Antigone: Lines 526-780
Summary of Lines 526-780
The Chorus chants of the sorrow of Ismene as she is led from the palace by the guards. She laments her sister’s fate.
Creon accuses Ismene of sharing the crime of burying Polyneices and asks if she denies she had a hand in it. Ismene now comes forward to share the blame, if Antigone will allow her to. Antigone answers no, she will not let her share the deed, for Ismene refused. Ismene says she wants to remain at Antigone’s side now. Antigone accuses Ismene of trying to gain credit through words only. Ismene begs not to be scorned and does not want to live without her sister. She pleads with Creon that he cannot kill Antigone, who is the intended bride of his own son, Haemon.
Creon replies that Antigone is not the only woman his son could have, but Ismene objects that Antigone and Haemon are bound by love. Creon tells the guards to take the sisters away to the palace so they cannot escape.
Creon remains while the Chorus sings of the doomed house of Oedipus: once a house like Oedipus’s is shaken by the gods, disaster never leaves it. Each generation inherits the legacy of madness, and death is coming again to the house of Oedipus, even though the last of the royal blood (Antigone) seemed fair. No mortal can oppose Zeus. Time cannot touch Zeus on Olympus, but for humans, every success brings with it disaster.
The Chorus announces that Haemon, Creon’s youngest son, is coming to his father, perhaps to plead for Antigone. Creon addresses his son, asking if he is still loyal to him, or if he is in a rage because his bride must die? Haemon says he is loyal and that no marriage is as great to him as his father’s good government.
Creon then expounds on the topic of obedient children who must take on their father’s enemy or friend as their own. He says it is better not to have an evil wife like Antigone who is the only disobedient person in the city. He will not be made a liar and have rebellion in his house. A man who cannot control his own household cannot rule a city. Obedience is the greatest virtue, and disobedience is a curse.
The Chorus agrees with Creon’s sermon, but Haemon has another point of view to put before his father. He speaks of wisdom, the gift of the gods. He does not dispute whether his father is right but merely begs to tell him what the citizens say. They mourn Antigone’s fate, saying she does not deserve it. She has done a glorious deed. No son has a greater treasure than his father’s fame; therefore he begs his father may bend and listen to what is said. There is no disgrace in being wise and listening to others.
The Chorus also agrees with Haemon, and says father and son can learn from each other. Creon turns to the elders and says that older men cannot learn from younger ones. Haemon pleads that his father should choose the best course, and that the whole city is on Antigone’s side. He calls his father a tyrant if he persists in having his own will. He only opposes his father if he opposes Justice. Haemon says if Antigone dies, she will not die alone. Creon replies that he will not be threatened and commands that Antigone be killed before Haemon’s eyes. Haemon calls his father mad, and as he leaves, he tells Creon that he will not see his face again.
The Chorus warns Creon that Haemon is very angry and desperate, but Creon will not relent, except to say that he agrees not to kill Ismene, when the Chorus questions him on the justice of that. He will take Antigone, however, and imprison her alive in a cave with a little food. This will avoid the pollution of outright murder of a kinswoman. She will starve to death. He hopes this will teach her to respect the living, not the dead.
Commentary on Lines 526-780
Creon and Antigone both persist in their unyielding positions. Antigone proudly refuses Ismene’s company in death and refuses to ask Creon for mercy. She glories in her deed and fearlessly invites her fate, and for this everyone admires her, for she is heroic. At the same time, she has to accept the consequences for her rashness. She is sabotaging her uncle’s rule, even if it is unjust.
It is clear, however, that Creon is headed for a fall in this section of the play, with the introduction of his son, Haemon. Haemon says he is loyal to his father but not in the way Creon wishes. Creon outlines a course of filial obedience as assenting to every whim of the father. The father’s enemies and friends should be his own. Haemon says that he is loyal to his father in wishing him to govern well, according to Justice. His loyalty includes telling his father what no one else will tell him—that the city is against this decree and sees Antigone as the hero. He tells his father that no one will doubt he is a wise ruler if he listens to the counsel of others. Even the conservative Chorus agrees with this idea of moderation.
Creon’s stubbornness is his downfall, as well as his pride in believing he can govern through control. He would have himself obeyed as a god. Antigone and Creon have both chosen to be unbending and thus must suffer. The Chorus’s ode on how fate plays itself out in the royal house seems to contradict the earlier Ode to Man, a hymn to creativity and free will. This later ode describes how the gods persecute a family, once a wrong course is taken, and madness and tragedy pursue. They must live out the consequences of offending the gods, for humans have to live in the realm of time, while Zeus is beyond time. The fated man comes to believe that some evil choice is good and thus brings himself to disaster.
This ode seems to describe equally the courses of Antigone and Creon, though the last point refers to Creon’s action. Antigone does not quietly bury her brother but has become extreme in her mad pride, forcing Creon to become extreme as well. Creon also believes he is doing right in his excessive punishment, but he is actually forcing the extinction of the whole house of Oedipus and his own house as well through his arrogance. Haemon’s counsel of reason, moderation, and taking into account the will of the people is ignored.