The Death of Antigone
In Sophocles’ Antigone, Antigone saw her action of burying her brother as a just one. It may not have been just in the eyes of Creon and the people of Thebes, but she was not concerned with the laws that mortals had made. Antigone saw the divine laws of the gods to be much more important than those of mortals. She felt that if she died while upholding the laws of the gods, that her afterlife would be better than if she had not. Our lives on this earth are so short, that to see a good afterlife over the horizon will make people go against the laws of humans.
Early in the play, Antigone felt dying for her brother was a noble action. Death to her was not an ending, but a new beginning in a better place. Antigone’s family had been cursed for ages; death was something that followed at their heels. The people of Thebes would always look at her with suspicious eyes. Her father, Oedipus, had caused these looks to be placed on her family forever. Then her brothers killed one another on the same day; her life in Thebes was not good. With such a bad life in Thebes, an honorable death must have looked very appealing to Antigone.
In most societies, as well as Thebes, the afterlife is taught to be much more important than your mortal life. The problem is that we do not know what is waiting on the other side for us. Antigone thought that if she were to please the gods in her life that she could only expect good things in the afterlife. The burial of Polyneices was her ticket to a good afterlife. The afterlife is eternal, and life is just a small spec, compared to the time spent in death.
Antigone welcomed death at the time of burying her brother; she was not concerned with the consequences. She saw her actions as being true to the gods and religion. “I myself will bury him. It will be good to die, so doing. I shall lie by his side, loving him as he loved me; I shall be a criminal but – a religious one.” (Antigone, lines 81-85) To Antigone, the honor of her brother, and her family was all that was important. She may be going against Creon, but if her actions were true in her heart then the gods would see her in a good light.
Antigone felt her actions to be so just that she called upon her sister, Ismene, to tell Thebes of what she had done. “Oh, oh, no! Shout it out. I will hate you still worse for silence — should you not proclaim it to everyone” (Antigone, lines 98-100) She did not fear death one bit, she wanted the punishment of death for her actions. Death would make her name live forever; she would be a martyr.
After Antigone had been caught burying Polyneices, she still proclaimed the deed she had done. She would not let down, she had a death wish. Although her death would come by Creon’s hand, she simply wanted to die. “If I shall die before my time, I count that a profit. How can such as I, that live among such troubles, not find a profit in death.” (Antigone, lines 506-508) Her life was so horrible that she did not see any reason for continuing with the pains of life.
Even at this time, Antigone still stood fast next to her belief that the gods wanted all of the dead to be buried. It does not matter if the person was wicked in their mortal life; they still have the rights to a religious burial. She believed in this 100%, “The god of death demands these rights for both.” (Antigone, line 569) The god of death, Hades, is the one that she will please, by defying Creon’s orders not to bury her brother. If Hades is pleased by her actions in life, she has insured herself a good afterlife.
At the time of her sentence, Antigone lacked the strength she had shown earlier. She was still very proud of her actions, but she began to see what had been sacrificed. When the deed was originally done, the only consequence she could see was the loss of life. She failed to see the potential life had to offer until the bitter end. Antigone did not consider her husband to be, Haemon, but she did realize they could have had a life together. In this, time of remorse, she says, “My husband is to be the Lord of Death. (Antigone, line 877)
The defiant Antigone changed her view of death; she no longer welcomes it with open arms. She regrets not being able to have a family of her own. Some of her last words are of her wish to have a family and children. “unbedded, without bridal, without share in marriage and in nurturing of children; as lonely as you see me; without friends; with fate against me I go to the vault of death while still alive.” (Antigone, lines 974-978) She failed to see the potential life has to offer.
The lack of friends and family allowed her to have a death wish, but that went away once she looked death in the eyes. She simply had no friends and Ismene was the only family member still living. Antigone no longer accepted Ismene as her sister because she refused to help with the burial of Polyneices. In her end all is what she wanted was friends and family, it was hard watch her views on death change so quickly at the end.
The dishonor of her father had killed most of the family. Her punishment for honoring Polyneices in death would end their royal line. She wanted to bring a little bit of light to her families dark history. The choice to bury her brother was correct in the eyes of the gods, but the family line ended. They will always be remembered for the scars that Oedipus had put in their history.
The tarnished family history is also why Antigone fought her fate in the end, because she saw that that continuing the family line could have helped its reputation change. She showed the same nearsightedness that her father did; neither of them could see the consequences of their actions. This hubris that disguises itself as strength in them, is what killed their family. They were unwilling to see what the future truly held for them.
Antigone’s end was not as grand as she expected; Creon simply banished her to a cave to starve. She wanted something much more, a public execution, but there would be no onlookers at her death. “But my fate claims no tears – no friend cries for me.” (Antigone lines 933-944) In the cave she became anxious for death and she was once again accepting her fate. Her fate was to die, but she did not want to wait for starvation, instead she killed herself. The means by She wanted to join her family in the afterlife. Curse or no curse, Antigone still has a family waiting for her with Hades.