Family love

The relationships within Antigone’s family

Many characters in Sophocles’ play Antigone show their love for family in different ways and to varying degrees. Antigone, for example, loves her deceased parents and siblings, especially her brother Polynices, whom Creon does not allow to be buried. She sees this prohibition as a violation of the will of the gods, which she believes is above that of an earthly king.

In the second act, after she is arrested, Antigone confronts Creon: “And I never thought your announcements / Could give you—a mere human being— / Power to trample the god’s unfailing, / Unwritten laws […]” (Act 2, Scene 5, ll. 454-457). She defends her deed with vehemence and considers it to be “a crime of reverence” (Prologue, Scene 1, l. 74), but at the same time reveals that she sees a benefit in doing so: “People who live in misery like mine / Are better dead.” (Act 2, Scene 5, ll. 463-464).

Antigone’s uncompromising love for the deceased family members contrasts with her feelings for the living Ismene. In the prologue, as Ismene makes it clear that she will submit to Creon’s law and not help her sister to bury her brother, Antigone cuts the sisterly bond: “I won’t press you any further. I won’t even let / You help me if you had a change of heart.” (Prologue, Scene 1, ll. 69-70). She confirms this statement towards the end of the second act, when Ismene agrees to be punished together with her sister after all: 

[ISMENE:] No, please! You’re my sister: Don’t despise me!
Let me die with you and sanctify our dead.
[ANTIGONE:] No, you may not die along with me. Don’t say you did it!
You wouldn’t even touch it. Now leave my death alone! (Act 2, Scene 6, ll. 544-547)

Antigone sees no way of forgiving Ismene, although she hints that she is not completely indifferent to her sistser: 

[ANTIGONE:] It hurts me when my mockery strikes you.
[ISMENE:] But I still want to help you. What can I do?
[ANTIGONE:] Escape! Save yourself! I don’t begrudge you that.
[ISMENE:] O misery! Why am I cut off from your fate?
[ANTIGONE] Because you chose life, and I chose death. (Act 2, Scene 6, ll. 551-554) 

However, once a decision has been made, it cannot be reversed because this would cast doubt on the sincerity of the person: “I won’t accept a friend who’s only friend in words.” (Act 2, Scene 6, l. 543).

Antigone’s relationship with her fiancé, Haemon, proves to be ambivalent. It also falls under the category of family love, since Haemon is Creon’s son, who in turn is the brother of Antigone’s mother Jocasta, so Haemon is Antigone’s cousin.

On the one hand, Antigone would never have violated a law in favor of her husband or child: “I would not do it for a child, w...

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