Study Guide

Antigone Summary

How It (Supposedly) Went Down

Brief Summary

After guiding her blind father/brother Oedipus, the ex-king of Thebes, around the countryside until his death, Antigone returns home to Thebes to find out that her brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, have killed each other in a battle for the throne. Antigone's uncle, Creon, declares that Eteocles will be buried with honor, but that Polyneices' body will be left for the dogs. Despite her uncle's decree, Antigone buries Polyneices and is sentenced by Creon to be buried alive.

Detailed Summary

  • Antigone's life has been pretty sweet. So far.
  • A princess of Thebes, she's grown up in peace alongside her sister, Ismene, and brothers, Polyneices and Eteocles.
  • Her parents, King Oedipus and Queen Jocasta, are mad cool and everything is awesome.
  • One awful day, however, everything goes haywire.
  • Antigone's dad, Oedipus, discovers that he's actually the son of Jocasta, and that he killed his father, Laius, not knowing who the old guy was.
  • Yeah, so that means that Antigone's dad is also her half-brother and that her mom is also her grandma.
  • Antigone's parents don't take this news all that well... to say the least.
  • Her mother ends up hanging herself, and her dad stabs out his own eyes.
  • (And you thought your life was tough.)
  • Antigone's uncle, Creon, exiles Oedipus, and Antigone goes with her blind father to be his eyes as they wander the wilderness.
  • After several hard years, Antigone and Oedipus end up in the town of Colonus, where Oedipus is fated to peacefully die in a grove sacred to the Furies.
  • Just then, Ismene shows up and gives them some bad news from Thebes.
  • It turns out that in Oedipus's absence, Polyneices and Eteocles have been sharing the rule of Athens.
  • They'd agreed to switch off ruling Thebes every year.
  • When the time came for Eteocles to step down, though, he refused and exiled his brother.
  • So, Polyneices went off and married a princess whose dad had a big army, and now he's at the gates determined to take back the throne.
  • Creon shows up, representing Eteocles, and tries to convince the dying Oedipus to come back to Thebes to be buried, because a prophecy has said that wherever Oedipus is buried will be blessed.
  • Polyneices shows up too and also tries to get Oedipus's blessing.
  • Oedipus tells them both to buzz off.
  • In some versions, he curses his sons to kill each other in battle, because he feels like they neglected him all these years, unlike his devoted Antigone.
  • Creon takes Antigone and Ismene hostage to try and force Oedipus to do what he wants.
  • Just in the nick of time, though, King Theseus of Athens steps in and saves the girls.
  • Theseus grants asylum to Oedipus, allowing the old blind man to die in peace.
  • His body is buried in secret somewhere near Athens, and the city receives his blessing.
  • Antigone and Ismene weep over the death of their father/brother and beg Theseus to tell them where he's buried, so they can mourn over his grave.
  • Theseus refuses, though, saying that nobody can ever know where Oedipus is buried.
  • Antigone is super worried about the civil war between her brothers in Thebes, though, so she and Ismene head back home.
  • Arriving back in her hometown of Thebes, Antigone tries to talk some sense into her brothers.
  • Try as she might, she can't get her brothers to be nice to each other, and they end up killing each other in single combat.
  • Creon then takes over the throne of Thebes.
  • As his first edict, he declares that Eteocles' body should be buried with all honors and ceremony, but that Polyneices' body should be left out in the open to rot and be eaten by wild animals.
  • (Um, gross.)
  • The new king also says that anyone who touches the body will be sentenced to death.
  • Note: Getting a proper burial was a big deal to the ancient Greeks. They believed that if the right rites weren't observed, then you weren't allowed to enter the Underworld and had to wander the shores of the River Styx forever as a restless ghost.
  • Antigone isn't about to let this fate happen to her brother, so she determines to bury him despite Creon's proclamation.
  • The rebel girl tries to convince her sister, Ismene, to help her do it, but Ismene is way too chicken.
  • So, Antigone goes out on her own and buries her brother.
  • She gets busted by Creon's guards, though, and they bring her before the king.
  • Antigone is totally unrepentant, which only makes Creon angrier.
  • He sentences her to be buried alive in a tomb or cave.
  • Haemon, Creon's son, hears about all this and begs his dad to reconsider.
  • He's Antigone's fiancé, and he truly loves the girl.
  • (Man, when did Antigone have time to get engaged?)
  • Creon refuses his son's pleas, though, and Haemon storms away.
  • The blind prophet Tiresias comes by to try and talk some sense into the king.
  • Meanwhile in the tomb, Antigone is slowly smothering.
  • Instead of this slow and painful death, Antigone hangs herself.
  • Creon has a change of heart, and sends his men to free Antigone, but when they get there it's too late.
  • Haemon kills himself upon hearing about Antigone's death.
  • Creon's wife, Eurydice, kills herself as well after hearing about her son's death.
  • (Hey, we never promised you a happy ending.)

Alternate Ending

  • An alternative version of the story can be found in Hyginus's Fabulae.
  • In this version, Creon tells Haemon to carry out Antigone's execution.
  • Haemon secrets his love away in the country instead, though, and together they have a son.
  • Eventually, their son grows up and goes to the games of Thebes.
  • Creon recognizes the boy, though, because he has a distinctive birthmark that all people in the family have. (A bit of a stretch, but okay.)
  • The king is super mad and confronts his son, telling Haemon that he's still got to kill Antigone.
  • Hercules, who's a god by this point, comes down and tries to reason with Creon.
  • Creon won't listen, though.
  • So, Haemon ends up killing Antigone and then killing himself.
  • (Yeah, not so happy ending this time either.)