ANTIGONE — daughter of Oedipus ISMENE — daughter of Oedipus CREON — King of Thebes, uncle to Antigone, father of Haemon HAEMON — son of Creon, engaged to marry Antigone EURYDICE — wife of Creon, mother of Haemon TEIRESIAS — the prophet LEADER OF THE CHORUS CHORUS — of Theban elders GUARD FIRST MESSENGER — a man SECOND MESSENGER—a woman
[ANTIGONE and ISMENE in front of the Palace gates.]
ANTIGONE Ismene—sister, heart of my heart! You’d think that Zeus had punished us Enough already for our father’s curse. Is there any pain, outrage, shame, That’s been missing in our lives, yours and mine? And now today, this royal decree, Dictated by the people’s lord and master. What does this mean? Didn’t you hear— Are you oblivious that friends are named as traitors?
ISMENE I haven’t heard a thing, Antigone, no word Of friends, good news or bad, since we both Lost our two brothers in that one same day, Each killed by the other. And since last night, When the invading soldiers left, no news Has reached me, nothing hopeful or terrible.
ANTIGONE I thought so, that’s why I asked to meet you Outside the gates to speak to you in private.
ISMENE What is it? Some dark secret’s troubling you—
ANTIGONE What else but thoughts of our dead brothers? Eteocles has been honored by Creon, Entombed, they say, with all the holy rites The gods require, blessing him among the dead. But by Creon’s royal decree Polyneices Lies disgraced, dishonored, left to rot and stink. No one can bury him, can cry or pray— He must lie without a tomb, no funeral, Putrid, for crows and flies to swarm on.
This is the order great, noble Creon, aimed At you and me— Yes, me! And soon He will show up here to dictate his decree, Publically, to all who haven’t heard. He means it! If you disobey—stoned to death. That’s how it is. So now you have to show If you deserve your family name—or are worthless.
ISMENE Antigone, this sounds crazy—what could I do?
ANTIGONE Do you intend to help me or not? Decide.
ISMENE Help with what nonsense? What are you thinking?
ANTIGONE Help me carry the corpse away.
ISMENE What? Bury him? When Creon’s just forbidden it?
ANTIGONE My brother, and yours, even if you try to deny him. No one will ever say that I betrayed my brother.
ISMENE You insist on this—despite Creon’s decree?
ANTIGONE He can’t make me abandon my own.
ISMENE Don’t forget, sister, what happened to our father, Dishonored, scorned, admitting his dark sins, Blinded, his own executioner. Think of his mother-wife—sick words to join together— Dead by a noose that she herself had tied. Then our luckless brothers, knotted together In our family’s curse, lost in the same day, Dual homicides, each the other’s killer. Think about it, sister, we are left alone— Won’t we die the most miserable of all If we break the law and disobey The king’s decree? Weak women, think of that, Not shaped by nature to fight with men. Remember this too—might makes right. We have to obey his orders, these and worse. Listen, I’m pleading with you—I’ve got no choice. I beg pardon from the dead. I have to obey the powers that be— It’s stupid not to follow common sense. ANTIGONE I’m through with you. Even if you wanted Now I wouldn’t take your help. Go your own way. All alone I’ll bury him. How sweet to die in such an act, to rest— Sister and brother linked in love’s embrace— A sinless sinner, damned a while on earth, But by the dead blessed and praised, and with them I shall abide eternally. As for you, Defy, if you dare, the eternal laws of Heaven.
ISMENE I don’t defy them. But challenge the State Or violate its laws—I can’t do it.
ANTIGONE Worthless excuses. I’ll go alone To lay my dearly beloved brother in the grave.
ISMENE My poor, dear sister—I’m afraid for you!
ANTIGONE Don’t waste your fears on me. Watch out for yourself.
ISMENE At least let no one know about your plan. Keep it hidden and secret. I will.
ANTIGONE O tell it, sister! I’ll hate you all the more Unless you shout it through the town.
ISMENE You have a fired-up soul for chilling work.
ANTIGONE I please the most where I must please the most.
ISMENE If you succeed— But you’re doomed to fail.
ANTIGONE When my strength fails me, yes, but not before.
ISMENE But, if the scheme is hopeless, why even try?
ANTIGONE Sister, shut up—or pretty soon I’ll hate you, And the dead man will hate you too, with cause. Say I’m insane—let my insanity Wreck itself. The worst that can happen Will only be to die an honorable death.
ISMENE Have your own way then. It’s craziness— But those who love you, still love you dearly.
CHORUS Glorious sun! The brightest rays dawn’s early Light has ever shined on seven-gated Thebes. How beautifully you gleamed on our great river, Your red glare lighting the enemy’s retreat, Racing back far faster than ever they marched in, Panicked, flinging the bronze armor, white shields They’d brought across our borders to force Us to take Polyneices as our king. Like giant shrieking eagles swooping down, Armed with wing-like shields as white as snow. Massed in helmets topped with horsetail crests, The would-be conquerors marched on us.
Hovering round our city walls, spearmen Lusted to kill us at our seven gates. Before their torches burned our crown of towers, Before their tongues had drunk our blood, Our swords like dragon’s teeth attacked their rear, They panicked to hear the war-god’s roar. Zeus hates all bragging warriors’ boasts, He looked down on those gold-bespangled men Insolent, swaggering as if they’d won, Thundered down his anger on them, His holy lightning blasting them to death.
Like an avalanche Zeus crushed Invading Polyneices, blasted the arsonist’s Torch from his traitor hand and brought him down, While out on the bloody battle ground The war god’s chariot smashed their army, Trampling our enemies into the dust.
Seven generals pounded our seven gates, But at each a champion defended us Ripping away his enemy’s armor, Stripping them as trophies to Zeus. At last two stood alone, unlucky brothers, Sharing mother and father, and death. Each speared the other, they fell together, Died, their same blood muddying the same dust.
We’ll celebrate our victory in Thebes today And all night long, and drive away all thoughts Of war, crowd our temples, praise the gods, Party and feast and dance and drink, Go crazy wild in celebration!
LEADER OF CHORUS Time to quiet down now. Creon’s coming, Our brand new king, crowned by the fortunes of war. I wonder why he’s gathering us, the elders— To counsel and debate some public act, Consider some new law or proclamation?
CREON Elders, once again the gods have righted Our storm-tossed ship of state, now safe in port. But I convened you by special summons As my most trusted councilors: first, because Of your loyalty to old King Laius, And then when Oedipus came to the throne. Both while he ruled and when his rule was ended, You still were faithful to the royal line. Now since both his two sons died the same day, Brother murderously killed by brother, By right of kinship to the two dead princes, I claim and hold the throne and lawful power.
Yet it’s no easy matter to know The temper of a man, his mind and will, Until he’s shown how he will exercise his power. As for me, anyone who reigns supreme But allows himself to deviate from the right, Who spins the truth, flip-flops from cowardice— That man I condemn as the lowest of the low. And I damn any man who sets his friend Before his country. For myself, I swear To mighty Zeus, whose eyes are everywhere, If I perceive some treacherous scheme Against the State, I’ll never hold my tongue. Nor will I ever welcome as my private friend A public enemy, knowing that the State’s The good ship that holds our fortunes all alike. Farewell to friendship, if she’s under threat.
Such is the policy by which I seek To serve the city, and therefore I proclaim as law this edict as concerns The sons of Oedipus. Eteocles— Who in our country’s battle fought and died The foremost champion—duly bury him With all the holy rites and ceremony Which are the just reward of fallen heroes.
But for the traitorous exile who returned To terrorize, burn, destroy, and dishonor His father’s city and his father’s gods, And drink revenge with his kinsmen’s blood, Or drag them prisoners at his chariot wheels— For Polyneices it’s ordained: No one Shall bury him, or pray, or weep for him, But leave his corpse to rot, stinking filth For vultures, crows, and dogs, a gruesome sight.
So I order. Never, while I draw breath, Shall traitors be honored over loyalists, But always, all true patriots, alive or dead, I will prefer and I will honor.
LEADER OF CHORUS Creon, your own elder son died a hero. Do as you will with this wretch who betrayed our state— And with that other who died a martyr. Your word is law. Deal with the dead Just as you please, and with those alive.
CREON Then see you execute my order.
LEADER OF CHORUS We’re too old—burden younger shoulders.
CREON I’ve already posted guards to watch the corpse.
LEADER OF CHORUS What other duty would you lay on us?
CREON Do not dissent—nor tolerate dissenters.
LEADER OF CHORUS Only a crazy fool risks his life.
CREON The penalty is death. But greed Has lured many a man to his doom.
GUARD Your lordship, I can’t pretend to huff and puff Like some speedy, out-of-breath messenger. Truth is, a lot of heavy thought weighs me down. Stopped me dead. Turned me back, and back again— A little voice kept whispering: “Stop. Go. Stop. No! Why race ahead to your doom, doofus?” She whispered that, and then, “If Creon hears First from somebody else, you’ll pay for it!” So I raced on ahead, with my feet dragging— Due deliberate speed, as the saying goes. But in the end the “go ahead” voice won out. To face you. I will speak. Though I say nothing. Fools rush in where angels don’t. Hope springs eternal. What will be, will be. You can’t escape your fate.
CREON What’s your point? What’s all this backwardness?
GUARD First, listen, I need to look out for me— I didn’t do it. I didn’t see it. I don’t deserve the blame for it.
CREON You’re good at ducking responsibility, I see. You bring troubling information.
GUARD A fellow who doesn’t like to hear the message, He shouldn’t go and blame the messenger.
CREON Speak—then out of my sight!
GUARD All right. Here it is. The corpse got buried. Just now. Sprinkled with handfuls of dry dust. Somebody did the proper ritual—then’s gone.
CREON What? Who’d dare commit this act?
GUARD I’ve got no idea. Not the least trace Of a pick or hoe—hard unbroken ground, Nowhere a scratch or rut or wheel track, No sign a human hand had been at work. When that first sentry on the morning watch Screamed the alarm, we jumped up terrified. The corpse just kind of vanished, not buried like, But dusted over, like someone just intended To ward off the curse that haunts unburied folks. No sign of any hound or jackal.
We cursed and swore and damned each other, Guard blamed guard, pumped fists, jerked swords, Nearly fought—who’d stop us? Each accusing Anybody but himself, finding fault In everyone, but no proof anywhere. We’d have handled red-hot iron, walked through fire To prove our innocence, swore on every god We didn’t do the deed or know who did Or wanted to! We had no clue.
Then one guy spoke— We hung our heads, Stared dumb into the ground. He was dead right. No way out. We got to tell the king. Bound to. Sure as hell. No way out. I drew the short straw. Fatted calf. Sacrifice. So here I’ve come, not wanting to—and you Don’t want me. No man wants bad news.
LEADER OF CHORUS My lord, from the very first I worried, Wondered—man’s work, or gods’?
CREON Silence! Your babbling enrages me! Have you gone senile? Only an idiot Could imagine gods would give a damn For this worthless dead man.
Maybe he earned some special dispensation? They buried him, like he’s some benefactor? Because he came to burn their holy places, Destroy their shrines, to terrorize their land, And trample down their laws? Right, maybe The gods reward traitors! Unbelievable!
No! no! From the first I spied the dissidents, Nodding, conspiring, refusing to be harnessed To the public good, my orders, my rule. They, I’m certain, turned my guards with bribes. No earthly evil corrupts like money— Drives men to attack cities, leave their homes, Warps the innocent, seduces the weak To cheating, crime, sedition, treachery. That crew of rebels who sold their loyalty Bought themselves more than trouble—payback’s hell.
Yes, by the god above I fear, great Zeus, By god I swear, if you don’t find and drag Before me, here, the man or men Who committed this lawless burial, Death itself will be too good for you. On a cross, I’ll crucify you, and make You confess your treachery. You’ll learn The high cost of high crimes, How greed destroys most men. You won’t escape.
GUARD Please, can I say just say one word—or better go?
CREON Get out! Every word you speak sickens me!
GUARD Where, your lordship—sickens your ears, or heart?
CREON And who are you to ask what hurts me where?
GUARD I annoy your ears—the outlaw infects your mind.
CREON You babbling idiot! Get out.
GUARD Babbler—okay—but innocent of any crime.
CREON Doubly guilty, sold your soul for silver!
GUARD A damned shame, when judges judge it wrong.
CREON Don’t misjudge this—fail to produce the guilty, Your ill-otten gains will gain you death.
GUARD I pray to god he’s found, but caught or not— And lady luck alone will settle that— You’ll not see hide nor hair of me again! I lost all hope, thought I’d never escape— Thank you, god, thank you, thank you!
CHORUS Of all the world’s wonders, none’s more wondrous than man. He guides his ships through perilous seas, Creates his path through a wilderness of waves. And sacred earth, ageless and inexhaustible, He plows and harrows year after year, With mules and horses digging deep his furrows.
Light, flighty birds he snares; he tricks and traps Beasts of field and forest; he nets fish in the sea, Controlling all through cleverness and cunning. He cages savage lions, bridles raging stallions, Forces his yoke on the heaving shoulders Of mountain bulls and breaks them to his will. He’s mastered words, quick thinking, prudent counsel, Has crafted government, protects himself from sleet And piercing rain and freezing snow and storms. He defends himself from plague, cures sickness. He’s made himself secure and safe, immune From everything—except from death.
Blazing thoughts, amazing mind, dazzling intelligence, Guiding man sometimes to light, sometimes to darkness. If he reveres laws of the land and the gods’ will His city rises high—but a mutinous outlaw Who honors nothing deserves only the worst. I’ll never sit beside him, share his fire, or thoughts.
[The GUARD enters with ANTIGONE.]
LEADER OF CHORUS I can’t believe my eyes. I recognize her—Antigone, Unlucky child of an unlucky father. This makes no sense. You’re not reckless enough to violate The king’s order. Why’d they arrest you?
GUARD Here’s the terrorist taken in the act Of giving burial. But where’s the king?
LEADER OF CHORUS There, back from the palace just in time.
CREON Back in time for what? What’s happening?
GUARD Lordship, no man should ever swear to god He’ll never ever do a certain thing. Second thoughts can turn us all to liars. Your thunderbolts of threats skedaddled me, Swearing I’d never darken your door again. But lady luck has smiled on me, radiantly— I’m high as a kite!—and so I’ve broke my oath, And here’s my prisoner, caught red-handed Sprucing up the corpse. No short straw for me, Not now, this prize is mine, won fair and square. So take her—interrogate, condemn her, torture away. She’s all yours, your lordship. Cut me loose, please! And let me get the hell away from here.
CREON What? How? This girl? Arrested where?
GUARD Burying the man. That’s all there is to tell.
CREON Are you sane? You realize what you’re claiming?
GUARD These two eyes just saw her bury that dead corpse— Against your orders. That plain and clear enough?
CREON But what did you see? You caught her? In the act?
GUARD Here’s the story. We’d just dragged back there, Your bloody threats still ringing in our ears, And straight off swept away all trace of dust, Laid bare that clammy body. Then perched ourselves High on the ridge, upwind of that stinky stench, Joking, rough-housing to keep ourselves awake, Punching any slacker who tried to nap. The whole night long we sentried, till the sun Stopped dead above our heads, blazing down, Beating down. Then bang! A sudden whirlwind Whooshed up a dust cloud, blacked out the sky, Whipped down the plain, ripped leaves off every tree, And blasted high heaven. We squeezed our eyes, Laid low, and let the gods all have their way.
At last it stopped, and then—here stands this girl, Wails out this shrieking cry, all sad and shrill, Like when some momma bird peeks in her nest, Her babies gone. Like that she screeches out, Howls when she spies that corpse stripped bare, And cursed the savage fiends who’d done this deed. So then she heaps up handfuls of dry dust, Then, tipping high a fancy brass-made urn, Three times she poured libations on the dead.
Bang! We rushed her, swooped down, snatched Our prey. She wouldn’t flinch, nor bat an eye. We charged her with her crimes, the first and this. She didn’t deny a thing. I felt glad, but like sorry. It’s great to get yourself off, Yet still, to take a decent person down—it hurts. Still, you got to do what’s best for number one.
CREON You, girl—with your eyes aimed at the ground! Speak! Plead guilty, or do you dare deny what you did?
ANTIGONE I did it. I don’t deny a thing.
CREON (to GUARD) You, get out, wherever. And thank Your lucky stars you’ve dodged a capital charge. [exit GUARD]
(To ANTIGONE) Answer one simple question, yes or no. Were you aware of my decree?
ANTIGONE I knew, everyone knew. How could I fail to know?
CREON So you willfully showed contempt for the law.
ANTIGONE Yes! Zeus didn’t make that law, not in my eyes. And divine Justice, who’s enthroned with the gods, Authorizes no such man-made law. I never could imagine a mortal man Like you could veto—with a breath— Heaven’s eternal unwritten sacraments, Holy rites not made today nor yesterday, Immortal, their origins known only to the gods.
Those sacred laws I wasn’t about to break. I wouldn’t dare the wrath of Heaven For fear of some mere man’s wounded pride. I knew I must die—even without your decree. If I must die before my time, it’s a reward, A blessing, for one whose life is plagued with suffering. So, I feel no grief for what I’ve done, Instead feel joyful. But—if I’d abandoned That corpse, my mother’s son, to rot unburied, I’d suffer agonies of grief. Rightly. And if you think I’ve been a fool in this, You should beware the fool in your own mirror.
LEADER OF CHORUS Her father’s daughter, stubborn, prideful, Rigid. She’ll break before she’ll bend.
CREON Well, great pride goes before the greatest fall. The stubbornest wills break first. Over-heated iron’s the hardest, But most brittle, shatters first to fragments. A light bridle-bit tames the wildest horse. Slaves abandon pride, live meek, humble lives When the master’s near. But this proud girl, With perfect insolence she violated Established law, and then again— Redoubling her insolence—bragging, Preening, showing off, proud to be an outlaw. If she can get away with this—spite me— I’m the weakling, she’s the strong man.
Even if she is my sister’s child, If she were closer blood than any in my home, Neither she nor her sister could escape Capital punishment. Equally guilty, For me—the ringleaders, co-conspirators. Arrest the older sister! I just saw her In the palace, crazy wild, hysterical. Criminal minds often reveal themselves, Their dark intentions, before they act. It’s worse when a traitor, caught red-handed, Tries to justify—glorify—the crime.
ANTIGONE You plan more than to kill me?
CREON That’s enough. That’s all I want.
ANTIGONE Why waste time then? Not one word you say Makes sense to me—god forbid it ever will. Clearly you hear nothing I have to say. Still, in no way could I have gained such fame As by sanctifying my brother’s burial. Every tongue in the city would praise me If you hadn’t gagged each mouth with terror. Isn’t it nice to be a tyrant, Nice that all your acts and words are law.
CREON No one else agrees with you.
ANTIGONE They all agree. You’ve cowed this silent majority.
CREON You’re not ashamed to be a party of one?
ANTIGONE Ashamed—to reverence my mother’s child?
CREON The man he killed was not your brother too?
ANTIGONE Both children of the same mother, same father. CREON You disgrace one brother to honor the other—
ANTIGONE The corpse below would not agree with you.
CREON Hero and terrorist, you’d treat them both the same?
ANTIGONE The dead man was no villain, but a brother.
CREON The patriot died at that terrorist’s hand.
ANTIGONE In death the two deserve equality.
CREON The good and bad receive equal treatment?
ANTIGONE Who knows what earthly crimes are holy in god’s eyes?
CREON The only good enemy’s a dead enemy.
ANTIGONE For me it’s love that’s natural, not hate.
CREON Then go to hell and love, if that’s what you want. As long as I live no woman will rule me.
[Enter ISMENE, under GUARD]
LEADER OF CHORUS Look! Out by the palace front Ismene cries at her sister’s fate— Wrinkled forehead, reddened face— Afraid but sharing her sister’s destiny.
CREON Woman—sly sneaking snake, sucking my blood While I nurtured you in my own house. Me, blind as a bat, while you two plotted Destruction, to destroy my throne. Admit That you’re a co-conspirator. You can’t deny it—
ISMENE I admit to the deed—if she’ll agree I did it. I want to share all my sister’s guilt.
ANTIGONE That’s not right. From the first you refused To help, then I completely shut you out.
ISMENE But now your ship is sinking, I’ve come To take your side as you go down.
ANTIGONE Death and the dead know who did what. A friend who pays lip service is no friend.
ISMENE Sister, don’t reject me, let me share the honor Of your holy sacrifice, and share your death.
ANTIGONE Don’t claim rewards you haven’t earned. One death’s enough—why should you die?
ISMENE What good is life to me once you are gone?
ANTIGONE Love Creon—your doting relative and true blue friend.
ISMENE Why make fun of me? Do you enjoy these jokes?
ANTIGONE Dark humor, I suppose, more dark than humor.
ISMENE What on earth can I do to help you now?
ANTIGONE No, save yourself. I chose death. Live.
ISMENE I can’t have even this—share your destiny?
ANTIGONE No. You chose to live when I chose death.
ISMENE At least I spoke up—begged you to be cautious.
ANTIGONE Some will believe you showed more wisdom, others feel I did.
ISMENE But here we stand—blamed both the same.
ANTIGONE Don’t be afraid. You live. I died a long time ago— And gave my life to save the dead.
CREON These girls are both crazy. One has suddenly Lost her mind, the other was born insane.
ISMENE Yes, my lord. You’ll find that when disaster strikes Even the wisest lose their minds.
CREON You chose lunacy when you chose to join An evil conspiracy with this evil girl.
ISMENE What good is life I can’t share with my sister?
CREON Don’t say with your sister—your sister’s dead.
ISMENE You wouldn’t execute your own son’s fiancee?
CREON Oh, he can plow his crops in other fields.
ISMENE Nothing can replace the bond between these two.
CREON The hellcats that chase our sons can rot in hell.
ANTIGONE Oh Haemon, how your father dishonors you!
CREON The hell with you and your damned bride!
LEADER OF CHORUS What? You’re taking away your son’s fiancee?
CREON Death will break off his marriage, not his father.
LEADER OF CHORUS So it seems the verdict—execution—is final.
CREON Yes! For you and for me. Enough. Guards! Take them away—close confinement. Now they’ll learn To act like women should, no more traipsing around. Even brave men run away when death approaches.
[GUARDS exit with ISMENE and ANTIGONE]
CHORUS How lucky are those who’ve never known real pain! When the gods’ damnation blasts a home The family’s suffering lasts forever. Like a cresting tidal wave the storm bursts From darkness under sea and slams Loud shrieking grief upon the shore.
I’ve watched the curse on Oedipus unfold Down through generations, old and young, Tortured again and again by the gods. The sun shined so brightly on the last blossom Of the family tree, till arrogance— Shortsighted fury—ripped out the root.
O Zeus, what human pride can overpower your power? Sleep never weakens you, nor passing years, Forever young, your strength transcends all time. Throned in glory high on Mount Olympus You reign supreme, eternal, now, forever, Your law always blasting human pride.
Hope seduces us with brief, fleeting joy, Dreams of love, good fortune, until we wake Betrayed, to find ourselves burned alive. A proverb says, Fate keeps the cruelest school, But those who can’t tell good from evil Learn in no other. God’s rod strikes hard.
LEADER OF CHORUS Here comes Haemon, your last surviving son. Is he sorrowing for Antigone, broken-hearted To have lost his bride before they married?
CREON Soon we’ll know more than any soothsayer could tell us.... You’ve heard my final verdict on that girl, son. Have you come to rant and rave against me— Or in love, with respect for whatever I decide?
HAEMON I’m your true son, Father, ready to be guided By your experience on the course you steer. No marriage means more to me than your wisdom.
CREON Well said. All dutiful sons should feel the same, Should respect and defer to their father’s judgment. All parents hope to raise well-disciplined sons Ready to defend their father, hate his enemies, Make his friends theirs. A man who raises Rebellious sons breeds trouble for himself— His enemies will ridicule him. Son, listen, Don’t lose your head over any woman. A man chained to a ball-breaking nag lives in misery— A steamy lover soon turns to a frigid shrew. What’s worse than a best friend who turns against you? So hawk her up and spit her out, Tell her to trap some husband when she’s underground. Of all my subjects she’s the lone dissenter Who openly defied my patriotic act. I won’t betray my duty to the state. She will die. If she wants, let her appeal To Zeus, the God of Family Values. To tolerate dissent in my own house Would doom all law and order in the state. A man who isn’t king in his own castle Has no business trying to rule the country. But those who defy the law, or dream Of overthrowing lawful rulers, those I will never tolerate. Whoever rules the state Must be obeyed—in everything, big or small.
A patriot understands: “My State, right or wrong.” A person like that would excel as king, Or subject. Such a man would stand his ground In the heat of battle, a comrade brave and true. But disorder! What evil won’t she lead to? She ruins the homeland’s security, disrupts the family, She weakens armies, turns them into cowards. Discipline preserves stability in the ordered ranks. We must maintain authority— Not abandon it to some woman’s will. If some man overthrows me, then so be it: No one will ever say a woman beat me.
LEADER OF CHORUS Maybe I’m getting old, but to my ears Your words all sound both reasonable and wise.
HAEMON Father, the gods endowed us with reason, The finest gift they had to give. It’s surely not for me to say you’re wrong Or ever criticize your judgement. But even so, other men sometimes do have good ideas, And as your son I ought to pay attention To the actions, thoughts and comments of the public. The man on the street’s terrified to upset you, Afraid to say a word that might offend. Still I sometimes hear them muttering to each other. Many sympathize with this young woman, Say for a noble deed she’s doomed to die. When her dead brother lay unburied, She shielded his corpse from dogs and vultures They say we all should write her name in gold! These are the words and murmurs that I hear.
Father, you know nothing means more to me Than your success. What benefit can children Value more than a father’s fine reputation— Just as fathers take such pride in sons’ good fortune. So, father, please don’t chain your mind shut, Insist that you alone are right, the rest all wrong. Whoever thinks he’s got a lock on truth, Or claims that he alone knows right from wrong, Is just an empty shell full of hot air. A reasonable man will yield to reason, Listen to others, learn, and change.
You’ve watched trees in a flooding stream Survive when they’ll bend with the current, But tear apart, uproot, and die when they resist. The sailor with a taut mainsheet jerked tight Who won’t release it in the storm, you’ll soon Spot sailing upside down, keel tilted high.
Please, take a deep breath, one step back, cool off. I’m young, but let me say, it would be wonderful Always to be right, to never make mistakes— But, in the real world, it can be almost As good to pay attention to good advice.
LEADER OF CHORUS If he makes sense, King, listen to him. (To HAEMON) And you, too, listen to your father. You both have spoken well.
CREON What are you suggesting? That at my age I need lessons in prudent behavior from a boy?
HAEMON I only ask you to be fair, Father, that’s all. Judge by how much sense I make, not how young I am.
CREON You think it’s sensible to honor treason!
HAEMON I’m not pleading for someone who’s done evil.
CREON Didn’t this girl show perfect contempt for our laws?
HAEMON The Theban people are united in saying, No.
CREON A leader should just flip-flop, always follow public opinion?
HAEMON Now you’re the one who’s arguing like a boy.
CREON Am I to rule by my values, or those of others?
HAEMON A state dominated by one man is no state at all.
CREON What’s good for the ruler’s good for the state.
HAEMON You’d be an excellent ruler on a desert island.
CREON [To the CHORUS] This boy seems to be taking the woman’s side.
HAEMON If you’re the woman—you’re the one I’m worried about.
CREON You insolent child, disputing your father!
HAEMON When you’re wrong I have no choice.
CREON Wrong—to insist on respect for my lawful authority?
HAEMON Respect? You’re scorning heaven with contempt.
CREON Your mind is gone—that woman has you whipped!
HAEMON You’ll never see me whipped into dishonor.
CREON Your whole diatribe’s been only to plead her case.
HAEMON And yours, and mine, and for the eternal gods.
CREON You’ll never marry her as long as she’s alive.
HAEMON She’ll die then, but she won’t die alone.
CREON Have you come to the point of threatening me?
HAEMON What threat? I’m just opposing your intention.
CREON You’ll be sorry for rejecting authority.
HAEMON If you weren’t my father I’d call you a fool.
CREON Don’t call me “father,” you gutless wimp.
HAEMON When you speak is no one allowed to respond?
CREON You’ve gone too far. By god, you will not taunt And mock and ridicule me and get away with it. Bring out that hateful bitch and kill her, Now, right in the sight of her bridegroom.
HAEMON Don’t think you’ll kill her in my sight, By my side. Rave like a madman for those who enjoy it. You’ll never see my face again. [Exit HAEMON]
LEADER OF CHORUS Your son’s run off, my Lord, enraged. An offended young man’s fury can boil over.
CREON Let him vent and rant and dream up fantasies. He will not save these two sisters’ lives.
LEADER OF CHORUS You don’t really mean to execute them both?
CREON You’re right. Only the one who touched the body.
LEADER OF CHORUS What kind of death have you planned for her?
CREON Take her to some deserted place where no One walks, and in some bare rock cave, Wall her up with just enough food that The state can’t be accused of homicide. Buried alive, she’ll be free to pray to Hades, God of Death, the only one she worships. Maybe she won’t die— At least she’ll learn Too late the cost of adoring the dead.
[CREON exits to the Palace]
CHORUS Love—all powerful—who can resist you? Rich men squander wealth to lounge long evenings, Warmed by a young girl’s blooming face. Traveling all the seas, wandering forests— More powerful than gods, who can resist you? Not men, whose lives are brief, and whom you drive insane.
Wise men, just men, you corrupt and ruin. You’ve forced this quarrel, father battling son— Love wins, but all the rest’s destroyed. A bride’s glance sparks desire, mindless love, The reckless goddess has her fun, mocking us, All-conquering and merciless, Aphrodite.
[ANTIGONE is brought from the Palace, under guard.]
LEADER OF CHORUS How can we speak of justice, the law’s demands— It’s crazy watching this. It breaks my heart To see Antigone, led like a bride To share a bed forever with the dead.
ANTIGONE I have to say goodbye, my last goodbye, To my home now, friends. My journey’s ending. Death takes every person, young, old. The warm sun—I’ll never see, feel, again. In the bright morning of my young life Cold, dark death is pulling me toward The underground forever. I can never come back—a bride without Her wedding, no music, no guests or flowers, No honeymoon. Death’s my only bridegroom.
CHORUS But know you don’t pass without honor, Without glory, to your death. No disease Has wasted you, no sword’s scarred your beauty. You pass free, alive, alone to join the dead.
ANTIGONE You’ve heard Niobe’s heartrending story, A princess doomed, chained to mountain rock, Weeping, bawling in the savage sleet and snow, Until she slowly turned to rock herself, her tears Petrifying down her breast, a crystal waterfall. Abandoned to a stony death, her sad story’s mine.
CHORUS She was a god’s child, not born to mortals, Like you and we, born for death. But take heart, your name will live on, You’ll be famous here and in the beyond.
ANTIGONE Why do you mock me while I’m still alive? Lords and elders, laughing in my face— You can’t wait until I’m dead? Are my only friends to witness and to mourn me The river, plains and forest of my homeland? They know how wrongly these unjust laws condemn me, They pity me, on my way to my last home, An alien, here and there, alive among corpses, Belonging neither to the living nor the dead.
CHORUS You dared to push so far and hard You smashed into the throne of justice. I wonder—no one will ever know— The part in this played by your father’s curse.
ANTIGONE You hit the wound that pains me most of all, My unlucky father’s shame, the sick disgrace, The agonizing curse that stains my blood— My father, the son who sowed damnation Spreading his mother’s legs deep inside Their marriage bed—conceiving me, My brothers, sister—cursing us with their incest. I’ll join them below, still strangers In a strange land. Brother-father, your sick Marriage destroyed my life in making it.
CHORUS Religion makes just claims on us. But law and order must come first. Openly you disobeyed authority, You freely made the choice that meant your death.
ANTIGONE No one mourning me, unmarried, friendless, I’ll enter the shadows of death, forever, Hidden from the sun, from love or sorrow, Silent . . . and alone . . . eternally.
[CREON enters, coming from the Palace]
CREON People who wail and moan hoping somehow To delay their death will never stop. Take her away and wall her up in some Rocky cave for a tomb, as I ordered. Leave her alone—free to die, or, If she likes, to live in solitude At home in her tomb. Either way, we’re innocent, Never spilled this young woman’s blood. She just never found a home on earth.
ANTIGONE Grave. Honeymoon suite. Prison cell. Rough cut rock. My home forever. Where I go to join the vast mass Of my family, guests of the Queen of the Dead. I arrive last, most miserable of all, Dying before my time. But I hope to find a sympathetic welcome From my father, and from you, Mother, A cordial reception too, and my brother. All of you knew the touch of my hand in death, I washed and dressed your bodies, poured libations.
Yet, the wise will know I did make the right choice. If it had even been some child of mine— Or my husband, their father, rotting in death— I never would have broken the state’s decree. What kind of law can justify words like that? It’s just that, having lost a husband, I might have married someone else, and borne Another child, to take the dead child’s place. But, with my father and mother both dead, No new brother ever can be born for me.
This moral law led me to honor you, Dear brother, and I was judged immoral By Creon, guilty of a terrible crime. So now he drags me like some criminal, An unwed bride, no marriage-song for me, No marriage-bed, no children ever to mother. Deserted by my friends, left in a living grave.
What law of Heaven have I broken? Why, In my misery, imagine I can pray To any god, beg any man for help? I stand convicted of unholy crimes, Because I performed my holy duty. If somehow in the gods’s eyes this is justice Suffering will teach me where I’ve gone wrong. But if the others have violated heaven I hope they suffer no more than they’ve made me suffer.
LEADER OF THE CHORUS That same ungovernable will Still drives the girl like a hurricane.
CREON Her guards are going to be sorry For dragging this out so long.
ANTIGONE Those words reverberate with a sound like death.
CREON You are not in the least mistaken.
[The slow procession begins, ANTIGONE led by GUARDS.]
ANTIGONE Thebes, land and city of my fathers, And of all my fathers’ gods—and all Of you, Lords of Thebes—look at me, The last daughter of your royal house, Look at what I suffer, and by whom, Because I wouldn’t violate holy Heaven’s law. Come. It’s time. Let it be.
[Exit ANTIGONE, led by GUARDS]
CHORUS Danae, like you, was locked away, her brass cell Dark and tomblike, but Zeus showered love on her In golden rain—she bore his godlike son. Fate’s awesome powers are far beyond our knowing. No wealth, no warring armies can withstand its power, No ships flee it. No one escapes his destiny.
Dryas’son, a king, crazed with rage, attacked a god. Dionysus sealed him in a dungeon— Till his fearsome madness died in echoes. The fool learned not to fight immortal power, Or taunt the dancing women possessed by god, Their wild rantings, flutes, and songs.
Where dark rocks split two seas at Bosporus, Horror found King Phineus in Thrace. His new queen, crazy sick with jealousy, With bloody hands stabbed out her stepsons’ eyes, Her spindle splashed the blinding gore four times, And the war-god Ares cackled at the wounds.
Crying tears of blood the doomed boys wailed The fate that doomed them at their birth, princes. Their mother, daughter of the North Wind’s god, Heaven born and raised, seemed blessed. She raced Fleeter than racing horses, but couldn’t flee her fate. Doom buried all her joys in sorrow—and yours too.
[Enter TEIRESIAS led by a BOY]
TEIRESIAS Elders of Thebes, here we’ve come, two travelers Sharing one pair of eyes between us— This is the way the blind man goes.
CREON What news do have you to share, old Teiresias?
TEIRESIAS I’ll tell you—and you must pay attention.
CREON I don’t think I’ve ever failed to listen.
TEIRESIAS And you have rightly steered the ship of state.
CREON I’m indebted to you, and freely I acknowledge it.
TEIRESIAS Beware—you’re balanced on fate’s razor edge.
CREON What’s this? You mean to make my blood run cold?
TEIRESIAS You’ll learn, when you understand the signs: I took my seat on my old throne of augury, There birds from heaven gathered round me— Exploding fury of wild screeches, hoots, squawks, Bird claws ripping birds, wings whirring, beating, Fighting, tearing, dying. Afraid, I tried to burn A sacrificial offering, but the God of Fire Refused to grant a flame. From the thigh bones A nasty ooze of slime splattered the ashes, Gall burst spurting from the bladder, the guts Dissolving, bones projected. My boy described It all for me—as I interpret signs for others.
Your rule has plagued the State with horror. You violate every shrine and altar With the corrupt stench that pollutes the dogs And vultures who feast on the rotting corpse Of Oedipus’ unburied son. Incensed, the gods Abominate our prayers and rites and offerings. No bird of heaven warbles a song of comfort— They gorge their throats with the corpse’s gore.
Understand this, my son. All men make mistakes— An intelligent man admits he’s wrong, Isn’t bull-headed, finds a way to solve the problem. The only crime’s arrogance—stupid, stubborn pride. Don’t disturb the dead. Don’t persecute a corpse. Where’s the honor in fighting a dead man? It’s for your own good. I’m on your side. Advice should be welcomed when it’s helpful.
CREON Old man, I’m always the target for critics who claim They’re fortune-tellers, blasting barbs my way. You’re all swindling con men, I’m your victim. If you’re so smart, get rich—profit from your prophecy! Speculate in gold from India, silver from Sardis— But you still won’t buy this man’s burial, not even If heaven’s eagles snatched him up to Zeus’s throne. I know no human offense will pollute the gods. And I know this, Teiresias, it’s a crying, filthy shame When so-called wise men whore themselves for money.
TEIRESIAS Ohhhh! Is there ever a man in the world...
CREON What? Finish—is this some hayseed proverb?
TEIRESIAS ...who knows: of all life’s worldly goods The best is good advice?
CREON True—and stupidity’s the worst of ills.
TEIRESIAS You’re deathly ill suffering that sickness yourself.
CREON I won’t trade insults with a prophet.
TEIRESIAS You claim I’m a fraud as a prophet.
CREON Prophets are all money-grubbers.
TEIRESIAS And tyrants are a treasure-loving bunch.
CREON Do you forget you’re speaking to your king!
TEIRESIAS Lord of the state I taught you to defend.
CREON You have skill at prophecy, but you’ve sold out.
TEIRESIAS Be careful—you’ll drive me to gloomy revelations.
CREON Say what you want, but know you won’t be paid for it.
TEIRESIAS It will be costly for you, but you won’t profit from it
CREON What I think or do is not for you to buy or sell.
TEIRESIAS Then know this, not many days will the soaring sun Pass across the sky, before you pay with flesh Of your flesh, for your murder—life for life. You’ve wronged the gods of the underworld, Forced one live soul into her tomb above the ground, Refused the dead his holy rites and grave below. Even heaven’s gods would never dare to violate the rights Of Hell and the Furies. Horrible punishment awaits you— Their agony will be your agony.
The words I prophesy—how much are they worth now? Wait just a little, you’ll hear wails and screeching grief Of men and women echoing through your home. And all those enemies you warred against Will join their armies to invade and avenge Their own mangled dead, left with no burial Except in the wolf’s fangs or dog’s droppings, Or in vultures’ breath, their stench Polluting heaven’s air far away in dead soldiers’ homelands.
These are the “blasting barbs” I target at you In my anger, and you will feel them. [To his BOY companion] Boy, guide me home. Let him squander his rants and rage On younger men, and learn to watch his temper.
LEADER OF CHORUS My Lord, the man has left, predicting horror. From the time my own gray hairs were black All his warnings to the state have all come true.
CREON It’s true. I know—and I’m confused, uncertain. To give in is awful, but to take this chance, Risk everything from stubbornness and pride—
LEADER OF CHORUS Creon, listen to good advice.
CREON What should I do. Tell me. I’ll listen.
LEADER OF CHORUS Go, free the girl from her rocky tomb, And for the rebel, build a sepulchre.
CREON This is what you want? Your advice—I should give in?
LEADER OF CHORUS Yes, King, this instant. The gods race to punish The hard of heart who won’t repent.
CREON Ohhhhh! It’s agony to quit on all I’ve stood for, But I can’t fight the inevitable.
LEADER OF CHORUS Go, trust no one. Do it yourself. Quickly.
CREON Hurry! All of you— Servants! Get axes— Rush to that high point. Come! My mind’s made up—I bound her, I’ll set her free. It’s enough to make me think we should follow All the old traditions as long as we live. [Exit CREON] CHORUS Bacchus! Great god called by many names— Son of Zeus, the thunder-god, and Semele, Our ancient queen of Thebes. Out west Italians name you Dionysus. Down south on the Eleusian plains you’re Lord, And here in Thebes you find your home. Up north on Mount Parnassus torches flame, Nymphs dance your worship, bathe in holy springs. Out east, Euboea island’s vine-thick hills Praise you, trailing ivy down the shores. Our hymns evoke, invite you, come— We sing your glories through the streets of Thebes.
You love our city best of all. We beg, in your mother’s name, Save us, heal us. Disaster plagues us— Descend from Mount Parnassus, Fly over roaring seas! Restore us! Bring salvation!
Brightest star in heaven, Zeus’s immortal son, Lord of voices heard at night, Bring your god-crazed women To dance their worship, scream And shriek to mighty Bacchus!
[Enter FIRST MESSENGER]
FIRST MESSENGER Listen! All of you—children of our fatherland. Now I can envy no one’s life, condemn no one. Fortune’s wheel lifts you up, and will take you down. No one can know how it will all turn out. I used to think I’d love to trade places with Creon. He was a patriotic hero, saved us From our enemies, we crowned him king, Gave him supreme power. He raised two noble sons. Now everything’s gone, wasted. A man who’s lost All that can make him happy is as good as dead. You’ll say he’s wealthy, lives the life of royalty, But when all this gives no pleasure, life’s just An empty darkening shadow—worthless.
LEADER OF CHORUS What news of the royal house do you bring us?
FIRST MESSENGER Both dead—and the guilty live.
LEADER OF CHORUS Who’s guilty? Who died? Speak!
FIRST MESSENGER Haemon—dead by no stranger’s hand.
LEADER OF CHORUS What do you mean? By his father’s hand? His own?
FIRST MESSENGER His own—crazed with anger at what his father’d done.
LEADER OF CHORUS Teiresias, how clearly he foresaw it all—
FIRST MESSENGER That’s how things stand. Do whatever there is to do.
LEADER OF CHORUS Look—Eurydice coming from the palace, Creon’s tormented wife. Is she simply walking out, Or did she hear what happened to her son?
EURYDICE I overheard you....went out to pray For Athena’s help, my hand on the door latch. In my ears—this wail exploded— Screaming a horrible story. My mind felt dizzy, I slumped, blanked out.... But say it again. This is not my first grief.
FIRST MESSENGER Dear lady, I was there. I’ll tell what happened, The whole truth. What’s the point to try And smooth it over with some lie? The truth is always best.
I followed your husband to the plain’s far edge, Where Polyneices’ corpse lay, mauled by dogs. We prayed to the gods of death, begging their mercy, Then ritually cleaned the mangled remains, Laid them on fresh-cut branches, cremated them, Then over his urn built a high and mighty mound Of mother earth.
That done, we hurried to the stony cave, The bridal suite the girl shared with Death. We rushed, were nearly there, but a guard Heard from that godforsaken place a shriek Inside, and raced back to warn Creon. Hollow wails echoed out as he approached. He bellowed out a groan, called out in agony:
“Can I know what I’ll find? Is this the saddest path I’ve ever taken? That’s my son’s voice crying out. Hurry! Look through that crevice in the rocks— Tell me if I hear Haemon’s voice, Or the gods are tricking me.”
On Creon’s order we looked—in the cave’s Darkest corner saw the girl lying strangled, Hung with a linen noose she’d tied around her throat. Haemon sprawled beside her, hugging her corpse, Wailing his fiancée, dead and gone, damning All that his father’s caused.
Creon saw him, groaned loud, moved toward him, called: “Son, my son! What did you do? What’s hurting you? What stroke of bad luck’s driving you insane? Come out from there! Son! Please, I beg you—”
But his son glared like a tiger, spit at him, Then in silence jerked out his heavy sword, Swung but missed, his father tumbling backwards. Then the boy, incensed with himself, out of control, Heaved down on his sword and shoved it home. Gasping, half-conscious, his limp arms hugged the girl, His bloody breaths reddened her white cheek. Two corpses sprawled there, joined, his marriage Consummated in the halls of Death.
He shows us all that nothing can cause so much evil As human stupidity.
LEADER OF CHORUS What do you think of this? The queen left Without saying a word, good or bad.
FIRST MESSENGER It bothers me too, but let’s hope she needs Her privacy to grieve her son’s terrible death, Wants to mourn among her women. She’s smart—she won’t do something stupid. LEADER OF CHORUS I don’t know. Holding it in just might be worse Than howling out her grief.
FIRST MESSENGER I’ll go inside, see for myself if violent emotions Lurk beneath her stern composure. Unnatural silence can’t be good.
[FIRST MESSENGER exits. CREON enters with FOLLOWERS carrying HAEMON’s body.]
LEADER OF CHORUS Look! The king himself bends as if he carries His own damnation in his arms. I’m afraid to accuse A king like him, but he alone bears all the guilt.
CREON The sin, evil, a mind that’s lost its balance Can cause— I caused, my harsh, blind heart. You see the killer-father, the killed son, One and the same. My damned decisions— Oh son, you’d barely begun to live your life. Dead and gone, and all the fault, all mine. Oh son— LEADER OF CHORUS You’ve seen the truth too late.
CREON Grief makes me see. God swings a heavy fist. He’s beaten me down a wild path of pain, Destroyed my pride, turned my joys to agony. People ... how we work ourselves into nothingness.
[Enter SECOND MESSENGER]
SECOND MESSENGER You’re carrying one sorrow, my lord, but one Even more grievous waits for you at home.
CREON What pain is left for me to feel?
SECOND MESSENGER Your wife, the mother of your dead son. Poor woman, her death wounds are fresh.
CREON The pit is bottomless. Death is destroying me. This hell messenger, he said what— To kill again a man worse than dead? First my son, then his mother?
LEADER OF CHORUS Look yourself. She lies out in the open.
[The Palace Doors begin to open, revealing EURYDICE]
CREON One more agony—what’s left? All true, more than I can take. My wife. My son.
SECOND MESSENGER She stood beside the altar, heaved her heart Onto a sharp blade, then tumbled, eyes shut, Shrieking out for Megareus, her firstborn, Who died a solder, then blubbered For young Haemon. Her last hard breath Cursed you for murdering her child.
CREON I’m trembling. I’m crazy afraid. Does none of you have a sword? Kill me! I feel the sorrow leaching into my bones.
SECOND MESSENGER The way it is—she cursed you for both deaths, The first and the last.
CREON How was it that she died?
SECOND MESSENGER Hearing about her son’s suffering— She cut open her heart.
CREON All the guilt is mine. I caused it all. Your murderer. Yes. I plead guilty. Get me out of here, quickly. I’m a nobody— I am nothing! Get me away! LEADER OF CHORUS You’re right, if there is any right, in all this wrong. The shortest way is best in this world of woe.
CREON Let it come fast. Death—come quickly! Be kind. Please don’t make me live to see another day!
LEADER OF CHORUS What will be, will be. We have enough to do for now. Tomorrow will take care of itself.
CREON That prayer echoes all my heart’s desire.
LEADER OF CHORUS Don’t pray. Prayers are wasted. Nothing can protect humans from disaster.
CREON Haul me off—a man who lost his mind. With no thought of it—I killed my son, I killed my wife. Any where I look for comfort death lies before me. I’ve ruined everything I’ve touched. The fate I chose to follow has destroyed me. I am nothing.
LEADER OF CHORUS Our happiness depends upon our wisdom. We must bend—Heaven will have its way. Prideful words lead always to destruction. Time teaches wisdom to the proud.
[adapted by Walter Evans]