Antigone Scene 4 (Lines 884-987): Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:03 A Plea for Compassion
  • 1:10 Oedipus' Legacy
  • 2:06 To the Tomb
  • 3:10 A Dragon's Curse
  • 4:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
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 fourth scene of Sophocles's 'Antigone,' Antigone moves closer to the tomb where she will die. She reflects on the curses of her life and the sadness she confronts in dying alone.

A Plea for Compassion

Antigone has been sentenced to death for trying to bury her brother Polyneices. This punishment - demanded by her uncle Creon, the king of Thebes - is now making the leader of the Chorus cry as he watches her approach the stone tomb where she will be walled in alive. While she walks to the tomb, Antigone asks for the compassion of her friends, both for her approaching death and for never having the chance to marry her fiancé, Haimon, who is also Creon's son.

The Chorus responds by saying that she will receive her share of esteem and admiration. Antigone is, after all, a woman who has dared to defy a king. But courage is not on her mind now. Instead, Antigone is thinking of the great sadness that she now feels that will continue to deepen as she waits for death, without anyone by her side. Her fate reminds Antigone of Niobe, whose unending tears flowed even after she was turned to stone for bragging about her children. Unlike the immortal Niobe, though, Antigone is, as the Chorus reminds her, mortal.

Oedipus's Legacy

The Chorus's words upset Antigone, who protests she shouldn't be belittled before she dies. The Chorus responds by noting that the 'guilt' of her father, Oedipus, has influenced Antigone's fate. Not only did Oedipus kill his father, but he also had an incestuous relationship with his mother Jocasta - resulting in the birth of Antigone, her sister Ismene, and their brothers Eteocles and Polyneices. Thinking of her family and of her fiancé Haimon, Antigone cries:

''O Oedipus, father and brother!
Your marriage strikes from the grave to murder mine. ''

Punishment for the incestuous union between her father and mother - who is also Antigone's grandmother - has now fallen on Antigone: she is certain her family's deeds have damned her. The Chorus, however, reminds Antigone that her actions were her own doing and that laws must be obeyed.

To the Tomb

Finding the Chorus's words unpleasant, Antigone says that she wants to be taken away because the sun oddly has begun to chill her and the eternal quiet of her tomb is all she longs for now. Creon, provoked by Antigone's words, interjects that if people's mournful speeches could delay death, no one would ever die. He then demands that guards take her at once to her tomb, and adds that whether she lives or dies within the tomb's walls is not their concern. They are not, Creon explains, to blame.

''O tomb, vaulted bride-bed in eternal rock,'' Antigone says. Then, comforting herself, she recalls that in the underworld, she will soon see her parents and Polyneices - the brother she has been intent on burying. Antigone knows that she has honored Polyneices and is guilty of nothing. She adds that if Creon should be judged guilty of her death, he should meet the same fate. Then Antigone implores the people of Thebes to remember how intense her pain has been and who has made her suffer so.

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