Antigone: Lines 1091-1352
Summary of Lines 1091-1352
The Chorus is upset by the doom pronounced by Teiresias, for they know he has never been wrong. Creon says he too is terrified, and though it is hard to go back on his word, disaster is worse. He asks the advice of the elders (The Chorus). They tell him to release Antigone and to bury Polyneices. They tell him to do it quickly.
Creon reluctantly agrees and gives the orders, then leaves to attend to it himself. Meanwhile, the Chorus sings an ode to Dionysos, praying that he will come to heal Thebes. Dionysos is hailed as the great purifier and healer.
A messenger enters bringing bad news. Everyone envied Creon only a short while ago, for he was a savior of Thebes, and he was supported by his son, a noble prince. Now, Haemon is dead by his own hand, angered at his father’s decree.
The Chorus sees Eurydice, Creon’s wife coming from the palace. They wonder if she has heard about her son. Eurydice enters and says she was on her way to the shrine of Pallas Athena to make an offering when she heard news of a death. She swooned into her servants’ arms. She begs to be told the truth, as she is no stranger to bad news.
The messenger tells the queen that he went with Creon to the torn body of Polyneices. They washed it and gave prayers to Hecate and Pluto to appease their anger. They burned the body and built a mound over it. Then they rushed to the cave where Antigone was imprisoned, but they heard cries of anguish. Haemon had found Antigone’s body hanging where she hung herself with strips from her dress. He was holding the body around the waist and weeping. Creon called to his son to come away, but Haemon spat in his face, and tried to slay his father with his sword. Creon ducked, and in remorse, Haemon killed himself on his own blade. Haemon and his bride now lie side by side in one tomb.
Eurydice rushes from the scene, and the Chorus and messenger wonder why she has said nothing nor displayed any grief. They think she is discrete and will only weep in the palace, for she is known for her perfect decorum. The Chorus is uneasy, and the messenger follows her.
The Chorus spies Creon with his heavy load of guilt coming near them; they say that all this misery is his own fault. The guards carry in the dead body of Haemon.
Creon sings a dirge, denouncing his error as the cause of his son’s death: “My own stubborn ways have borne bitter fruit” (line 1266).
The Chorus answers that too late has Creon come to wisdom. The messenger re-enters with more bad news. Queen Eurydice has killed herself in grief for her son by stabbing herself.
Creon continues the dirge, singing of implacable death. Eurydice’s body is brought out, and Creon sings, “Where will it end?” (line 1297). The messenger says that Eurydice cursed Creon for the death, not only of Haemon, but of the elder son (Megareus) who had dutifully killed himself as a sacrifice to the gods for the war.
Creon blames himself for her death, and wishes to be led away from this place and the sight of men. He wants only death now, for the doom is too much to bear. But he is told that no one can escape his fate.
The Chorus chants a moral: “far the greatest part/ Is wisdom and reverence towards the gods” (lines 1348-49).
Commentary on Lines 1091-1352
The denouement unfolds swiftly as the consequences of Creon’s rash decree are revealed, like dominos falling in order. Ironically, by stopping to take care of the unburied body, the cause of the gods’ displeasure, Creon is too late to save Antigone in the cave. By not saving her, he loses his son. When he loses his son, he loses his wife too. The loss of Haemon is too much for Queen Eurydice who had to agree earlier to the sacrifice of the elder son for the war. Tereisias told Creon that if Thebes was to be protected from Polyneices, the god of war, Ares, had to be propitiated for an old crime an ancestor had committed. The elder son of Creon, Megareus, volunteered to commit suicide. Creon’s whole family is lost, and he is left alone, his pride and power gone. Creon now believes that the whole human race is doomed to suffer, and the messenger reminds us “how insecure/ Is human fortune!” (lines 1153-54).
However, unlike Antigone, who suffers even though she claims to be innocent and upholding the will of the gods, Creon admits he has caused the suffering of his family by ignoring the gods. His wisdom comes at a great price. Tragedy ends with the cleansing of a society by a severe punishment borne by the tragic hero. The Chorus sings to Dionysos, the patron of tragedy, whose rites were characterized by frenzy and often the violent tearing apart of some victim as a sacrifice.
The mood of the play has come to the completely opposite point of the Ode to Man that celebrated human beings as the lords of their world. After all, they only enjoy such a position of freedom and glory in a delicate balance with the will of the gods who are more powerful and represent an order that cannot be violated without severe consequence. Antigone gains more glory than Creon does because although she too is full of pride she obeys the divine laws. His fall is the greater because he puts his own egotistical will above the good of his kingdom and the gods.