Antigone: Lines 781-1090
Summary of Lines 781-1090
The Chorus now sings to Eros or Love, blaming it for unhinging minds and causing injustice, as it has stirred up the mind of son (Haemon) against father (Creon). Aphrodite, the goddess of Love, is invincible. The Chorus sings in grief as it sees Antigone on her last journey to the cave where she will be imprisoned alive. Antigone sings her farewell to the lords of the city as she is taken away to her punishment. She will now be the bride of Death. The Chorus answers her that she dies a glorious death and will gain fame, going to the home of the dead while yet alive.
Antigone compares herself to Niobe, the Theban queen who slowly was worn away by grief and tears at the death of all her children. The Chorus answers that Niobe was a goddess, and for Antigone to share in the doom of a god brings renown. They tell her, however, that she was too reckless and now makes atonement for some old sin. She then laments the family curse that has engulfed the race of Labdacus, her great grandfather. From the evil marriage of her mother and father, her accursed life began, and she will die unwedded.
The Chorus replies that her loyalty to her brother is a holy thing, but she has disobediently broken the law: “your self-willed pride has been your ruin” (line 875).
Creon enters and tells her to cease her lamentations because they won’t stop her death. He claims his own hands are clean. Antigone protests her innocence with the hope that she will be welcomed by her family in the underworld, because she was the one who did the last rites for them all. The wise will approve her actions, for she has transgressed no ordinance of the gods.
The Chorus comments that she has “a stubborn soul” (line 930). Creon has no comfort to give; the sentence is passed. The Chorus sings an ode mentioning other victims of fate who were imprisoned, such as Danae, Lycurgus, and Cleopatra, wife of Phineus.
Suddenly, the blind seer, Teiresias enters led by a boy. Creon asks why he has come and concedes that he has ever followed his advice. Teiresias tells him he saw a terrible omen of birds tearing at each other with their claws. He offered a sacrifice on the altar, but it would not burn. In addition, a sickness has come to the city. Teiresias says it is the king’s fault. All the altars are polluted, and prayers are not accepted by the gods. No man is free from error; therefore, Creon should put aside his pride and try to amend his deeds. It is not too late.
Creon makes a speech against diviners, saying they ply their trade for profit. Teiresias and Creon trade accusations about corruption. Creon’s taunts force Teiresias’s blunt prophecy from him: he says that Creon will not live many more days before he gives his own child to make amends for Antigone’s death. Antigone should not be imprisoned, and the corpse of Polyneices should be buried. The gods of the underworld have been insulted and are aroused against Creon. Teiresias leaves, guided by the boy.
Commentary on Lines 781-1090
The Chorus accuses Love or Eros of creating havoc in life. They speak not of divine love but of erotic love. Haemon’s love for Antigone has divided him from his father. Just as fate is more powerful than the human will, so is love an irrational force that cannot be controlled. Even the gods are under the sway of Aphrodite, goddess of Love. Creon cannot control his son, and in fact, drives him away because of this bond between Haemon and Antigone. Creon’s mistake is to strive with the mysterious forces of life, thinking he can control them through his will.
Contrasted with the hymn to erotic love is Antigone’s exchange with the Chorus as she goes to her death. The life force is still strong in her, and we sense her being dragged against her will to a living death. She regrets she is so young and will not be married or live a normal life. She sees the last view of the sun before being shut in her tomb. She calls out one last time to the lords of the city and to the gods to save her, and when they do not, she does not know who to pray to. She has done no wrong to the gods, so may they suffer as she does, she says.
The dirge of Antigone and the answer of the Chorus is like opera with its arias and choral response. Antigone was once the hopeful bride of Haemon, but now she says she has to marry Death. She compares her grief to Niobe’s, a Theban queen who turned to stone from weeping over the death of her children. The irony is that Niobe brought the fate on herself by insulting the gods. Similarly, the Chorus both praises the glory of Antigone’s death and at the same time, tells her it is her fault for her pride and disobedience. She is impetuous and unrepentant. Antigone sings of the fate of the house of Labdacus that fell because of the sinful marriage of her mother and father. She is now alone, the last of her house, with no one to mourn her death. The Chorus elevates her status by referring to other famous and persecuted women like Danae, shut up by her father so she would not get pregnant, or Cleopatra, the wife of Phineus, imprisoned when he wanted to take another wife. They also refer to Dionysos’s punishment of the scornful Lycurgus, by making him mad and imprisoning him.
Dionysos was the god of wine, the patron of tragedy, with tragic plays as part of his rites. Dionysian energy is the ecstatic energy of dissolution. The Chorus sings “Mysterious, overmastering, is the power of Fate” (line 951), and the final stroke of fate is for one to be undone by death. Antigone is a tragic figure, the victim of fate, who is noble and courageous in her rebellion. She is admired because she defies death, risking her life for a loved one. In her exalted courage, she arouses inspiration, as Creon cannot. These elegiac exchanges with the Chorus create sympathy for Antigone and turn the tide against Creon who has no pity or remorse.
Creon is the most unsympathetic character, not only because of his lack of pity but because of his lack of imagination and nobility. He has very little spiritual dimension to him. He has trusted the wisdom of Teiresias in the past, for instance, yet he accuses the seer of being little more than a tradesman, who hawks his prophesies for money. Creon is clearly not a reasonable or wise judge of situations and speaks and acts without thinking. Haemon had warned his father that he needed to listen to others to be accounted a wise ruler. He listens to Teiresias, but only after insulting him. This is odd since Teiresias has the reputation of never being wrong. When Teiresias tells Creon the dire consequences facing him for displeasing the gods and upsetting the natural order of things, he finally decides to change his decision. A good ruler must be able to pick up the hints earlier, but Creon’s egotism makes him deaf. Fate begins to rain down on Creon for his stubbornness. The downfall is announced by Teiresias who serves as the judge for the actions of the characters, since he is able to read the will of the gods. With the prophecy of Teiresias the audience knows it is already too late, for things have been set in motion.