Antigone is a female heroine in Greek mythology and tragedy, the daughter of the unwittingly incestuous relationship between Oedipus and his mother Jocasta. She is the protagonist in a number of traditional and contemporary plays. The most well-known adaptation of the myth of Antigone was by Ancient Greek playwright Sophocles. Alongside Oedipus the story is one of his Theban plays, and one of just a handful of his surviving works. Scholarly analysis of the tale of Antigone studies its themes of power and democracy, pride, justice and family values.
Antigone is one of four siblings, with one sister, Ismene, and two brothers, Polyneikes and Eteokles. Aged somewhere between 16 to 18 years old, she is portrayed as a strong passionate woman of conviction. Contrasting to this, Ismene is gentle and affectionate but frightened of disobeying men in power. Brothers Polyneikes and Eteokle lead opposing sides in the Thebes civil war and both are killed in battle. Defending the crown is Eteokle, with Polyneikes attacking the city. In the aftermath Kreon, their uncle, becomes the new ruler of Thebes and declares Eteokle's body will be honored with an elaborate funeral service; but Polyneikes is branded a traitor and the king forbids him to be sanctified by holy rites, leaving his body outside the city as carrion.
Antigone sees Kreon's law as unjust and immoral, and attempts to secure an honorable burial for Polyneikes. The opening of the play sees a secret meeting outside the city gates of Thebes between Antigone and Ismene, who refuses to help her sister for fear of the death penalty but is unable to stop Antigone from going ahead with the deed. The discovery of the body is reported by a sentry to Kreon, whom brings Antigone to the new king. She does not deny what she has done and argues as to the morality of the law imposed by Kreon, and her actions. The king's anger escalates and he comes to believe innocent Ismene is involved too. She is summoned and attempts a false confession, wishing to die beside her sister. The siblings are temporarily locked up, before Kreon decides to spare Ismene and imprison Antigone in a cave.
The blind prophet, Teiresias, warns Kreon that the gods side with Antigone, warning that because of Kreon's mistakes, he will lose one child for the crimes of leaving Polyneikes unburied and putting Antigone into the earth. The prophet also warns that all of Greece will despise him, and the sacrificial offerings of Thebes will not be accepted by the gods. After persuasion by the chorus, Kreon tries to right his mistakes. The prophecy comes to pass — Heamon, Kreon's son and Antigone's fiancé, and Antigone kill themselves. Kreon's wife, Eurydice, learns of events and is too driven to suicide, cursing her husband with her last breath.
The ending presents Kreon a broken man, blaming himself for everything that has happened. The chorus closes by saying gods punish the proud, and punishment brings wisdom. Major themes run through this Greek myth, from law and morality, gender and the position of women, injustice, inaction, and the threat of tyranny. Political, historical and social considerations are relevant in Antigone. It can be seen that the heroine is not opposing the city's law, but rather Kreon's specific law forbidding burial of her brother, Polyneikes. Antigone is primarily the champion not of the individual against the state, but of the ties of blood and birth that rest on the solidarity of family. The pride of Antigone sees her give up everything to put right something she believes is wrong.
Gender and the position of women is a contemporary theme explored in the story of Antigone. Gender roles are destabilized in a world where defiant, independent and stubborn actions are considered manly, (for example with Kreon, who has laid down the law in Thebes which he will not alter for fear of emasculation). It appears that listening and agreeing are ‘womanly' traits (as displayed by Ismene). Connections between the theme of the law and powers and the modern human rights movements can be made. Examples include places where there are dramatic restrictions to women's rights, such as the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and instances of public resistance by women towards state-sanctioned violence, such as that practiced by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina.