Antigone & Haemon's Relationship

Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer has a dual master's in English literature/teaching and is currently a high school English teacher. She teaches college classes on the side.

Throughout history, countless tragic love stories have been written. In this lesson we will learn about the relationship between Antigone and Haemon and connect their tragic love to the outcome of the play 'Antigone.'

Literary Connections

When asked about famous tragic love stories, many people think of Romeo and Juliet, the tale of two young lovers who wanted nothing more than to be together forever. But there is another story, just as tragic, that happened hundreds of years before their time. This is the story of Antigone, a play by Sophocles. He was a Greek poet writing about the culture and values of antiquity -- and a couple named Antigone and Haemon. The play aims to remind all that pride can be deadly, and loyalty can mean risking it all for the ones we love.

The Conflict

Like in Romeo and Juliet, we find in Antigone a family drama that forces a young couple apart. For Romeo and Juliet, it was the grudge between their family names. For Antigone and Haemon, we see something quite different.

Like Romeo and Juliet, Antigone and Haemon are destined to die together because fate would not let them live together.
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Antigone's father Oedipus died, which left the throne of Thebes open to his two sons Polyneices and Eteocles. A battle ensued between the brothers, leaving them both dead. Since women were unable to hold power, Antigone's Uncle Creon was named King. Creon's son Haemon happened to be engaged to Antigone.

Now, Creon was close with Eteocles, and since Eteocles fought for Thebes, Creon gave him a proper military burial. Polyneices, however, fought against the city with his own army for reasons that are unclear. Creon felt he was a traitor and left his body to rot in the street.

While that might be complicated in and of itself, Creon's first order as King decreed that anyone who buried Polyneices' body should be stoned to death. Antigone was appalled by this order and buried the body anyway, ensuring her brother's soul would make it to the Underworld. This is when Antigone and Haemon's love story turns tragic, with Antigone facing death and Haemon stuck in the middle.

Star Crossed

Antigone and Haemon never appear on stage together. Antigone doesn't even mention Haemon or their relationship throughout the entirety of the play. Their love seems to be the underlying connection that binds the conflict between all members of the family. Ismene, Antigone's sister, is the first to mention their relationship when Creon announces that Antigone will be killed. Ismene can't believe that Creon would hurt his son by killing his fiancée.

After the order is given to kill Antigone, Haemon defends Antigone to his father, trying his best to remain respectful and not step on his toes. But Creon cannot hear his son's wisdom, continuously chiding him for caring more about a woman than him. Rationality loses, and Haemon says that if Creon is truly going to kill Antigone, she won't be the only life lost. Creon is taken aback and threatens to kill Antigone in front of him. Haemon leaves, never to be seen or heard from again.

In the last scene of the play, a messenger recounts the tragic events to Haemon's mother, Eurydice. He explains that Antigone hanged herself, and Creon found Haemon holding her, the noose in plain sight. Creon's change of heart had sent him to the cave to free Antigone, but it was too late. Haemon, in a fit of rage, tried to attack his father with a sword. He missed and ends up purposefully turning the sword on himself.

Analysis

Looking back to Scene 3 of the play, Haemon opens the conversation with his father with genuine respect and loyalty, but the tone quickly changes as they talk. Haemon has obeyed his father since he was born, and it's clear he is delicately and somewhat naively treading through his words. Even when Haemon threatens to take his life, his father's reaction tells us that this is completely uncharacteristic of Haemon; one might call this an empty threat in Creon's eyes. This moment also implies that Haemon cares deeply for Antigone, enough to essentially ruin the relationship with his father and sacrifice his life.

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