Antigone Notes

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Antigone Plot Summary

After King Oedipus was exiled from the city of Thebes when he learned that he had committed incest and patricide, his younger son Eteocles claimed that the kingship belonged to him, exiling his older brother Polyneices. Polyneices then attacked Thebes with a massive army, but neither son won because they killed each other in battle. The new Theban king, Creon, declares that Eteocles will be buried and honored as a hero while Polyneices' body will rot away and be eaten by dogs in disgrace; the penalty for trying to bury the body is death. Hearing this news, an angry Antigone insists that her brother's body must be buried so that his spirit can rest in peace, in spite of the cautious advice of her younger sister, Ismene.

Antigone goes to the battlefield in front of Thebes, pouring sand over Polyneices' body and performing burial rites. She allows herself to be captured after coming out of hiding when some guards try to brush off the dust, and a defiant Antigone is brought to Creon. Stunned that a woman would dare to disobey his orders, he imprisons both Antigone and Ismene as an accomplice, declaring that they shall be executed. Soon after, Creon's son Haemon pleads for Antigone's release because he is engaged to marry her, although his arrogant father mocks him, ignoring his worries. An angry Haemon runs away, hurt that his father has treated him like this.

Then Creon changes his mind abruptly, deciding to execute only Antigone since Ismene's innocence is clear, and the older sister is thus sent outside of Thebes to starve to death in a cave. While Antigone is suffering this unfortunate fate, the blind prophet Teiresias warns Creon that the gods are very angry that he has refused burial for Polyneices, since the very same dogs and birds that eat his flesh are later used for sacrifices. As a result, Creon's son will die in punishment, he declares. Mocking Teiresias, Creon does not listen to this advice, saying that Teiresias just wants to scare him. However, he finally agrees to bury the slain man after the Chorus of Theban citizens reminds him that Teiresias has never been wrong about anything.

Now worried about his son, Creon washes Polyneices' body, performs burial rites, and cremates the body's remains. Then he goes to free Antigone from the cave where she is imprisoned, but it is too late to avoid tragedy: she has hung herself by a rope, and Haemon stands weeping beneath her. After trying to attack Creon, Haemon stabs himself and dies holding Antigone's body in his arms. A broken man, Creon returns to the palace only to learn that his wife Eurydice has also commited suicide after learning about her son's death. Creon is led away by his citizens, lamenting, wishing for the release from suffering that only death can give him. The story of Antigone focuses on the role of the ruler in a city, providing a model for all of the bad qualities that a king should not have, lest he be punished terribly as Creon was in the end. Moreover, the gods must always be respected by everyone.

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