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The Fourth Episode:

Antigone’s Lament

Summary

Antigone is led in by the guards. She addresses the citizens of Thebes, telling them that she goes to her final resting place. She will take her last look at the sunlight. Never more will Antigone see the dawn. Antigone laments that she will never be married and no wedding songs will be sung for her; only an untimely death awaits her.

The Chorus assures Antigone that her death will not be an inglorious one. She will die with great honor and fame. The Chorus observes that she is not to die in battle or due to a terrible disease. Antigone, by contrast, has chosen her own death. Among all mortals, she alone goes alive to the world of the dead, remarks the Chorus.

Antigone reminds the Chorus of the death of Tantalus’ child, Niobe, who was turned into a column of stone after the deaths of her children. Niobe met her end on the heights of Mount Sipylus, and over her “stone-cold breast” the ivy clings and grows, says Antigone. The dew runs down Niobe’s cheek, and the “eternal snows” cover her and cause a “tearful stream” to pour down from the mountain. Antigone remarks that, like Niobe, she also will suffer death because it is her destiny. Like Niobe, she will be trapped in the earth.

The Chorus reminds Antigone that Niobe was born to a goddess, while Antigone is merely human. Therefore, the Chorus believes that Antigone has achieved greater glory in death, even rivaling the fate of Niobe, “a daughter of sire Divine.”

Antigone is distraught and feels that the Chorus mocks her by telling her that her death is unique. Antigone asks the citizens of Thebes and the landmarks of Thebes, such as the fount of Dirce and the spacious grove where Theban chariots run, to stand as witnesses to her lonely and unlawful execution. As she goes towards her doom, Antigone reveals that she feels completely helpless because she belongs neither to the land of the living nor that of the dead, but stands somewhere in between.

The Chorus praises Antigone for her courage and tells her that she did not foresee the full force of Creon’s “Justice.” The Chorus believes that her father’s misfortune now causes Antigone to be sent to her doom.


On being reminded of her father’s tragedy, Antigone is even more saddened. She recalls that all the sorrows of the world have been experienced by the family of Cadmus. She speaks of the “cursed marriage” between her parents, Oedipus and Jocasta, who unwittingly committed incest. Antigone, who was the fruit of this unhappy marriage, is now destined to die, young and unmarried. She addresses her dead brother, Polynices, telling him that in his death, he has also destroyed her.

The Chorus admits that Antigone’s deed was “pious.” However, they also realize that Creon, whose “power would show,” must not allow anyone in Thebes to defy the laws that he lays down. The Chorus tells Antigone that she is going to her death because of “a self-willed passion.”

Antigone once again mourns that she goes “friendless, uncomforted” and “unmourned” to her death. As dawn breaks, Antigone is led towards her doom.

Creon now enters and mocks Antigone by remarking that if criminals were given time to make final speeches before their execution, such speeches would never come to an end. He orders that Antigone be taken away to her “vaulty tomb.” He does not care whether she lives on or dies in the walled-up cell. He claims that he is not guilty of causing Antigone’s death.

Antigone begins once again to grieve for herself. Although she is sad that she has to die young, she is happy at the prospect that she will soon join her father, Oedipus, and her mother, Jocasta, as well as her brother, Polynices, for whom she has given up her life. She admits that she would not do as much for a child or a husband as she has done for her brother: she considers that a husband or child can be replaced, but a brother cannot. Antigone’s parents are both dead, and she therefore understands what it means to lose a family member. Antigone breaks down and cries to Heaven. She is miserable over having been robbed of the right to be a mother or a wife. Despite her piety, she is being punished as a criminal. She swears that if Creon’s law is to the liking of the gods, she will repent and ask forgiveness for her deed, but if Creon’s law is ultimately unjust, then Antigone demands that Creon, too, should suffer the pain that she is suffering.

The Chorus observes that Antigone’s soul is still passionate, even as she faces death. As Antigone is led out by the guards, she tells the people of Thebes to observe that she goes “oppressed” and “unworthily” to her death.

Notes

Up to this point in the play, Antigone has been extremely stoic, not revealing much emotion. In an earlier scene soon after her arrest, Antigone stated that life to her meant nothing (lines 463-464), as she has lived a life of sorrow. But now, as she is being led to her tomb, she cannot control her emotions any longer and laments that she will not be able to live life to its fullest; she will not fulfill her womanly needs. She will not be able to enjoy the pleasures of married life or raise children. Only death waits for her: she becomes in a sense, the bride of death.

The Chorus tries to console her by saying that her death is a glorious and honorable one, unmatched by any other, for she goes alive to the land of the dead. Antigone recalls that Niobe, the daughter of Tantalus, had met with a fate similar to her own, when she was turned to stone on the heights of Mount Sipylus. The use of images from nature, the “tearful stream” and eternal snows,” adds to the pathos of the description. The Chorus remarks that since Niobe was born of a goddess, and since Antigone will suffer a similar fate to Niobe’s, Antigone’s death is indeed a glorious one.

Antigone believes that the Chorus is making fun of her in her moment of despair. She asks all those present, as well as the natural landmarks of Thebes (the fountain and grove), to bear witness to her unwarranted death. Antigone is even more despondent because she goes alive and friendless to her tomb. At this moment she belongs to neither the land of the living nor that of the dead. The Chorus’ attempts to soothe her, however, have the reverse effect, when they remind her of her father, Oedipus, and his fall. She addresses her dead brother, Polynices, saying that his “princely marriage” to the daughter of the King of Argos ultimately brought his downfall, as well as Antigone’s (since Polynices led an army from Argos against Thebes.)

The Chorus now stops trying to console her and instead tries to prepare her for her death. They play a double game, at times sympathizing with Antigone, at others asserting that Creon must enforce the law of the state in order for Thebes to have a stable existence. They point out that it is her “self willed passion” which is the cause of her downfall.

Creon enters and in his turn tries to wash his hands of the entire matter, claiming that the state is “guiltless in the matter of this maid.”

He asserts that he is not taking Antigone’s life, but only ordering that she be walled up in a tomb, with provisions. Whether she lives or dies is none of his business. This is Creon at his hypocritical best. He knows very well that Antigone is bound to die in the walled-up cave, yet he pretends that the sentence he has passed on her is not so serious.

Antigone, who realizes the horror of her impending entombment, now bursts into a heart-rending lament for herself. She finds comfort in the belief that after death, she will meet her beloved parents and brothers. She has lost all her composure now and wonders why she, who has acted honorably, should die the death of a criminal. She leaves it in the hands of the gods to decide whether she was right or wrong in burying her brother. If she was right, Antigone asks that the people who pass judgment against her on earth should suffer as she suffered. This curse becomes something of a prophecy, as Creon does suffer terrible calamity at the end of play. The Chorus realizes that Antigone’s spirited nature is still alive, even in her last moments. Finally, Antigone is taken away. This is the last the audience shall see of her.

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