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Fate in Antigone

Instructor: Laura Foist

Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.

In this lesson we will discuss the role of fate in Sophocles's 'Antigone'. We will see how Creon and Antigone respond to fate and how their responses affect them.

Responses to Fate

When bad things happen, how do you typically respond? Do you accept what is happening and try to be happy with what life has given you? Or do you try and fight it in order to change your circumstances?

We see both of these responses in Sophocles's Antigone. Both Creon and Antigone are facing a tough situation, but they respond to this situation in very different ways. Creon refuses to accept his fate and tries to make his own destiny, while Antigone accepts her fate from the very beginning and follows it through to the end.

Fate is the belief that the Gods are in control of destiny. In ancient Greece, they believed that everything that happened to them was determined by the Gods. Sometimes things that happened were seen as punishment or reward from the Gods, but other times events were simply the destiny that had been determined by the Gods and there was nothing that could be done about it.

Antigone's Response

The play Antigone open with Antigone and her sister Ismene discussing their brother Polyneices, who was killed by their other brother Eteocles in a battle over the crown of Thebes. Eteocles also died, leaving their uncle Creon with the throne. Because he had attacked Thebes, Creon ordered that Polyneices should not but buried, and if anyone buried him then that person would be killed. Antigone and Ismene are well aware of this law, but Antigone insists that they still need to bury their brother because it is an offense to the Gods to leave a family member unburied.

Ismene agrees with Antigone that it is unfair to Polyneices, but she won't go against the law. When Ismene realizes that Antigone is serious about burying Polyneices she says 'How I fear for thee!' Antigone simply replies 'Fear not for me; guide thine own fate aright.' At this point Antigone makes it clear that she is doing what she must to follow the fate that has been decided by the Gods. She isn't going to fight this fate. She knows that following the fate of the Gods is more important than following the laws of man.

Antigone and Ismene were sad that Creon had declared that Polyneices should not be buried
Antigone and Ismene

When Creon confronts Antigone about burying Polyneices, Antigone does not waver in her resolve. Instead she tells Creon that she disobeyed him for 'it was not Zeus that had published me that edict... So for me to meet this doom is trifling grief but if I had suffered my mother's son to lie in death an unburied corpse, that would have grieved me; for this, I am not grieved'.

Antigone continues to insist that following her fate is not a sad occasion. As she is led away by the guards, she says 'but for my fate no tear is shed'. Antigone has fully accepted her fate and is happy to follow the life that the Gods have laid out for her.

Antigone so fully accepts her fate that she does not even wait to be killed, but instead kills herself, thus ensuring that her fate is sealed just as the Gods had dictated. She never tries to change her fate; Antigone knows that the Gods have spoken and so she must obey.

Creon's Response

From the very beginning, Creon puts himself at odds against the Gods. When Creon first learns that Polyneices has been buried, it is suggested that this could be the work of the Gods and thus should not be punished. Creon immediately responds 'Cease, ere thy words fill me utterly with wrath, lest thou be found at once an old man and foolish.' He will not even consider that it could be the will of the Gods that Polyneices be buried.

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