Study Guide

Antigone Mortality

By Sophocles

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.

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