Summary and Analysis: Antigone Lines 417-655



A sentry brings Antigone to Creon, retelling how he and his men wiped the corpse clean of the dust from the first burial rite and then how they caught Antigone trying to bury Polynices again. Antigone proudly proclaims her guilt to Creon, but also declares that the king had no authority to forbid burial. In disobeying Creon, Antigone claims obedience to a higher law.

The attendants drag Ismene before Creon. When she claims to have helped in the burial, Antigone denies that her sister had any role in the rebellious act. Ismene pleads with Creon to spare her sister's life for the sake of his son Haemon, who is engaged to marry Antigone. Creon refuses and announces his intention to execute Antigone for disobeying his order.


This scene dramatizes the powerful conflict between divine law and civil law that has been building from the opening of the play. When Creon and Antigone face each other, their separate beliefs bring them quickly and passionately to matters of life and death.

Antigone's argument calls for obedience to divine law at all costs. Creon is not Zeus, she declares, and he cannot overturn divine law by civil proclamation. Her thinking is unassailable — of course the dead have burial rights, a basic decency upheld by long tradition.

Inwardly, Creon admits this when he mutters that he must discipline Antigone or risk losing his authority and — he fears — even his manhood. He cannot answer her argument rationally, so he must crush her. "She is the man / If this victory goes to her and she goes free" (541-542), he seethes, and his rage propels him into action that will ultimately doom his whole family.

This scene once again emphasizes Antigone's love for death. Unmoved by Creon's distinction between Eteocles and Polynices — the patriot and the traitor, in his view — Antigone says simply that she chooses to love rather than to hate. Exasperated, Creon mocks Antigone's resolve to face execution with a bitter curse: "love the dead!" (593).