Themes in Antigone

Fate and Free Will: Sophocles wants us to question if we truly make our own choices, or if our lives follow a predetermined path. Teiresias’s role as a prophet demonstrates that certain events are able to be foretold. However, his attempts to warn Creon indicate that the future can be changed or altered. Some readers may see the characters’ fatal flaws as responsible for their fates. Others may see the existence of prophecy as one sign that these characters were doomed from the outset. Sophocles does not definitively prove either reading to be true, which perhaps suggests the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

Man-made Law and Divine Law: The characters of Antigone have different opinions on who should wield ultimate power over mankind. Creon believes the laws of man should be followed no matter what. However, Antigone and Teiresias believe any man-made laws are ultimately trumped by the wishes of the gods. The gods support Antigone in her quest to bury her brother and are angry at Creon for going against their wishes. Ultimately, the narrative demonstrates that divine law is more important than the laws of men.

Themes Examples in Antigone:

Antigone 5

"or winged bird That flying homewards taints their city's air...."   (Antigone)

These lines describe how the unburied dead have been mauled by wild animals or taken apart by scavenging birds. This indicates that all the slain Argives, not just Polynices, have been denied burial. This is a foreboding image that foreshadows Creon’s divine punishment for defying the Argive soldier’s right to burial.

"Justice, enacted not these human laws...."   (Antigone)

For the Greeks, justice meant doing good to your friends and harm to your enemies. Antigone highlights the complications that arise from this simple definition. Creon defines an enemy as anyone who turns against his city, but Antigone sees only family ties as sacred. Hence, they have different views of the fallen Polynices. Each, however, is convinced that his or her own course is just.

"Talk not of rights; thou spurn'st the due of Heaven ..."   (Antigone)

Creon has just sent Antigone to her death, and her betrothed and Creon’s son, Haemon, confronts his father. Haemon insists that he is still loyal to Creon but he cannot condone Antigone’s death. Creon accuses Haemon of betrayal, stating that as king he must protect the empire against traitors. Haemon counters that Creon has gone too far and has defied the gods. Creon’s worldview and obsession with the state have become so out of balance that his own son tries to attack him.

"Elders, the gods have righted one again Our storm-tossed ship of state, now safe in port...."   (Antigone)

Since all of Oedipus’s heirs are dead, Creon has assumed the throne as next in line to rule. In this speech, he declares his loyalty to the state, and anyone who betrays the state also betrays him. For Creon, the state is the most important institution, transcending even bonds of family and friendship.

"Wilt thou persist, though Creon has forbid? ..."   (Antigone)

To Ismene’s horror, Antigone says that even though Creon is now king, he has no authority to keep Antigone from her obligations of love and family. With their brothers dead, Antigone and Ismene alone remain to redeem some form of family honor. Ismene refuses to join Antigone, stating that while the dead will forgive her, the state (Creon) will not. This presents an important complication because while all citizens are subjects of the state, women were considered subject to the leadership of men. Antigone's love for her family is directly at odds with the laws of Creon's state.