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The Exodus: Lines 1155-1242

Eurydice and the Messenger

Summary

A Messenger enters. He addresses the Chorus, telling them he would neither praise nor criticize any person, since the fortunes of each human being change swiftly. He remarks that nobody can come to any conclusion from mere observation. The messenger divulges that at one time he had envied Creon as a king and a powerful man, the ruler of Thebes. But now, the messenger asserts that Creon has “nothing.” He describes Creon as “a living corpse.” He asserts that although Creon is still materially rich, he (Creon) has no happiness left in life.

The Chorus wishes to know what “new affliction” has struck King Creon. The messenger replies that Haemon has died, by his own hand, as he was filled with rage at his father for causing the death of Antigone. The Chorus observes that Tiresias’ prophecy is beginning to come true. It now announces the entrance of “Creon’s unhappy wife, Eurydice.” The Chorus is unsure of whether Eurydice has heard the news of her son’s death.

Eurydice enters and addresses the Chorus of Thebes, telling them that she had just come to the gates of the temple of Pallas when she heard news of Haemon’s suicide. She still cannot believe it to be true and asks the messenger to relate the incident once more to her. She maintains that she is “no novice in adversity.”


The messenger swears to tell Eurydice all that he has seen. He does not intend to tell lies that would soften the impact that the tale will have on Eurydice. He intends to tell her the whole truth, filled as it is with harsh facts. He reports how he followed Creon to the spot where the body of Polynices lay open. There, Creon and his men sought forgiveness from the gods of the Underworld, Persephone and Pluto. The body of Polynices was washed clean and then cremated. Following this, Creon and his followers went to the vault where Antigone was to be buried alive. On reaching it, they heard a loud and bitter cry. The messenger recalls that Creon, on hearing Haemon’s cry, ordered his men to enter the tomb. Creon’s men then entered the vault and found Antigone hanging in a noose of her own making. Haemon was discovered on his knees clinging to Antigone. The messenger reports that Creon had entered the tomb and had begged his son to leave Antigone’s body and to step away. But Haemon only scowled at his father and made an attempt to pierce Creon with his sword. When Creon fled from the tomb, Haemon killed himself with his sword, and in a dying embrace, he held onto Antigone’s body. After hearing all this, Eurydice quietly walks off.

Notes

The action has now moved to catastrophe. One learns about Antigone’s and Haemon’s deaths only by means of reportage, as the Greek playwrights of Sophocles’ time did not believe in depicting scenes of violence on the stage.

Once again, Sophocles attempts to create suspense by making the messenger ramble on for some time before he comes to the crux of the matter. From Antigone’s tragedy, the play now begins to become the tragedy of Creon’s family. Of course, Creon is no hero or man of nobility. However, his suffering is great enough in the end to make him appear as a tragic personage. The messenger himself is overcome with grief as he reports the scene to Eurydice.

In a single sentence, the messenger damns Creon, laying the entire blame for the deaths on him: “They are dead, and they that live/ Are guilty of the death.”

Eurydice appears to have taken the messenger’s tale in stride, for she does not weep openly. But appearance is not reality, and she is to take her own life soon, due to her despair over Haemon’s death.

The scene of Antigone’s death, although not performed for the audience, is highly dramatic in description, and yet not unexpected. In an earlier scene, Haemon had already quarreled with his father regarding Antigone’s punishment. Haemon’s death is the result of Creon’s obstinacy: Creon was unwilling to bow down to his son’s demands, and he must now pay the price for being so stubborn. Antigone decides to take her own life. She preferred death by suicide to being walled up in a cave. Hers is a brave and noble death, and no cowardly suicide.

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