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Lines 381- 444

The Second Episode:

The Watchman, Antigone and Creon

Summary

The watchman enters, bringing along with him Antigone, his prisoner. He announces that it is Antigone who has committed the crime by burying her dead brother and now demands to meet the king.

Creon enters and inquires into the matter. The watchman tells him that the first judgment is often proved wrong by subsequent reflection. He had thought that after the threats he received from Creon the first time, he would never again wish to come to the palace. But now he has come willingly, bearing Antigone as his prisoner. She has been: “Caught in the act of caring for the dead.”

This time there was no need to cast lots, and the watchman came voluntarily to bring the news to Creon. He asks Creon to examine and judge Antigone. The watchman wishes to be free and to get away from “ the bad business” that he has become a part of because of his duty as a guard.

At first Creon cannot believe that Antigone is responsible for the deed, but he is soon persuaded by the watchman’s detailed explanation as to how Antigone was apprehended. After the burial that took place on the previous night, the guards had once again laid bare Polynices’ body, according to Creon’s orders. While they were keeping watch over the corpse in the heat of the noon, there suddenly arose “a whirlwind from the ground.” A dust-storm ensued and the sentinels were forced to shut their eyes to keep out the dust. When the storm had ceased and the sentries had opened their eyes, they saw the girl, Antigone, who cried aloud “in high and bitter key” when she saw that her brother’s body was, once more, laid bare. Antigone cursed the guards for undoing her deed of the previous night. Then she took a jar of brass and from it poured three libations (offerings of liquid to the gods), in honor of her dead brother.

When they saw this, the guards rushed towards Antigone and seized her. They charged her with the “crime” of attempting to bury her brother’s body. Antigone denied nothing, recalls the watchman. He is now both delighted and saddened: delighted, because he has escaped Creon’s wrath and is now free to go, and saddened, because he has drawn “a friend” (Antigone) into distress. However, he concludes that his own well-being is more important to him than that of anyone else.


Creon asks Antigone whether she will confess to the deed or deny it. Antigone asserts that it is she who has done this deed. Creon bids the watchman to depart. He readily does so and seems quite disconcerted about his role in the tragedy.

Notes

The plot moves with renewed vigor in this scene. Antigone has been arrested while trying to give her brother a decent burial for the second time. The watchman at first claims to be delighted to have discovered the real culprit, for he is now absolved of the charge of breaking Creon’s law. The real “culprit” is Antigone. Even Creon appears to be amazed to find that it is Antigone who has broken his law. He obviously did not expect a mere girl to defy him.

Once again the watchman plays the part of a messenger, reporting to Creon (and the audience or readers) how Antigone came to be arrested. The sand-storm that descended on the sentinels at noon is taken to be a sign of the rage of the gods. It is, in the watchman’s own words, “the God-sent evil.” After the dust had settled, the watchman recalls how Antigone made a dramatic appearance near the corpse and attempted to bury it in accordance with the religious rites of ancient Greece. Antigone had obviously come well-prepared for the rites of burial, for she carried with her a brass jar containing holy water. She submits meekly to the guards once they discover her.

Towards the end of his speech, the watchman admits that he is sorry to have brought in Antigone as a prisoner, for she is “a friend in distress.” Antigone is obviously admired and well-liked by the watchman, but he prefers not to speak out against Creon and escapes with his own life. Creon soon dismisses him, but not before he has begun the interrogation of his niece, Antigone.

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