of Antigone?

That’s a good question, one that Sophocles does not answer for us in Antigone. Ismene’s final appearance in the play happens in the middle as she asks Antigone to let her share her fate, which is death at Creon’s pronouncement. Although Ismene is Antigone’s sister, Antigone is harsh with her, not wanting to allow her to suffer the consequences of a righteous deed (the burying of her brother) which she did not perform.


No, sister, do not dishonor me, but let
me die with you and honor him who died.


You may not die with me, nor call yours that
which you did not touch. My death is enough.

Ismene realizes that without her sister, she has nothing left to live for, so Sophocles simply lets her disappear and moves on to other things. The implication here is that someone who does not risk their own safety to do what is right is not worth being concerned about.

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What happens to Ismene at the end of Antigone? Her fate is a bit unclear.

I often receive this question from my own students upon our reading of Antigone. I think as modern audiences we are accustomed to all characters finding some resolution at the end of a story. But this is a story of Antigone, not Ismene, and Sophocles may have felt it unnecessary to explain Ismene's future. However, if one reads the trilogy together, Ismene's role becomes clearer, and that may prompt some to wonder of her fate.

Some stories exist of a love affair that ends in Ismene's death, but they are not accepted into the canon of this particular family's story line. Instead, most agree that Ismene lived the rest of her life alone, carrying the knowledge of her family's curse. She must also carry the weight of her own indecision, which led to Antigone's death. Thus, while the other members of the family found some solace in their demise, Ismene continues her torture in life.

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