Essential Quotes by Character: Antigone

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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
with impunity.


The report is brought to Creon that Polynices has had dust spread over his corpse, a direct defiance of Creon’s decree against any sort of burial. The sentry, having been blamed for this, goes out to find who is the actual culprit. In triumph he returns, leading Antigone as the guilty party. Creon is shocked at first, but in a sense of justification states that she is just like her father, Oedipus, who was struck down by his insolence against his fellowman, never learning from the punishment of the gods. Creon predicts that likewise Antigone will fall, especially since she is a woman and thus not allowed to think “big thoughts” in contradiction to her ruling male (in this case Creon). In his own pride, Creon vows that she will not go unpunished, for this would mean that she had gained victory over him. Pleading the good of his gender, besides the welfare of the state, he promises that Antigone will face death for her defiance.

Essential Passage 3:Lines 896-920

O tomb, O bridal bower, o underground
home everlasting, whither I journey
to my own people, whose great number—
so many destroyed—Persephone has
received among the dead. To these I go down— (900)
the last of them all and worst by far,
before my allowance of life is spent.
Nevertheless, as I go, I nurture
the hope that I will come dear to my father,
dear to you, mother, and dear to you, my own (905)
dear brother. When you died, with my own hands
I washed and adorned your bodies, and I poured
libations at your tombs. But now, Polynices,
after burying your body, I reap
rewards like these. Still, I honored you well (910)
in the eyes of the wise. No, if somehow
children whose mother I was or my husband
had died, I would not have undertaken
this labor in defiance of the citizens.
Shall I tell you the code I follow? (915)
I could get another husband when mine died,
and a child from another man, if I
lost one from him, but since my mother and
father both lie in Hell, there is no field
where I could grow another brother. (920)


Accepting Creon’s punishment of death for burying her brother Polynices, Antigone laments her lost opportunity of marriage and motherhood. The grave will be her groom, and she will be reunited with her parents and her brothers in Hades. She goes with the confidence that she did not betray them. She herself prepared their bodies for death, and it is for this reason that she did the same for Polynices. She has no regrets. The only hesitancy she states is that if it were her husband or child for whom she defied the decree and thus accepted her own doom, she would not have done it. A husband can be replaced by another; more children can be born to take the place of the dead. However, a brother, especially by a mother and father who are dead, is irreplaceable. It is for this reason, and this reason only, that Antigone justifies giving her own life.

Analysis of Essential Passages

To Antigone, family love is the highest good, worth the laying down of her own life. However, it is not the individual that commands her loyalty but the concept of family love itself. This may require her to go against the wishes or demands of her family in order to reach that goal. As she determines to bury Polynices against her uncle’s wishes, she must reject both her uncle Creon and her sister Ismene. Although Ismene does not hold the same standard of family loyalty that Antigone does, Ismene understands that Antigone wishes to do so, but pleads for her to do it secretly. To Ismene, the deed done is enough, not requiring any public proclamation of it in order to restore Polynices’ honor. Antigone, however, rejects such secrecy. She obeys the gods in sprinkling the dust over her brother’s body, and she believes that this must be done publicly, with full knowledge of the consequences.

In standing for the principle of love, Antigone goes against the head of state as well as the head of her family in the person of Creon. By rejecting Creon’s decree, Antigone assaults his manhood as well as his leadership. It is this that Creon fears more than just the act of rebellion. To be shown up by a woman weakens his position as a leader. Antigone has threatened his throne beyond the simple fact of her rebellion.

In a seemingly heartless speech, Antigone states that she would not give her life to renew the honor of a husband or child, which can be “replaced.” A brother of deceased parents is irreplaceable. Her logic may seem cold, especially coming from a woman of ancient Greece, but in this she is again seeing the larger picture of the continuation of the family. The fact that her brother is already dead does not seem to matter. It is his legacy, rather than his life, that she must redeem.

Antigone’s decision to take her own life is not one of cowardice in the face of a prolonged death by starvation sealed in the vault. She ends her life in the manner of a ritual suicide, choosing death rather than dishonor and living in a world that holds Law over Love.

Essential Quotes by Theme: Law vs. Love

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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 Zeus
be my witness—I would never be silent (185)
if I saw madness creeping among
the citizens in place of salvation,
nor would I consider an enemy
of my country a friend to myself,
recognizing this: that my country is (190)
safety itself, and only when she is upright
can our sailing find friends. With laws like these
I will make our city grow.


After the rebellion by Polynices and the death of Eteocles, Creon assumes the throne as next in line to rule. He reflects on both the good and the bad that Oedipus, the former king, had done, as well as the mutual destruction of the two sons of Oedipus, each killing the other in battle. Yet one of Oedipus’ sons had betrayed his father’s throne, making war against it. To Creon, this cut down all allegiance to his nephew. His loyalty is to the state, and anyone who betrays the state also betrays Creon. Rebellion destroys all duties of love and family. To Creon, it is the state that makes the condition of friendship possible; a person shows the inner character of his soul by his obedience to the state. A ruler, regardless of his family lineage, shows himself worthy by his obedience to and enforcement of the Law of the state.

Essential Passage 3: Lines 753-757

Worst of all men, at odds with your own father!
Not when I see you at odds with justice.
Am I wrong to protect my own empire? (755)
You don't protect it when you trample the
honors of the gods!


In accordance with his decree, Creon sends Antigone off to be sealed in a cavern, with enough food for her to survive a minimal amount of time, but her death is assured. Haemon, Creon’s son and Antigone’s betrothed, confronts his father. Though he insists that he is loyal to Creon, Haemon cannot countenance this act. Beyond losing his beloved, Haemon sees this as a sin against justice. Creon accuses Haemon of betrayal to his father, as Antigone has betrayed her king. Creon states that it is his right to protect his empire against all traitors, regardless of their relationship. Haemon states that Creon has gone beyond protection to outright defiance against the gods. Deprived of his betrothed, and deprived of an honorable father, Haemon tries to attack Creon but fails. He then thrusts the sword into himself, thus ending his life, as Antigone has ended hers. In response to this, his mother Euridyce also commits suicide, cursing Creon for his injustice.

Analysis of Essential Passages

Creon and Antigone live in two different worlds. Creon inhabits the State, in which Law is paramount over all other considerations—family, friendship, or personal honor. It is the state, not the gods, that makes all else possible. Presented at a time when Greeks held democracy as the ideal, the drama shows that Creon goes from a position that most citizens could accept to a stance that can only be called tyranny, in which he says that the state exists solely for him. Antigone, however, holds to the concept of Love over Law. To her, that love is a gift of the gods and as such, it is the duty of all humans to honor love before all other considerations. To chose love is to follow the will of the gods; to chose law is to follow the whims of humanity. Each main character, Creon and Antigone, believes that his or her particular standard will last when the other fails.

Some critics think Sophocles is showing that each gender has a different foundation on which he or she bases a life. The state, personified by Creon, is the realm of the male, traditionally held to be the leader of society. The family, personified by Antigone, belongs to the female, whose primary sphere of influence is the home. Yet Haemon, and eventually Creon himself, rejects this notion and chooses to follow Antigone’s course, albeit too late to save Antigone. As Antigone has stated, and as Tiresias also warns Creon, love is not limited to the female but is demanded of all humankind, because it comes directly from the gods. The state comes solely from the hand of man, thus subservient to the gods. Creon’s worldview has become out of balance. It is only at the end that he sees that love is the foundation of all choice. By rejecting Antigone, he has not only lost his niece, but his son and his wife as well.

As Antigone points out, justice falls within the realm of love. The law may dispense justice, but love demands it. The democracy of Greece was built on the concept of individual choice. Thus the underlying theme of Antigone shows that the fear of tyranny is justified when law overrides love.

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