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Notes on Characters from Antigone

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Antigone Major Characters

Antigone: The oldest daughter of Oedipus. Her name in Greek means 'one who is of the opposite opinion' (anti = against, gnomi = opinion). After Antigone's brothers die in battle, Creon forbids burial for the elder Polyneices because he dared to attack Thebes. Pitying him, Antigone disregards the advice of her younger sister Ismene to obey Creon's decree and covers Polyneices' body in dust, declaring that religious laws of burial are more important than a city's law. As a result, Creon sentences Antigone to death by starvation in a cave in spite of his son Haemon's pleading, since he is engaged to marry her. Realizing that the Theban king has made a terrible mistake after speaking to Teiresias, Creon unseals the cave too late to save the girl. Antigone has already committed suicide by hanging herself from a rope.

Ismene: The youngest daughter of Oedipus. Her name in Greek means 'to linger towards' (eis = towards, mene = linger). She tells Antigone to obey Creon's decree, but her sister does not listen. After Antigone is captured and sentenced to die, Ismene insists that she helped commit the crime, because she wants to die with her. Antigone tells the truth that Ismene had no involvement in the burial at all, and Creon releases her from custody without punishment. Ismene is not heard from again. Throughout the play, she is the obedient, willing citizen easily dominated by tyrants such as Creon. She is a follower, unlike her bold sister.

Creon: Iocasta's brother and King of Thebes. After the deaths of both Theban princes, Polyneices and Eteocles, Creon claims the throne for himself because he is the former queen's brother. His first edict forbids burial to Polyneices or any of the other soldiers who attacked Thebes; after Antigone disobeys this law he sentences her to death and at first plans to kill Ismene as well, until the Chorus reminds him that she is innocent. Creon is selfish, erratic, and foolish. He is not a wise ruler and as a result, he suffers for his ignorance after realizing his mistakes too late. Antigone, his son Haemon, and his wife Eurydice all commit suicide. Creon is left humbled but heartbroken, incapable of even walking without someone to support him.

Minor Characters

Oedipus: The former king of Thebes and Antigone's father. His name in Greek means 'limping foot' (oido = to swell, pous = foot) because his father Laius sliced his ankles when he was a baby so that he would die in the wilderness, disabled. He wanted to avoid the prophesy that that his son Oedipus would one day kill him. After later discovering that he had indeed killed his father and married his mother, a grown Oedipus was exiled from Thebes and wandered for many years until he died an outcast. Then Oedipus' sons Polyneices and Eteocles battled for the Theban throne, killing each other; Creon forbids burial for Polyneices, but Oedipus' daughter Antigone performs burial rites on his body because she loves him. Arrested and sentenced to death, Antigone thus follows the same tragic footsteps of her father Oedipus, treated as a criminal by the city of Thebes.

Laius: Oedipus' father and former king of Thebes. To avoid being killed by his own son as was prophesized, Laius sent Oedipus to die in the wilderness as a baby, but the son survived. Oedipus later murders King Laius on the road to Thebes, just as the oracle had predicted he would.

Iocasta: The former queen of Thebes and Oedipus' mother. When she discovers that she has married her son, Oedipus, she commits suicide by hanging herself in the palace. Antigone comments that she had herself wrapped her mother in her funeral clothes.

Polyneices: The oldest son of Oedipus. After his younger brother Eteocles unjustly claims the Theban throne for himself, Polyneices assembles seven armies to attack the city and regain the kingship. He dies in battle, and Creon declares him to be a traitor, forbidding burial upon penalty of death. His body rots in front of the city until Antigone performs burial rites by sprinkling dust over it. Later, realizing that he is mistaken, Creon buries Polyneices in the ground, and his spirit is laid to rest at long last.

Eteocles: The youngest son of Oedipus. Although Polyneices is next in line to rule Thebes, Eteocles claims the throne for himself with the support of Creon and exiles his brother. Polyneices kills him in battle, and his body receives a full burial at the order of Creon. He declares that Eteocles is a hero because he died defending Thebes from enemies.

Chorus of Theban Elders: A group of Theban citizens. First arriving as obedient to King Creon, the Chorus gives opinions about events that occur in the story and recalls events that have occurred in the past. In addition, there is a gradual progression of the Chorus as it increasingly provides more advice in the story as it does for Creon when urging him to obey Teiresias' words and bury Polyneices. The Chorus leads a broken-hearted Creon away at the end, as he becomes no longer a vain selfish man, but instead is subject completely to the wishes of the people.

Sentry: A soldier who tells Creon about the illegal burial of Polyneices' body and later captures Antigone for committing this crime. He is afraid of Creon's anger when initially informing him that someone has violated his edict, but the Sentry is forgiven after bringing Antigone into custody.

Haemon: Creon's youngest son. When Antigone is sentenced to death, Haemon warns Creon that many Thebans believe that she should live. Antigone is also engaged to be Haemon's wife, and he does not want her to die. He becomes very upset when his father openly mocks him and later commits suicide after unsuccessfully trying to stab Creon with a sword. Haemon then stabs himself instead.

Teiresias: A blind old prophet. Many years earlier Teiresias had warned the Theban king Oedipus that he was guilty of incest and patricide, but Oedipus had heeded his warning too late. Now, the old blind prophet, guided by a young boy, warns King Creon that the gods are angry because Polyneices' body has not been buried, but Creon insists that he just wants to make some money by scaring him with lies. Just as Oedipus had once not taken Teiresias seriously and suffered terribly for it, so too does Creon mock the old man and later suffer with the deaths of his niece, son, and wife. Teiresias also predicts future attacks for Thebes from the cities that surround it.

Messenger: A man who tells Eurydice about her son's suicide by stabbing himself with a sword. Although the wise Chorus is concerned about Eurydice as she runs away abruptly after hearing that her son is dead, the Messenger sees no danger and praises Creon's leadership as well. He is wrong on both accounts: Creon has made poor choices as a leader, and Eurydice stabs herself a short time later, blaming Creon for the deaths of her sons Megareus and Haemon.

Second Messenger: A man who tells Creon about Eurydice's suicide by stabbing herself with a knife. After hearing this news, Creon is a broken man with little will of his own. His harsh temper fades away into sadness, knowing at last that he has made a terrible mistake by denying burial to Polyneices.

Megareus (or Menoeceus): The youngest son of Eurydice and Creon. He had died fighting for Eteocles in the first attack on Thebes; after Creon warned him to stay away from the battle because he feared for his safety, Megareus, feeling overly confident, joined the battle because he didn't want to be thought of as a coward. Being an inexperienced soldier, he was killed at once. Eurydice blames Creon for Megareus' death as well as for that of the older Haemon. She commits suicide because the grief of losing two sons is too great to bear.

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