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Episode 2
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Objective for this Page: To summarize episode 2 and to provide commentary on the character’s actions.

Summary

Creon threatens Antigone.This scene begins with the sentry returning to Creon's palace to deliver the news that he has caught the culprit of the burial.  With this character, Sophocles has included a sort of comic relief to lighten the mood of his ominous theme.  The sentry is happy to report that he and the other guards saw Antigone cover the dead body of her brother with dust and afford him the proper ceremony she feels he deserves. They surrounded her on the spot and questioned her about her actions.  She denies nothing and offers no plea or reason for her insolence toward Creon's decree, standing behind her actions with full force and stubborn rebellion.  

When interrogated in a similar manner by Creon himself, Creon and Antigone; click for full size and credit. Antigone replies with the same open defiance.  She is neither apologetic nor frightened for her known fate.  Creon also accuses Ismene of having an equal part in their brother's burial and brings her in for questioning.  When she arrives, she takes the blame upon herself with Antigone so as to share in her sister's sorrow and pain.  However, Antigone's pride will not allow her to divide the divine glory of upholding the laws of the gods with her sister.  Thus, Antigone denies that Ismene had any part in the burial and refuses to allow her to die alongside herself.  

Ismene tries to share the blame with her sister, even though she had refused to share in the action of providing burial rites for her dead brother.  Antigone refuses her share in martyrdom, preferring to stand alone.  The two sisters reconcile as Antigone says, "Save yourself; I don't grudge you your survival."  Ismene is shocked that Creon would kills his son's betrothed, but Creon suggests that finding another woman won't be difficult. Creon and the chorus Leader call Antigone "wild"; Creon (speaking in terms that actually foreshadow his own downfall) notes that the "stiffest stubborn wills fall the hardest."  He calls Polynices and Antigone traitors; as he orders the guards to haul Antigone and Ismene off, he taunts them, claiming "now they'll act like women."

Commentary

This scene summarizes the moral arguments at the basis of this play--the conflicts of opposing needs and obligations--the individual against the state and divine law opposed to a human law.  If, however, Creon did aim this law directly at Antigone, then it is a misguided decree, set up for personal ambition.  But this notion is not examined in the play.

Many of Antigone's comments during this scene allude to her love for the dead (or lack of love for the living), which will be her fatal flaw in the end.  She responds to her sister's pleading with, "You chose to live, I chose to die."  Later, she also says, "Live your life.  I gave myself to death, long ago, so I might serve the dead."  She is more concerned with serving the dead than fulfilling her own living sister's needs.  

In addition, this scene foreshadows Creon's own downfall at the end of the play.  He alludes to it himself when he says of Antigone, "Believe me, the stiffest stubborn wills fall the hardest; the toughest iron, tempered strong in the hot-white fire, you'll see it crack and shatter first of all."  By the end, Creon changes his stubborn philosophy on Antigone's defiance, but it is too late, and he ends up losing the most out of all of the characters including his son and his wife.  

Both Antigone and Creon seem stubborn in this scene; whereas the king and the chorus see Antigone as headstrong, modern readers are likely to find her an admirable character, since she is right about the necessity of caring for the dead.  The Greeks observed burial rights scrupulously, even for their enemy dead.

Finally, in a minor sort of way, this scene of the play enforces the divide between the value of men and the value of women.  When Creon orders the girls to be locked up, he spouts, "Stop wasting time.  Take them in.  From now on they'll act like women.  Tie them up, no more running loose."  This more than hints at the place women held in Greek society of underlings and servants to their male counterpart's wills.

Study Questions

bulletExplain why the sudden and powerful dust-storm witnessed by the guards enforcing Creon's decree about Polynices' corpse might not have been just a coincidence.
bulletHow is Ismene portrayed in this scene and the prologue? Does your attitude about her change in this scene?
bulletCompare the characters of Antigone and Ismene.  Who is the stronger woman?  Why?
bulletWhy is important for Antigone to confess her action to Creon?
bulletIs Antigone's adherence to the moral law in the face of Creon's decree a rational or an impulsive act?
bulletWho do you believe is the hero in this scene, Creon or Antigone?  Who is right in their judgments and actions?  Why?

Assessment: Choose a study question and respond in a paragraph, citing evidence from episode 2 to support your point(s).

Thanks to Steve Bourgoin, Marian Naqvi, and Mandi Sligh for the content of this page.

 

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This instructional web was made in July, 2002, by Prof. Eric Hibbison, who is solely responsible for its content.