Study Guide

Antigone Quotes

  • Women and Femininity

    Antigone
    Creon

    CREON
    Play not the spaniel, thou a woman's slave.
    HAEMON
    When thou dost speak, must no man make reply? (754-755)

    Creon insults Haemon by suggesting he is subservient to Antigone.

    CREON
    Elders, the gods have righted one again
    Our storm-tossed ship of state, now safe in port.
    But you by special summons I convened
    As my most trusted councilors; first, because
    I knew you loyal to Laius of old;
    Again, when Oedipus restored our State,
    Both while he ruled and when his rule was o'er,
    Ye still were constant to the royal line.
    Now that his two sons perished in one day,
    Brother by brother murderously slain,
    By right of kinship to the Princes dead,
    I claim and hold the throne and sovereignty.
    Yet 'tis no easy matter to discern
    The temper of a man, his mind and will,
    Till he be proved by exercise of power;
    And in my case, if one who reigns supreme
    Swerve from the highest policy, tongue-tied
    By fear of consequence, that man I hold,
    And ever held, the basest of the base.
    And I contemn the man who sets his friend
    Before his country. For myself, I call
    To witness Zeus, whose eyes are everywhere,
    If I perceive some mischievous design
    To sap the State, I will not hold my tongue;
    Nor would I reckon as my private friend
    A public foe, well knowing that the State
    Is the good ship that holds our fortunes all:
    Farewell to friendship, if she suffers wreck.
    Such is the policy by which I seek
    To serve the Commons and conformably
    I have proclaimed an edict as concerns
    The sons of Oedipus; Eteocles
    Who in his country's battle fought and fell,
    The foremost champion--duly bury him
    With all observances and ceremonies
    That are the guerdon of the heroic dead.
    But for the miscreant exile who returned
    Minded in flames and ashes to blot out
    His father's city and his father's gods,
    And glut his vengeance with his kinsmen's blood,
    Or drag them captive at his chariot wheels--
    For Polyneices 'tis ordained that none
    Shall give him burial or make mourn for him,
    But leave his corpse unburied, to be meat
    For dogs and carrion crows, a ghastly sight.
    So am I purposed; never by my will
    Shall miscreants take precedence of true men,
    But all good patriots, alive or dead,
    Shall be by me preferred and honored. (280-314)

    Creon automatically assumes the law-breaker is a man.

    CREON
    Not even death can make a foe a friend.
    ANTIGONE
    My nature is for mutual love, not hate.
    CREON
    Die then, and love the dead if thou must;
    No woman shall be the master while I live. (522-524)

    Creon reveals that his reasoning is based on sexism, not on rationality.

    CREON
    Well, let her know the stubbornest of wills
    Are soonest bended, as the hardest iron,
    O'er-heated in the fire to brittleness,
    Flies soonest into fragments, shivered through.
    A snaffle curbs the fieriest steed, and he
    Who in subjection lives must needs be meek.
    But this proud girl, in insolence well-schooled,
    First overstepped the established law, and then--
    A second and worse act of insolence--
    She boasts and glories in her wickedness.
    Now if she thus can flout authority
    Unpunished, I am woman, she the man.
    But though she be my sister's child or nearer
    Of kin than all who worship at my hearth,
    Nor she nor yet her sister shall escape
    The utmost penalty, for both I hold,
    As arch-conspirators, of equal guilt.
    Bring forth the older; even now I saw her
    Within the palace, frenzied and distraught.
    The workings of the mind discover oft
    Dark deeds in darkness schemed, before the act.
    More hateful still the miscreant who seeks
    When caught, to make a virtue of a crime. (474-496)

    Creon implies that men are the enforcers of law while women are weak and to be controlled.

    CREON
    What evils are not wrought by Anarchy!
    She ruins States, and overthrows the home,
    She dissipates and routs the embattled host;
    While discipline preserves the ordered ranks.
    Therefore we must maintain authority
    And yield to title to a woman's will.
    Better, if needs be, men should cast us out
    Than hear it said, a woman proved his match. (671-680)

    Creon attributes anarchy to women and feels strongly that a social structure favoring men must be maintained.

    Ismene

    ISMENE
    Bethink thee, sister, of our father's fate,
    Abhorred, dishonored, self-convinced of sin,
    Blinded, himself his executioner.
    Think of his mother-wife (ill sorted names)
    Done by a noose herself had twined to death
    And last, our hapless brethren in one day,
    Both in a mutual destiny involved,
    Self-slaughtered, both the slayer and the slain.
    Bethink thee, sister, we are left alone;
    Shall we not perish wretchedest of all,
    If in defiance of the law we cross
    A monarch's will?--weak women, think of that,
    Not framed by nature to contend with men.
    Remember this too that the stronger rules;
    We must obey his orders, these or worse.
    Therefore I plead compulsion and entreat
    The dead to pardon. I perforce obey
    The powers that be. 'Tis foolishness, I ween,
    To overstep in aught the golden mean. (49-68)

    Ismene argues that because she and Antigone are women, they lack the power to defy the state.

  • Power

    Antigone

    GUARD
    May I not speak, or must I turn and go
    Without a word?--
    CREON
    Begone! canst thou not see
    That e'en this question irks me?
    GUARD
    Where, my lord?
    Is it thy ears that suffer, or thy heart?
    CREON
    Why seek to probe and find the seat of pain?
    GUARD
    I gall thine ears--this miscreant thy mind.
    CREON
    What an inveterate babbler! get thee gone!
    GUARD
    Babbler perchance, but innocent of the crime.
    CREON
    Twice guilty, having sold thy soul for gain.
    GUARD
    Alas! how sad when reasoners reason wrong.
    CREON
    Go, quibble with thy reason. If thou fail'st
    To find these malefactors, thou shalt own
    The wages of ill-gotten gains is death. (313-327)

    Creon, irritated by the guard, threatens him with death. This is a far cry from the Creon we encountered in Oedipus the King.

    HAEMON
    The Theban commons with one voice say, No.
    CREON
    What, shall the mob dictate my policy?
    HAEMON
    'Tis thou, methinks, who speakest like a boy.
    CREON
    Am I to rule for others, or myself?
    HAEMON
    A State for one man is no State at all.
    CREON
    The State is his who rules it, so 'tis held.
    HAEMON
    As monarch of a desert thou wouldst shine.
    CREON
    This boy, methinks, maintains the woman's cause.
    HAEMON
    If thou be'st woman, yes. My thought's for thee.
    CREON
    O reprobate, would'st wrangle with thy sire? (734-742)

    Creon’s power blinds him to the multitude of voices speaking against his actions.

    Creon

    CREON
    Of all these Thebans none so deems but thou.
    ANTIGONE
    These think as I, but bate their breath to thee.
    CREON
    Hast thou no shame to differ from all these?
    ANTIGONE
    To reverence kith and kin can bring no shame. (506-512)

    Emboldened by his power, Creon attempts to shame Antigone because her views are different from his.

    CREON
    Not even death can make a foe a friend.
    ANTIGONE
    My nature is for mutual love, not hate.
    CREON
    Die then, and love the dead if thou must;
    No woman shall be the master while I live. (522-524)

    Creon’s power has made him arrogant and cold.

    Teiresias

    TEIRESIAS
    How far good counsel is the best of goods?
    CREON
    True, as unwisdom is the worst of ills.
    TEIRESIAS
    Thou art infected with that ill thyself.
    CREON
    I will not bandy insults with thee, seer.
    TEIRESIAS
    And yet thou say'st my prophesies are frauds.
    CREON
    Prophets are all a money-getting tribe.
    TEIRESIAS
    And kings are all a lucre-loving race.
    CREON
    Dost know at whom thou glancest, me thy lord?
    TEIRESIAS
    Lord of the State and savior, thanks to me. (1050-1058)

    Having remarked just moments before that Teiresias’s prophecies are always true, Creon attacks the man anyway when offended by what the prophet has to say. Here, Creon displays the same rashness and temper that Oedipus did as king, and against the same man.

  • Rules and Order

    Antigone
    Antigone

    ANTIGONE
    I urge no more; nay, wert thou willing still,
    I would not welcome such a fellowship.
    Go thine own way; myself will bury him.
    How sweet to die in such employ, to rest,--
    Sister and brother linked in love's embrace--
    A sinless sinner, banned awhile on earth,
    But by the dead commended; and with them
    I shall abide for ever. As for thee,
    Scorn, if thou wilt, the eternal laws of Heaven.
    ISMENE
    I scorn them not, but to defy the State
    Or break her ordinance I have no skill. (69-79)

    Antigone elevates religious law above the law of the state, while Ismene is more concerned with the laws of the state.

    Ismene

    ISMENE
    Bethink thee, sister, of our father's fate,
    Abhorred, dishonored, self-convinced of sin,
    Blinded, himself his executioner.
    Think of his mother-wife (ill sorted names)
    Done by a noose herself had twined to death
    And last, our hapless brethren in one day,
    Both in a mutual destiny involved,
    Self-slaughtered, both the slayer and the slain.
    Bethink thee, sister, we are left alone;
    Shall we not perish wretchedest of all,
    If in defiance of the law we cross
    A monarch's will?--weak women, think of that,
    Not framed by nature to contend with men.
    Remember this too that the stronger rules;
    We must obey his orders, these or worse.
    Therefore I plead compulsion and entreat
    The dead to pardon. I perforce obey
    The powers that be. 'Tis foolishness, I ween,
    To overstep in aught the golden mean. (49-68)

    Ismene fears betraying the laws of state, whereas her sister is more concerned with divine law.

    (Ant. 2)
    Passing the wildest flight thought are the cunning and skill,
    That guide man now to the light, but now to counsels of ill.
    If he honors the laws of the land, and reveres the Gods of the State
    Proudly his city shall stand; but a cityless outcast I rate
    Whoso bold in his pride from the path of right doth depart;
    Ne'er may I sit by his side, or share the thoughts of his heart. (368-375)

    The Chorus explains that it is essential to honor both the laws of the land and of the gods.

    HAEMON
    The Theban commons with one voice say, No.
    CREON
    What, shall the mob dictate my policy?
    HAEMON
    'Tis thou, methinks, who speakest like a boy.
    CREON
    Am I to rule for others, or myself?
    HAEMON
    A State for one man is no State at all.
    CREON
    The State is his who rules it, so 'tis held.
    HAEMON
    As monarch of a desert thou wouldst shine.
    CREON
    This boy, methinks, maintains the woman's cause.
    HAEMON
    If thou be'st woman, yes. My thought's for thee.
    CREON
    O reprobate, would'st wrangle with thy sire? (734-742)

    Haemon suggests that Creon’s sense of justice is flawed.

    Creon

    CREON
    And yet wert bold enough to break the law?
    ANTIGONE
    Yea, for these laws were not ordained of Zeus,
    And she who sits enthroned with gods below,
    Justice, enacted not these human laws.
    Nor did I deem that thou, a mortal man,
    Could'st by a breath annul and override
    The immutable unwritten laws of Heaven.
    They were not born today nor yesterday;
    They die not; and none knoweth whence they sprang.
    I was not like, who feared no mortal's frown,
    To disobey these laws and so provoke
    The wrath of Heaven. I knew that I must die,
    E'en hadst thou not proclaimed it; and if death
    Is thereby hastened, I shall count it gain.
    For death is gain to him whose life, like mine,
    Is full of misery. Thus my lot appears
    Not sad, but blissful; for had I endured
    To leave my mother's son unburied there,
    I should have grieved with reason, but not now.
    And if in this thou judgest me a fool,
    Methinks the judge of folly's not acquit. (449-470)

    Antigone challenges Creon’s moral and legal authority by elevating religious rites above his worldly law.

    Antigone

    ANTIGONE
    The slain man was no villain but a brother.
    CREON
    The patriot perished by the outlaw's brand.
    ANTIGONE
    Nathless the realms below these rites require.
    CREON
    Not that the base should fare as do the brave.
    ANTIGONE
    Who knows if this world's crimes are virtues there? (515-523)

    Antigone looks to divine law for justice, while Creon elevates his own notions of pragmatism and morality.

  • Fate and Free Will

    Antigone
    Creon

    CREON
    I know it too, and it perplexes me.
    To yield is grievous, but the obstinate soul
    That fights with Fate, is smitten grievously. (1095-1099)

    Although Creon wants to resist, he knows better than to fight fate. He has learned from Oedipus’s mistakes.

    Ismene

    ISMENE
    O sister, scorn me not, let me but share
    Thy work of piety, and with thee die.
    ANTIGONE
    Claim not a work in which thou hadst no hand;
    One death sufficeth. Wherefore should'st thou die?
    ISMENE
    What would life profit me bereft of thee?
    ANTIGONE
    Ask Creon, he's thy kinsman and best friend.
    ISMENE
    Why taunt me? Find'st thou pleasure in these gibes?
    ANTIGONE
    'Tis a sad mockery, if indeed I mock.
    ISMENE
    O say if I can help thee even now.
    ANTIGONE
    No, save thyself; I grudge not thy escape.
    ISMENE
    Is e'en this boon denied, to share thy lot?
    ANTIGONE
    Yea, for thou chosed'st life, and I to die. (544-556)

    Antigone chooses both her own destiny (death) and her sister’s (life). She demonstrates that there is such a thing as free will, after all.

    ISMENE
    I scorn them not, but to defy the State
    Or break her ordinance I have no skill.
    ANTIGONE
    A specious pretext. I will go alone
    To lap my dearest brother in the grave.
    ISMENE
    My poor, fond sister, how I fear for thee!
    ANTIGONE
    O waste no fears on me; look to thyself. (82-85)

    While Antigone feels empowered to impact her own destiny, Ismene does not.

  • Determination

    Antigone
    Creon

    CREON
    Well, let her know the stubbornest of wills
    Are soonest bended, as the hardest iron,
    O'er-heated in the fire to brittleness,
    Flies soonest into fragments, shivered through.
    A snaffle curbs the fieriest steed, and he
    Who in subjection lives must needs be meek.
    But this proud girl, in insolence well-schooled,
    First overstepped the established law, and then--
    A second and worse act of insolence--
    She boasts and glories in her wickedness.
    Now if she thus can flout authority
    Unpunished, I am woman, she the man.
    But though she be my sister's child or nearer
    Of kin than all who worship at my hearth,
    Nor she nor yet her sister shall escape
    The utmost penalty, for both I hold,
    As arch-conspirators, of equal guilt.
    Bring forth the older; even now I saw her
    Within the palace, frenzied and distraught.
    The workings of the mind discover oft
    Dark deeds in darkness schemed, before the act.
    More hateful still the miscreant who seeks
    When caught, to make a virtue of a crime. (474-496)

    Blind to his own stubbornness, Creon attacks and punishes Antigone for denying his authority and for her unwillingness to submit to his will.

    CREON
    O cease, you vex me with your babblement;
    I am like to think you dote in your old age.
    Is it not arrant folly to pretend
    That gods would have a thought for this dead man?
    Did they forsooth award him special grace,
    And as some benefactor bury him,
    Who came to fire their hallowed sanctuaries,
    To sack their shrines, to desolate their land,
    And scout their ordinances? Or perchance
    The gods bestow their favors on the bad.
    No! no! I have long noted malcontents
    Who wagged their heads, and kicked against the yoke,
    Misliking these my orders, and my rule.
    'Tis they, I warrant, who suborned my guards
    By bribes. Of evils current upon earth
    The worst is money. Money 'tis that sacks
    Cities, and drives men forth from hearth and home;
    Warps and seduces native innocence,
    And breeds a habit of dishonesty.
    But they who sold themselves shall find their greed
    Out-shot the mark, and rue it soon or late.
    Yea, as I still revere the dread of Zeus,
    By Zeus I swear, except ye find and bring
    Before my presence here the very man
    Who carried out this lawless burial,
    Death for your punishment shall not suffice.
    Hanged on a cross, alive ye first shall make
    Confession of this outrage. This will teach you
    What practices are like to serve your turn.
    There are some villainies that bring no gain.
    For by dishonesty the few may thrive,
    The many come to ruin and disgrace. (280-314)

    Creon’s fierce determination to prosecute the burier of Polyneices will ultimately lead to the suicides of his wife, son, and niece. Like Oedipus, his determination causes death.

    Antigone

    ANTIGONE
    I urge no more; nay, wert thou willing still,
    I would not welcome such a fellowship.
    Go thine own way; myself will bury him.
    How sweet to die in such employ, to rest,--
    Sister and brother linked in love's embrace--
    A sinless sinner, banned awhile on earth,
    But by the dead commended; and with them
    I shall abide for ever. As for thee,
    Scorn, if thou wilt, the eternal laws of Heaven. (69-76)

    Antigone’s enthusiastic determination to risk her life in order to bury her brother is suicidal in nature.

    ANTIGONE
    Would'st thou do more than slay thy prisoner?
    CREON
    Not I, thy life is mine, and that's enough.
    ANTIGONE
    Why dally then? To me no word of thine
    Is pleasant: God forbid it e'er should please;
    Nor am I more acceptable to thee.
    And yet how otherwise had I achieved
    A name so glorious as by burying
    A brother? so my townsmen all would say,
    Where they not gagged by terror, Manifold
    A king's prerogatives, and not the least
    That all his acts and all his words are law. (497-506)

    Antigone exhibits a self-destructive determination to sacrifice her life for principle.

    Ismene

    ISMENE
    Bethink thee, sister, of our father's fate,
    Abhorred, dishonored, self-convinced of sin,
    Blinded, himself his executioner.
    Think of his mother-wife (ill sorted names)
    Done by a noose herself had twined to death
    And last, our hapless brethren in one day,
    Both in a mutual destiny involved,
    Self-slaughtered, both the slayer and the slain.
    Bethink thee, sister, we are left alone;
    Shall we not perish wretchedest of all,
    If in defiance of the law we cross
    A monarch's will?--weak women, think of that,
    Not framed by nature to contend with men.
    Remember this too that the stronger rules;
    We must obey his orders, these or worse.
    Therefore I plead compulsion and entreat
    The dead to pardon. I perforce obey
    The powers that be. 'Tis foolishness, I ween,
    To overstep in aught the golden mean. (49-68)

    While not heroic, Ismene’s determination to survive reveals her sound reason and powerful instinct for self-preservation.

  • Mortality

    Antigone
    Antigone

    ANTIGONE
    Would'st thou do more than slay thy prisoner?
    CREON
    Not I, thy life is mine, and that's enough.
    ANTIGONE
    Why dally then? To me no word of thine
    Is pleasant: God forbid it e'er should please;
    Nor am I more acceptable to thee.
    And yet how otherwise had I achieved
    A name so glorious as by burying
    A brother? so my townsmen all would say,
    Where they not gagged by terror, Manifold
    A king's prerogatives, and not the least
    That all his acts and all his words are law. (497-506)

    Antigone’s approach to death is not as fearless as she claims; unable to live in a world where divine law crumbles under human law, she finds death to be the only option left to her.

    I would not welcome such a fellowship.
    Go thine own way; myself will bury him.
    How sweet to die in such employ, to rest,--
    Sister and brother linked in love's embrace--
    A sinless sinner, banned awhile on earth,
    But by the dead commended; and with them
    I shall abide for ever. As for thee,
    Scorn, if thou wilt, the eternal laws of Heaven. (69-76)

    Antigone welcomes, and even loves, the idea of death. She is the only character to do so.

    ANTIGONE
    Sister, forbear, or I shall hate thee soon,
    And the dead man will hate thee too, with cause.
    Say I am mad and give my madness rein
    To wreck itself; the worst that can befall
    Is but to die an honorable death. (92-96)

    Because Antigone approaches death without regret, her demise takes on a tone other than the tragic feel of Jocasta’s suicide.

    ANTIGONE
    (Str. 1)
    Friends, countrymen, my last farewell I make;
    My journey's done.
    One last fond, lingering, longing look I take
    At the bright sun.
    For Death who puts to sleep both young and old
    Hales my young life,
    And beckons me to Acheron's dark fold,
    An unwed wife.
    No youths have sung the marriage song for me,
    My bridal bed
    No maids have strewn with flowers from the lea,
    'Tis Death I wed. (806-813)

    Antigone imagines death as a marriage, establishing yet another duality in the play.

    SECOND MESSENGER
    Hearing the loud lament above her son
    With her own hand she stabbed herself to the heart. (1316-1317)

    Eurydice’s death strangely parallels Jocasta’s suicide, which was in response to the metaphorical death of her perception of Oedipus.

    MESSENGER
    So at the bidding of our distraught lord
    We looked, and in the craven's vaulted gloom
    I saw the maiden lying strangled there,
    A noose of linen twined about her neck;
    And hard beside her, clasping her cold form,
    Her lover lay bewailing his dead bride
    Death-wedded, and his father's cruelty.
    When the King saw him, with a terrible groan
    He moved towards him, crying, "O my son
    What hast thou done? What ailed thee? What mischance
    Has reft thee of thy reason? O come forth,
    Come forth, my son; thy father supplicates."
    But the son glared at him with tiger eyes,
    Spat in his face, and then, without a word,
    Drew his two-hilted sword and smote, but missed
    His father flying backwards. Then the boy,
    Wroth with himself, poor wretch, incontinent
    Fell on his sword and drove it through his side
    Home, but yet breathing clasped in his lax arms
    The maid, her pallid cheek incarnadined
    With his expiring gasps. So there they lay
    Two corpses, one in death. His marriage rites
    Are consummated in the halls of Death:
    A witness that of ills whate'er befall
    Mortals' unwisdom is the worst of all. (1192-2144)

    For Eurydice, suicide becomes the only choice once she learns of the double deaths of Antigone and Haemon.

    Ismene

    ISMENE
    To me, Antigone, no word of friends
    Has come, or glad or grievous, since we twain
    Were reft of our two brethren in one day
    By double fratricide; and since i' the night
    Our Argive leaguers fled, no later news
    Has reached me, to inspirit or deject. (11-17)

    Just as Oedipus’s family was the cause of his self-injury, so his sons are the cause of each other’s death.