Roulette Checkmate

Antigone, Tragic Daughter of Oedipus


Biography of Antigone

Antigone was the daughter of Oedipus, the king of Thebes in the time before the Trojan war. Homer mentions Oedipus but only as a king that died before the Trojan war. Antigone was born well but soon had to submit to tragedies. When Oedipus found out that he killed his father and married his mother he blinded himself. When Jocasta, the mother of Antigone, found this out she killed herself. When she was quite young she and her sister Ismene, became the caretakers of her father. Oedipus was exiled from Thebes so he wandered about being cared for by his daughters.

Oedipus leaves the Palace led by his daughters, Antigone and Ismene


Oedipus leaves the Palace led by his daughters, Antigone and Ismene

She had two brothers who were quite young when she took over the care of her father. While she wandered with her father about fifteen years later the brothers grew up and began to argue over which one of them would become king of Thebes. Oedipus wanted them to share the kingdom. When they would not he cursed them. Eteocles became the king of Thebes and exiled Polyneices. About this time Oedipus died and Antigone returned to Thebes. There she became attached Haemon, the son of her uncle Creon. Polyneices raised an army in Argos and attacked Thebes. In the battle Eteocles and Polyneices faced each other and killed each other. At that point the kingship fell to the brother of Antigone’s mother, Creon the father of Haemon. Creon decreed that Eteocles should be buried with honor but that Polyneices should not be buried. He said that anyone who buried him would be put to death. Antigone was horified that her brother would not be buried so she conspired to bury him.

Antigone buries Polyneices

Antigone buries Polyneices on the plain of Thebes.

She was caught and executed by Creon. When Haemon found out that she was dead he killed himself. When Haemon’s mother found out about his death she killed herself. Creon realized that he had done the wrong thing when Teiresias, the seer, told him that the deities sided with Antigone. So Antigone became a martyr.


Derivation of the name Antigone

It has been said that the name Antigone means “against birth” from Greek αντι (anti) “against” and γονη (gone) “birth”. But this make little sense from what we know of her. But the meaning ‘against judgement’ seems to make more sense and can be justified from Indo-European roots ‘anti-‘, ‘Against’ and ‘gno’, ‘To know’. The name is an old one and is the name of a number of women in the period before the Trojan war.


Historical Considerations

The only mention of Antigone before Sophocles is her mention in the “Seven against Thebes” but this is believed to have been a later addition. (see Gantz, 1993). That Oedipus had four children seems more of a historical fact. It is Sophocles who named his two daugters and wrote the play ‘Antigone’. He relates that both of the the daughters of Oedipus were very dutiful and took care of their father even though he blinded himself and resigned his kingship. They lived at the time of Theseus in the period just before the Trojan war.

By birth Antigone was a princess, the daughter of a king. The role that Antigone actually played would have normally been done by a female slave. Wives spent their time bearing children and directing a household. Female slaves did the menial chores such as cooking, cleaning, and housework. Antigone and Ismene would have done the menial chores as well as the shopping which was mainly done by men. When you have a disability such as Oedipus, you are much better off if you can be cared for by loving family. Servants are OK but if you are disabled, there is always the matters of money, trust, and command. Oedipus was benifited by having such devoted daughters.

Because Antigone was a princess before the Trojan War she would have worn the garments of Minoan or Mycenean ladies. The Athenians had forgotten what these were so they dressed her as one of them in pelops or chiton. But in reality she would have worn a hide skirt, an embroidered robe, or a string skirt would have been more likely. Weaving was invented before the Trojan War because the sails for the ships probably were woven. But a sail was very much more important economically than woven clothing so clothing would have continued not to be woven for some time after weaving was invented.


Details of the Dramas by Sophocles

Sophocles wrote a play called Antigone in about 441 BCE. The character of Antigone as developed by Sophocles is not that of your typical woman. Most women have to accept the decisions of men. Antigone referred to a higher power for a decision that was contrary to a law enacted by men. She then acted according to what she thought was right. She was a tragic heroine because her act resulted in her death and yet she had the consolation that the dieties would agree with her.

Ismene was very favorably portrayed as a dutiful daughter. She was more inclined to accept the rule of men than her sister Antigone, but she should not be faulted for this. Her care of her father was well beyond what is normally expected and her excuse that women did not have the power to defy the state is valid. Antigone went far beyond what is required, and we are grateful for what she did, but we cannot condemn any that were too weak to follow.

Antigone’s tragic condition was that if she was true to her belief of the divine law she would be physically killed. If she was false to her belief she would live in shame and be spiritually dead.

The characters Antigone and Oedipus in the play by Sophocles make a commentary upon the ideals of Greek humanism, specifically the individual’s responsibility in society and morality. Both Antigone and Oedipus make several moral choices and suffer the consequences. In the case of Antigone, her choice to bury her brother is not a fatal mistake that results in her death. It is a brave act that upholds a moral right in the face of capricious human justice. Likewise Oedipus is not condemned to suffer by fate. He continues to make choices which do not turn
out. His final blinding was not demanded by fate, it was an admission that he could not fight fate blinded as he had been. Now his vision was opened to his inner soul and progress could be
made. Ultimately everyone must rise above the suffering that is inevitable.

There is the question of whether anyone would benefit by the action that Antigone took. What Creon did was to deny to Polyneices what was considered a proper burial. As is plain in the Illiad at the time of the Illiad a proper burial involved cremation. This meant that the body was burned on a funeral pyre until nothing was left but the bones. These were then buried in a rock cairn. With this practice is the belief that the soul goes up in smoke and is delived as smoke to the deities in heaven. A person whose body is not so prepared does not get to heaven. At the time of Sophocles a proper burial meant inhumation. The body was placed in the ground and covered with dirt. This act was believed to deliver the soul to Persephone in Hades. The only souls that made it to heaven were the heroes and heroins that were deified. Persephone was able to judge the souls and punish some and reward others so Hades cannot be consider like Hell. The souls of persons who did not get proper burial got to neither place. They just drifted around on the surface of the earth as ghosts. These were truely lost souls.

Furthermore the decision made by Antigone to bury her brother seemed to change moral emphasis. She said: “Yet the just will say I did rightly….” She changed the emphasis from man’s laws and the law of the person in power to an emphasis on ideal law and the law of the just. What she did was to destroy the power that Creon had to rule. What she did was to use an idea of what is right to deny the arbitrary assertion of an arbitrary right by a king. The fact that she, a mere girl, could do this emphasizes the power of the rule of law over everyone, king and subjects alike.

The character of Antigone appears in the play Oedipus at Colonus and in the play Antigone, both by Sophocles. Her appearance in the play Seven against Thebes by Aeschylus is thought to be a later addition.


All the Deities Referenced in the Play Antigone

  • line 148 — Nike: “But since Victory whose name is glory has come to us, smiling in joy equal to the joy of chariot-rich Thebes, [150] let us make for ourselves forgetfulness after the recent wars, and visit all the temples of the gods with night-long dance and song.”
  • line 450 — Zeus: “Yes, since it was not Zeus that published me that edict, and since not of that kind are the laws which Justice who dwells with the gods below established among men.”
  • line 120 –Hephaestus: “before the Fire-god’s pine-fed flame had seized our crown of towers.”
  • line 777 — Hades: “And praying there to Hades, the only god she worships, perhaps she will obtain immunity from death, or else will learn, at last, even this late, that it is fruitless labor to revere the dead.
  • line 955 — Dionysus: “And Dryas’s son, the Edonian king swift to rage, was tamed in recompense for his frenzied insults, when, by the will of Dionysus, he was shut in a rocky prison.”
  • line 800 — Aphrodite: “For in all this divine Aphrodite plays her irresistible game.”
  • line 1183 — Athena: “People of Thebes, I heard your words as I was on my way to the gates to address divine Pallas with my prayers.”
  • line 1199 — Pluto: “After we had prayed to the goddess of the roads and to Pluto to restrain their anger in mercy, we washed him with pure washing, and with freshly-plucked boughs we burned what remains there were.”
  • line 1199 — Hecate(goddess of the roads): “After we had prayed to the goddess of the roads and to Pluto to restrain their anger in mercy, we washed him with pure washing, and with freshly-plucked boughs we burned what remains there were.”
  • line 136 — Ares: “and to the other enemies mighty Ares dispensed each their own dooms with hard blows,”
  • line 894 — Persephone: “Tomb, bridal-chamber, deep-dug eternal prison where I go to find my own, whom in the greatest numbers destruction has seized and Persephone has welcomed among the dead!”
  • line 450 – Themis(Justice), “Yes, since it was not Zeus that published me that edict, and since not of that kind are the laws which Justice who dwells with the gods below established among men.”
  • line 781 – Eros, “Love, the unconquered in battle, Love, you who descend upon riches, and watch the night through on a girl’s soft cheek,”


A Chart of The Mythological References in the Play Antigone

  • line 1 – “Oedipus” — father of Antigone, solved the riddle of the Sphynx and was
    made king of Thebes.
  • line 2 – “Zeus” — king of the deities.
  • line 14 – “Argive army” — the army of Polynices, who tried to storm Thebes.
  • line 64 – “gods and spirits who dwell below” — All persons who died went to Hades
    below where some were punished while others were rewarded.
  • line 79 – “I am going to heap the earth above the brother whom I love” — Spirits
    could not rest in Hades until they were properly buried.
  • line 100 – “Dirke” — A spring near Thebes named after the wife of Lycus who
    mistreated Antiope and was drowned in the spring.
  • line 124 – “Hephaestos” — god of fire.
  • line 126 – “dragon’s brood” — Cadmus, the founder of Thebes, had to slay the
    dragon to free the spring. Then he planted the teeth of the dragon and
    some of the resulting warriors became with Cadmus the founders of Thebes.
  • line 140 – “the god with the crooked bolt” — Zeus used lightening as a weapon.
  • line 159 – “the new turn the gods have given things.” — accidental events were
    believed to result from the whim of the gods.
  • line 182 – “Zeus, who sees all things” — All deities could forsee the future, not
    just Zeus.
  • line 237 – “that I can suffer nothing but what is my fate”. — The fate of every
    person was dertemined by the fates at birth. Not even the deities could
    change this. But they could amend and modify the interpretaion. Sometimes
    they were called upon to bring fate about.
  • line 257 – “The hand of someone warding off a curse”. — The relatives of the
    unburied were cursed to suffer the haunting of the unburied.
  • line 265 – “We were ready to take red-hot iron in our hands” — to walk through
    fire to swear – swearing was taken very seriously, but this seems to be an
    allusion to a later practice. They were willing to submit a trial by fire. In this type of trial it was believed that the deities would protect the person if they were innocent.
  • line 338 – “Earth, too, the eldest of the gods, the immortal, the unwearied,” The Greeks believed that the gods were born of the earth and not the other way around.
  • line 367 – “When he honors the laws of the land and the justice of the gods to which he is bound by oath, his city prospers.” The Greeks saw a relation between civil law and natural law and felt that natural law was in the realm of the gods.
  • line 422 – “plague from the gods”. In accient Greece every aspect of nature was under the control of the divinities.
  • line 427 – “cursed with harsh curses those who had done it”. A curse is a communication with a diety to bring injury in compensation for an injury done.
  • line 432 – “she crowned the dead with thrice-poured libations.”. A libation is a pouring of liquid done as an act of piety. Thrice-poured would be exceptionally pious.
  • line 405 – “Yes, since it was not Zeus that published me that edict, and since not of that kind are the laws which Justice who dwells with the gods below established among men. Antiogone believes the the gods have establish lows which men must obey. Of course natural laws are in that category. But this is a law which the gods must enforse separately.”
  • line 457 – “and no man knows when they were first put forth.” The dieties created the natural laws before man was created by the deities.
  • line 584 – “For when a house has once been shaken by the gods, no form of ruin is lacking.” The ancient Greeks believed that sins of the father were passed down through the generations.
  • line 605 – “Your power, great Zeus—what human overstepping can check it?” The Greeks believed that Zeus had more power than the rest of the deities combined.
  • line 811 – “No, Hades who lays all to rest leads me living to Acheron’s shore”. The ancient Greeks believed that the newly-dead would be ferried across the Acheron river by Charon in order to enter the Underworld realm of the dead.
  • line 822 – “you will descend to Hades”. The Greeks believed the souls of the dead decended into Hades.
  • line 824 – “the daughter of Tantalus”. The story of Niobe is told in Homer, Iliad, lines 603-617.
  • line 834 – “Yet she was a goddess”. This is confusing. Niobe was the daugher of a goddess mother but daughter of the mortal Tantalus, son of Zeus. So she was very close to being a goddess. But she was only immortal in being turned to stone.
  • line 843 – “spring of Dirce”. The story of Dirce is told at Pausanias, Description of Greece 9.25.3.
  • line 860 – “and moved my ever-renewed pity for my father and for the entire doom ordained for us, the famed house of Labdacus. Oh, the horrors of our mother’s bed! Oh, the slumbers of the wretched mother at the side [865] of her own son, my own father! What manner of parents gave me my miserable being! It is to them that I go like this, accursed and unwed, to share their home. [870] Ah, my brother, the marriage you made was doomed, and by dying you killed me still alive!” Antigone references her grandfather Labdacus, his wife and Antigone’s mother Jocasta, her husband and son Oedipus, Antigone’s brother Polyneices, and his wife Argeia. Polyneices and Eteocles, Antigone’s other brother, killed each other.
  • line 867 – “without marriage-song”. A wedding in ancient Greece concsisted of a procession from the house of the bride to the house where the couple would live. When the bride and groowm were in their marriage bed the people of the procession would sing a song.
  • line 900 – “For, when each of you died, with my own hands I washed and dressed you and poured drink-offerings at your graves.” The funeral customs of the ancient Greeks which Antigone performed herself numerous times.
  • line 944 – “So too endured Danae in her beauty to change the light of the sky for brass-bound walls, and in that chamber, both burial and bridal, she was held in strict confinement. And yet was she of esteemed lineage, my daughter, and guarded a deposit of the seed of Zeus that had fallen in a golden rain.” Danae, the mother of Perseus was confined in a tower. There Zeus visited her in a shower of gold and she became pregnant with Perseus. After his birth baby and mother were put in a chest and put to sea to further adventures.
  • line 953 – “mysterious power of fate”. The ancient Greeks believed that Zeus fit everyone into a divine plan when they were born. The Fates formalized this plan by their activity. Yet choices were available. This conflict of choice and plan was a subject of numerous dramas.
  • line 955 – “And Dryas’s son, the Edonian king swift to rage, was tamed in recompense for his frenzied insults, when, by the will of Dionysus, he was shut in a rocky prison. There the fierce and swelling force of his madness trickled away. That man came to know the god whom in his frenzy he had provoked with mockeries. For he had sought to quell the god-inspired women and the Bacchanalian fire, and he angered the Muses who love the flute.” This is the story of Lycurgus which is related in Homer Iliad at 6.130-142.
  • line 966 – “And by the waters of the Dark Rocks, the waters of the twofold sea, are the shores of Bosporus and the Thracian city Salmydessus, where Ares, neighbor of that city, saw the accursed, blinding wound inflicted on the two sons of Phineus by his savage wife. It was a wound that brought darkness to the hollows, making them crave vengeance for the eyes she crushed with her bloody hands and with her shuttle for a dagger. Wasting away in their misery, they bewailed their miserable suffering and their birth from their mother stripped of her marriage. But she traced her descent from the ancient line of the Erechtheids, and in far-distant caves she was raised amidst her father’s gusts. She was the child of Boreas, running swift as horses over the steep hills, a daughter of gods.” This myth of Phineus does not correspond well to the myth of the Argonauts or any other story. The wife referenced here is Cleopatra, the daughter of Boreas and the brother of the sons of Boreas who saved Phineas in the Argonaut myth.
  • line 1010 – “the gall was scattered high up in the air”, The ancient Greeks believed that the entrails of birds could be studied to reveal the future. Of particular interest was the gall bladder that is attached to the liver which emitts a fluid which is different colors at different times.
  • line 1017 – “For the altars of our city and our hearths have one and all been tainted by the birds and dogs with the carrion taken from the sadly fallen son of Oedipus.” Death is a pollution to the deities. This is pointed out by Arthemis in Euripides Hippolytus when she says “it is not lawful for me to look upon the dead or to defile my sight with the last breath of the dying.” (line 1437)
  • line 1041 – “eagles of Zeus”, About the eagle Homer, Iliad says, “So spake he, and the Father had pity on him as he wept, and vouchsafed him that his folk should be saved and not perish. Forthwith he sent an eagle, surest of omens among winged birds, holding in his talons a fawn, the young of a swift hind. Beside the fair altar of Zeus he let fall the fawn, even where the Achaeans were wont to offer sacrifice to Zeus from whom all omens come.” (8.245)
  • line 1075 – “the Furies of Hades and of the gods, lie in ambush for you, waiting to seize you in these same sufferings.” The Furies state in Aeschylus, Eumenides line 268, “And you will see any other mortal who has sinned by not honoring a god or a stranger [270] or dear parents, each having a just punishment. For Hades is mighty in holding mortals to account under the earth, and he observes all things and within his mind inscribes them.”
  • line 1115 – “God of many names, glory of the Cadmeian bride and offspring of loud-thundering Zeus”. This is a reference to Dionysus, son of Semele, daughter of Cadmus. The Greek myths say that Dionysus was born in Thebes.
  • line 1124 – “dweller by the wet stream of Ismenus on the soil of the sowing of the savage dragon’s teeth!”. Pausanias in Description of Greece 9.10 states this of Thebes, “Hard by they show a place where, it is said, Cadmus (he may believe the story who likes) sowed the teeth of the dragon, which he slew at the fountain, from which teeth men came up out of the earth. On the right of the gate is a hill sacred to Apollo. Both the hill and the god are called Ismenian, as the river Ismenus Rows by the place.”
  • line 1128 – “Corycian nymphs” Nymphs associated with the Corycian cave on Mount Parnassus.
  • line 1130 – “Castalia’s stream” Castalia is a nymph associated with virtue preserved and a spring on Mount Parnassus
  • line 1133 – “Nysa” Nymphs of Mount Nysa reared the god Dionysus
  • line 1138 – “your lightning-struck mother” Semele. the mother of Dionysus, was struck by lighting and burned to a crisp when she insisted on seeing Zeus in all his glory.
  • line 1143 – “with purifying feet over steep Parnassus,” Parnassus is a sacred mountain north of the Gulf of Corinth.
  • line 1150 – “appear, my king, with your attendant Thyiads, who in night-long frenzy dance and sing you as Iacchus the Giver”. Thyiads are attendants of Dionysus(Iacchus) on mount Parnassus. Iacchus from Indo-European –‘ ‘i̯ēgu̯ā’, ‘force, strength’
  • line 1156 – “Amphion” See Homer, Odyssey 11.261:”Antiope, daughter of Asopus, who boasted that she had slept even in the arms of Zeus, and she bore two sons, Amphion and Zethus, who first established the seat of seven-gated Thebe, and fenced it in with walls,”
  • line 1184 – “to address divine Pallas with my prayers.” This is a reference to Pallas Athena, the goddess of wisdom.
  • line 1199 – “After we had prayed to the goddess of the roads”. This is a reference to Hecate, a goddess of the underworld, luck, and various arts associated with witchcraft including spells, potions, and incantations.
  • line 1200 – “Pluto”. Pluto is the god of the underworld. Pluto and Hades reference the same god. Hades is also the name of the underworld. Pluto references the wealth undergroung from mining (gold, silver) and wealth generally.
  • line 1303 – “Megareus” Megareus was a son of Creon who seems to have been killed in the attack on Thebes by Polyneices. He was sent by Eteocles to defend one of the gates. See Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes line 474. In the Euripides, Phoenissae another son Menoeceus sacrifices himself in the same attack.

There is more.


Images of Antigone:

Pictures resembling Antigone: No one who saw her during her lifetime recorded her image. But you can use an image from ancient Greece as to what she might have looked like:

Images of women from the earlier Mycenaean culture:



Recordings of the Drama:

  • Antigone – Rites of Passion VHS,
    Released: Jan 9, 2001
    Company: Wellspring
    Runtime: 85 minutes
    A lush adaptation of the classic tragedy by Sophocles told through dance, action, and music from avant garde luminaries such as Glenn Branca and Elliott Sharp, Amy Greenfield’s ANTIGONE provides a uniquely illuminating modern spin on the classic Greek tragedy…
  • Antigone (1972), This 1972 stage adaptation of Sophocles’ famous tragedy is propelled by the captivating performance of the distinguished actress Genevieve Bujold in the title role.
  • Ton de Leeuw: Antigone, A stark music drama where the composer
    makes an even stronger story of it than Sophocles. There is no path suggested,
    and no character who comes to an understanding of the drama of life. The audience
    is offered no shred of comfort. Kreon’s final insight into the tragedy is left out of
    the libretto. The seer Teiresias is cut altogether. Nor is there a narrator who oversees
    and understands everything. Not one of the dramatis personae ever escapes from their
    prescribed role. Even Antigone, although the only solo part, is performed as a ‘type’,
    inextricably bound to her counterpart Kreon.
  • Mendelssohn, Felix: Antigone, With Mendelssohn’s Antigone music and text equally coexist for the first time in a vocal/musical work. Fidelity to the text – as it is the first time an original text of Greek tragedy was used in theatre – and autonomy of music – a product of the latest aesthetic evolutions – attempt to hold equal significance within the work.


Previous questions asked and answered.