Antigone Exodus (Lines 1154-1353): Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Abigail Walker

Abigail has taught writing and literature at various universities. She has an M.A. In literature from American University and an M.F.A. in English from The University of Iowa.

In the final scene of Sophocles's 'Antigone', we learn about additional tragedies in Thebes. These new tragedies force Creon to reflect on his behavior and the reasons for the decisions he has made.

A Son's Fate

The Chorus sings about Antigone's ancestors who descended from Cadmus. On the advice of the goddess Athena, Cadmus planted a dragon's teeth in the earth, and from these teeth warriors grew who helped Cadmus establish the Greek city of Thebes. Members of Antigone's family ruled here throughout their long and tragic history.

A new tragedy in the House of Thebes has just occurred, a messenger announces as the Chorus ends its song: Creon's son Haimon has killed himself. Haimon despaired because his father Creon, the king, had walled his niece Antigone alive in a tomb for disobeying his order that forbade the burial of her brother Polyneices. The leader of the Chorus now remarks that the prophet Teiresias's prediction that Creon would suffer for not burying Polyneices has proven accurate.

Suddenly, Creon's wife Eurydice comes into view. She has visited Athena's shrine, where she has heard someone talking about sad news. Wanting to know what happened, she assures the messenger that she can endure tragic news. 'The truth is always best,' he agrees with her, before he begins to relate his sorrowful tale.

A Prophet's Prediction

The messenger reveals that earlier he had accompanied Creon, who had tried to negate Teiresias's dire prediction by burying Polyneices and saving Antigone from death. When Creon and the messenger reached Polyneices, they found that dogs had torn his corpse to pieces. As best as they were able, they washed what was left of Polyneices with 'holy water' and then burned the remnants of the corpse.

Afterward, they raced to the tomb where Antigone had been walled in alive. There they found her lying lifeless, a 'noose of her fine linen veil' wrapped around her neck. Haimon lay beside her, embracing her and wailing.

When he saw his father enter the tomb, Haimon leaped up and pulled out his sword. Trying to stab his father, Haimon failed - and then stabbed himself. Mortally wounded, he again embraced Antigone so he could die holding the woman he loved.

A Mother's Grief

His tragic story now finished, the messenger sees Eurydice suddenly leave. She has said nothing. Worried, the messenger decides to check on her, knowing how profoundly she must be grieving the loss of her son Haimon.

No sooner has the messenger left than Creon appears, carrying Haimon's body. Creon is in agony. Acknowledging that he is responsible for his son's death, Creon says that he has been shattered and exclaims, 'The pains that men will take to come to pain!' Now that it is too late, Creon realizes that had he relented and allowed Polyneices's burial, he and his family would have been spared this torment.

As tragic as the situation is, it only gets worse. The messenger reappears with more appalling news: Eurydice has stabbed herself, damning Creon before she died. His grief unbearable, Creon admits that he is responsible for Haimon and Eurydice's deaths. His pride has taken them from him, and now he is all alone with no wish to live.

Antigone's Play or Creon's?

Despite naming his play Antigone, Sophocles emphasizes Creon as much as his title character. In some passages of the play, the playwright even seems to suggest that our sympathies should lie with Creon rather than with Antigone. The Chorus, for example, often takes Creon's side, dismissing Antigone as 'headstrong' or 'deaf to reason.' Creon, in contrast, is sometimes praised: 'When the laws are kept, how proudly his city stands!' the Chorus sings, suggesting that Creon is correct in insisting that his law against Polyneices's burial be upheld.

The Chorus's response to Creon, as well as the fact that the play ends with him rather than with Antigone, suggests that Creon is actually the central character. In fact, Creon functions as a kind of mirror image of Antigone, paralleling but not overshadowing her.

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