English Stage and Television Version by John Gassner
CHARACTERS: ANTIGONE Creon’s niece and the younger daughter of Oedipus
ISMENE her sister
CREON new king of Thebes
HAEMON Creon’s sole surviving son
TEIRESIAS the blind old prophet of Thebes
EURYDICE the queen, Creon’s wife and Haemon’s mother
Also: Chief Elder (the Chorus Leader); Chorus of Elders of Thebes; guards and attendants; messenger; boy who leads Teiresias; and attendants of the queen.
NOTE ON THIS VERSION: The matter enclosed in brackets was intended for television production by the Omnibus television program sponsored by The Ford Foundation in the 1950’s. It may assist the student in visualizing a possible stage production, but it cannot stand for a stage production in Sophocles’ own times except for the presence of a permanent building which represents Creon’s palace, a flight of front steps, and a circular area (the orchestra) facing the palace and serving the Chorus of the Elders of Thebes as a place for dancing and recitation. Entrances and exits are at the right and the left between the palace and the orchestra. In the television directions, the word “percussion” refers to drums, tympani, etc.; “theme up” means rising volume, and “theme under” signifies decreasing volume when the music or the percussion fades under the words of the characters or the chorus.
NARRATOR: The greatest of all legends about human fate is the ancient story of King Oedipus and his family. Oedipus, upon discovering that he had killed his father and married his mother unknowingly, was so overcome with horror that he blinded himself and exiled himself from his kingdom. His two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, succeeded him, with the understanding that they would alternate as kings of Thebes. When Eteocles refused to yield the crown to his brother, Polynices laid siege to Thebes with the help of an army from the neighboring kingdom of Argos. In the ensuing battle the two brothers slew each other in hand to hand combat. The army from Argos, however, was driven out by the Thebans and the crown passed on to Creon, uncle of the slain brothers and their sisters, Antigone and Ismene. Peace, one might have thought, had come at last to the long-suffering kingdom of Thebes. But, no! Fate, operating through the blind heart and will of man, was not yet satisfied. It continued to exact its toll of human suffering, as you shall see.
[Dissolve to a view of the city of Thebes in moonlight. Then move to a medium shot of the palace of Thebes, a columned edifice with three doors. Center door is the largest. A ramp of steps leads up to the palace, facing which is a semi-circular -- actually circular -- area, with an altar in the center. Entrances to the right and left between this area and the palace steps lead presumably to the gates of the city. Music up, then out.] [Antigone and Ismene come out of the palace, door left. Antigone, holding a small bronze vase, is in a state of great agitation.] ANTIGONE: Ismene, dearest sister, my only one, is there any grief, or any misery, inherited from our father that we have been spared? Sorrow and shame, distress and anguish -- all the evil that life can bring has befallen us; you have heard the news perhaps, the outrage Creon has committed against us. Have you heard?
ISMENE: I have heard nothing, Antigone, but that the enemy fled in the darkness; and nothing more I know than that two miserable sisters have lost two unfortunate brothers who died by each other’s hand.
ANTIGONE: I knew you hadn’t heard, and that is the reason I called you out here. Something must be done at once.
ISMENE: Some strange thing distresses you. What is it, Antigone?
ANTIGONE: What else but that a great disgrace befalls our family? Our brother Eteocles has been buried with due honor and with all customary rites. But Polynices, no less our brother, who died so miserably, lies, I hear, unburied in the field -- for the birds of prey to swoop down and feast upon him, a welcome carrion for them, unwept and unhonored: and this is what Creon, our kinsman, our virtuous Creon, decreed! And soon the entire city will hear of it; he is coming here to proclaim the edict to all who do not yet know it. No one shall bury Polynices or mourn for him upon pain of death by stoning before all the people. Creon dares give such orders! Now you know all -- and now is the time to show yourself the daughter of a noble line or a base, common-born woman.
ISMENE: Poor sister, how can I help you?
ANTIGONE: You must decide at once. Will you help me or not?
ISMENE: In what rash, what dangerous thing? What would you have me do?
ANTIGONE: Will you help me remove the dear dead one?
ISMENE: You would dare to do this when it is plainly forbidden?
ANTIGONE: I will not disgrace my birth! I shall do my part -- and yours, too, if necessary, by a brother, who is your brother, too.
ISMENE: Oh, overbold one -- when Creon forbids it?
ANTIGONE: Creon has no right to keep me from my own.
ISMENE: Oh, remember, sister, how our father perished? How he was loathed and scorned for what he himself so bravely brought to light? And how he ripped out his eyes with his own hands in his anguish! Remember, too, how our own mother died -- his mother and yet his wife! How she, poor woman, twisted out her life in a noose. And now, our two brothers having fallen in a single day, each shedding, each hapless one, the other’s blood. We alone are left. So think, Antigone, how we, weak women, shall perish if we disobey the law. I shall pray to the dead to forgive me; but, helpless as I am, I shall submit to him who has the power. It is senseless to meddle!
ANTIGONE: I will not urge you then. Remain what you choose to be: I would not let you help me now even if you changed your mind. But I will bury him, though I die for it: I shall have peace then, at last, lying by the side of him I loved, sinless in sinning. It is to the dead that my allegiance belongs, in their world I shall abide forever. [She starts to move toward the city’s walls.] And now I leave you since the gods’ eternal laws are nothing to you.
ISMENE: I, too, honor the gods, but I am a frail woman and I cannot defy the laws of the state.
ANTIGONE: Let that be your pretext, if you will. As for me, I am going to raise a mound, heaping the earth on a brother I love.
ISMENE: How I fear for you, Antigone!
ANTIGONE: Have no fear for me. Fend for yourself!
ISMENE: Oh, sister, sister, if you must, be sure to tell nobody; keep it hidden, and I shall keep it hidden too.
ANTIGONE: No, no, I shall hate you if you remain silent. Let everyone know, for from now on I intend to please no one alive! Think, too, what the king will do if you fail to tell him.
ISMENE: How that hot heart of yours makes my blood run cold!
ANTIGONE: I am doing what I must do, pleasing whom I most wish to please.
ISMENE: If only you could! But I know that you cannot. And you must know you propose more than you can do.
ANTIGONE: [resolutely] When I have done all I can, I shall do no more!
ISMENE: Impossible things should not be attempted at all.
ANTIGONE: No more! I shall come to hate you for your hateful words and the dead shall hate you, too. Now, leave me to what you think is my madness. I am not afraid, for if I die I shall not die dishonorably.
ISMENE: Go, then, on your way, but remember this: Wild as you are, all who love you must love you still.
[Antigone goes out right, and Ismene, wringing her hands, runs anxiously, fearfully, into the palace through door left, where the sisters’ quarters are presumably located.] [ Percussion music as one by one, or in small groups, the Elders of Thebes approach the palace and take their stand in front of it, a short distance from the lowest step, gradually forming a chorus. Day is breaking as they start to recite.] CHORUS OF ELDERS:
O Light of the rising sun,
Brightest beam that ever shone on Thebes of the Seven Gates;
How you have sped in the night the warrior king who with white shield
Came from Argos to destroy our land,
Stirred up by the Prince Polynices to support his claim.
He raged above the roofs of the city,
Encircling our wide portals with thirsty spears;
He sped before he could fill his jaw with the blood of our men;
So loud the din of battle
We raised against the foe as we smote him down!
Crashing to earth he fell
The man who, torch in hand, with madman’s haste
Swept over us with the blast of hate;
And Ares, the god of war, brought each foe his fate:
Each captain, matched by captain at one gate,
Yielded his armor to the god and fled --
All but the fated ones,
Who, from one father and one mother sprung, brother against brother,
Driving their spears to the desperate end gave to each other a common death.
But now that victory
Has come to Thebes the glorious land,
Let joy be great;
Let us go round in state
To the temples of our gods;
And may Dionysus lead us, whose dancing shakes the earth.
[Percussion out. A trumpet sounds. The center door opens. Creon, now King of Thebes and wearing the crown, comes out with attendants.] AN ELDER OF THE CHORUS: But here at last comes our new king, Creon, crowned by chance, the providence of God. We shall hear now why he has summoned us, the elders of our city at this hour.
[They range themselves in front of the lowest step, bowing lightly, as Creon descends one step to address them, flanked by attendants. He holds a scroll in his hand. An elderly reverent man, the Chief of the Elders, steps forth to greet him, then goes back to join the chorus and to act as its leader.] [Trumpet. Then drum-beat under.]
CREON: Elders of Thebes, I have summoned you here separately to establish at once with you, before the rest of Thebes, my right to the throne as next in the royal line now that the sons of Oedipus are dead. You were loyal to Oedipus when he ruled the land and then loyal to them when they became the rulers of Thebes, and I expect you now to be loyal to me now that I possess the throne and its power. I realize, of course, that no ruler can be known in mind and spirit until his judgment has been tested. But you will know my mind, since I have summoned you for this purpose. You will see me at once as a man who puts his country’s welfare above all the claims of friendship and kinship, for I set nothing above the state. I hold him most base who keeps his lips locked tight when the nation’s welfare is at stake; and I have only contempt for a man who puts his friend ahead of his country. Let Zeus be my witness, Zeus who sees everything, that I would never hesitate to speak out full and clear if I saw my people heading for disaster. Nor will I ever treat as friend my country’s foe, never forgetting that only while the ship of state prospers and keeps us safely afloat can we have true friends. It is in conformity with these principles, which secure the city’s welfare, that I have had Eteocles, who fell fighting for our city, buried with full honors as becomes a hero. But I have left the body of his miserable brother, traitorous Polynices, unburied where he fell outside the city’s gate. He sought to destroy his city and consume the altars of his fathers and their gods with fire. He sought to spill his kinsmen’s blood or else enslave his countrymen. I shall never reward evil with virtue’s due! And now having drawn up my decree, I have summoned you to hear it.
[Unrolling the scroll, he reads from it.]
“Whereas Polynices came to Thebes with fire and sword to claim the throne from his brother, who died fighting for our land; whereas Polynices waged war against Thebes, it is my will and command that no man shall touch his body or pray for him on pain of death. Unburied he shall lie, a shameful sight, for the birds and the dogs to have their fill of him.”
So you know the bent of my mind. As long as I rule, only the friend of the state, living or dead, shall receive any consideration.
CHIEF ELDER: That is your will, Creon, son of Menœceus, touching the city’s foe, and yours is the power to order things for the living as well as for the dead.
CREON: You are to heed this order, and see to it that there is no disobedience.
CHIEF ELDER: But would that the burden were placed on younger shoulders than ours! We are too old to carry out this task.
CREON: I do not require this of you that you should keep watch. I have posted sentries to watch the corpse.
CHIEF ELDER: Then what task do you require us to perform?
CREON: I require nothing more from you than this: That you refrain from giving support to those who violate my decree.
CHIEF ELDER: Who would dare? Only fools are in love with death.
CREON: And death is the penalty I have established for this crime. Yet bribery flourishes and the love of profit has lured many a man to his ruin.
[The Chorus is about to speak when a soldier, the Sentry, enters the scene from the right, troubled and hesitant, but trying to put on a bold face as far as possible.]
SENTRY: I would not say, my lord, that I have come breathless with speed; I will not say I came plying nimble feet, for I had many halting points of thought and I felt like turning back. My mind kept on saying to me, “You ox! Why must you go to your doom?” But then I reflected that if Creon gets the news from someone else, it will be worse for me. So, revolving all this in my mind, I came in haste -- but slow, and made a short road long. So here I am ready to speak out, though what I have to say doesn’t make any sense. After all, whatever happens, I said to myself, I can suffer only my fate.
CREON: Come, come! What is your trouble, man?
SENTRY: First, I want to say a word about myself: Let it be understood, my lord, I didn’t do it, and I didn’t see who did. It wouldn’t be right if I were punished for it.
CREON: You are very good at fencing -- or putting a fence around yourself. You must have something very curious to report. What is it?
SENTRY: A man bringing dreadful news, you know, has reason to hesitate.
CREON: You have hesitated enough -- out with it, man!
SENTRY: Well I suppose I must. The corpse, my lord -- someone gave it burial. Someone sprinkled it with dust, performing the proper rites for the dead, and -- disappeared.
CREON: What are you saying, soldier? What man dared? SENTRY: I don’t know. There was no stroke of axe in the dry ground, and the earth was not dug up. We found no chariot-wheel tracks in the dust, and he who did it went and left no sign. There was no sign whatever that human hands had done the deed. When the first day-watchman came to relieve us, it was he who showed us what had been done -- the dead entirely hidden under dust, as if someone had tried to avert the curse that lies on those who are left unburied. And the wonder of it is that no dog nor wild beast had been there to disturb the body. Words then flew fast, each man accusing the other, until we nearly came to blows. Every man was accused, though no one could be proved guilty; each man was willing to take a red-hot iron in his hand or walk through fire to prove his innocence. Then when we saw that nothing was to be gained by wrangling, someone spoke up sensibly, and his advice was to bring the news to you. So we threw the dice -- and I, I it was who won the precious prize. So here I am.
[Creon has been silent throughout this report -- cold and erect.]
CHIEF ELDER: My mind, our king, has long been whispering: Can the gods have done this thing by themselves?
CREON: Stop this nonsense, before I call you a ripened fool! This cannot be! Would the gods favor the corpse of a man who vowed to lay their temples low? You anger me! Would the gods favor a wretch who came, with a foreign army, to burn the land over which they watch and to flout their laws? But I have long had reason to suspect men of murmuring in secret, of wanting to lift their head against me, resenting my orders and my rule. I say there are foul conspirators afoot -- men who never yet learned to put their haughty neck beneath the yoke of law. I do not doubt that they have bribed the soldiers with the clink and color of gold. This base metal lays cities low. This drives men from their peaceful dwelling-places; money it is that warps the minds of even honorable men, and teaches them corruption. But they who yielded to their greed and allowed themselves to be bribed shall rue their villainy in time; they shall be found out!
[To the Sentry, coldly] Sentry, hear my solemn oath by Zeus before you go! Unless you find the man whose hand was in this plot and produce him before me here, you will come to consider death itself a mercy, for death shall not be enough for you. I shall keep you hanging half-alive until you confess who bribed you.
SENTRY: [quaking] May I speak? Or shall I turn at once and go without a word?
CREON: Even your voice offends me. Stop your babbling, fool, and go! SENTRY: I may be a babbler, my lord, but I am no traitor. I didn’t bury the corpse; I am not guilty.
CREON: Not guilty? You sold your soul for silver, miserable fellow, didn’t you? You pain me.
SENTRY: Not I, my lord; the doer of the deed does, but not I. It is a terrible thing, surely, when judges make errors in judgment and misjudge one.
CREON: [vehemently] Judgment or no judgment, play with your words as you will, you will get judgment aplenty unless you bring me the man who did it.
[Creon turns abruptly from the Elders and starts up the steps. The Chief Elder starts to follow him hesitantly, but returns to the chorus as Creon enters the palace through the center door.] SENTRY: [half to the Elders, half to himself] Bring the man? I’d like to know how I am to find him! Still, I didn’t think to come away alive; so having escaped beyond my hopes, I’ll just thank the gods for my safety -- and make myself scarce . . .
[The Sentry goes off right. The Elders, greatly troubled, however, merely move away a little from the palace steps and arrange themselves as a chorus facing the palace. Percussion up.] CHORUS OF ELDERS:
Many are the wonders of the world,
But nothing more wonderful than man!
Man is all-provided!
Against death alone is he unprovided,
But he has mastered even disease by his art.
Cunning is he beyond all measure of thought
With his intelligence and skill to plan
Now for evil, now for good.
And holding fast to the laws that rest upon the justice of God,
A city can proudly stand.
But there is no city for the man
Who lets his mind dwell with evil.
Never shall he, an outcast for his presumption,
Share my heart and my thoughts who becomes reckless.
[The Sentry appears from the right, leading Antigone who holds herself erect with pride and defiance. Creon, who had come out of the palace during the last part of the chorus, begins to descent the steps.] CHIEF ELDER: But what is this, what strange vision fills me with wonder? I know the maiden. Oh, doom from God, this is Antigone, unhappy daughter of an unhappy father.
[To Antigone] Surely it isn’t you who braved the king’s decree and are brought here for judgment?
SENTRY: We caught her burying the dead man again after we had uncovered the corpse. Where is the king?
CHIEF ELDER: There he comes from the palace door, arriving in time.
[Creon enters.] CREON: Why “in time”?
SENTRY: Men, my king, should bind themselves to nothing by oaths, for after the lashing you gave I swore that you wouldn’t see me here again for a long time. But a welcome surprise makes me break my vow -- and no casting of lots brings me to you this time for the prize is mine; I bring the maid. [pushing Antigone forward] Take her, my lord, and question her -- she is yours now, and I can depart well rid of it all.
[The Sentry starts to walk out, when Creon stops him imperiously as he regards Antigone with great anger.] CREON: But your prisoner is -- Come back here! Tell me how and where you found her.
SENTRY: In the act of burying the dead.
CREON: Are you telling the truth?
SENTRY: I saw her burying the corpse myself.
CREON: But how could this be?
SENTRY: After sweeping away the dust that had been heaped on the body, and laying bare the tainted corpse, we sat on a hill to windward shunning the infected air, and watched the cadaver from there. Every man was awake, and was keeping the next one awake, remembering your threats. So it was until the white sun stood straight above us, when suddenly a high wind leaped from earth, and a storm of dust, stripping the woods of their leaves, made us close our eyes. The storm lasted a long while. But when it passed at last, and we looked up, she was there looking at the corpse at her feet. With a cry shrill as a bird’s when it beholds the nest robbed of its young brood, there she stood calling down curses on those who had uncovered the body. Dust she had brought, and from a vase of bronze she sprinkled the sacred water over the dead. When we ran down and charged her with the deed she denied nothing, and this was a relief to me, though it made me uneasy, too. [Apologetically to the Elders, but as if to Antigone] To make trouble for anybody -- it’s not my way, but I like to protect my skin, I do.
CREON: [dismissing him, and turning to Antigone who has kept her head lowered during the Sentry’s report] You then, who bend your face to the ground, do you deny his words?
ANTIGONE: He speaks the truth; I deny nothing.
CREON: [to the Sentry] Dismissed! Be thankful you are clear of a heavy charge.
[The Sentry leaves quietly, with a troubled look sweeping Antigone and the Elders.] CREON: Tell me now, Antigone, did you know I had forbidden it?
ANTIGONE: I knew. [reproachfully] How could I not know when your edict was proclaimed everywhere?
CREON: You disobeyed the edict then. You dared?
ANTIGONE: I dared. The edict was not from the God who rules above; nor was it Justice, she who dwells with the gods who reign below, that ordained this. No law of yours, you being a mortal man, can supersede the never-changing unwritten laws of heaven! These are not of today or yesterday -- no man knows when first they came into being, but they are for all time. I would be a weakling to set them aside for fear of earthly judgment; and if I must die before my time for what I have done -- well, then, I die, and for one who has suffered as I have suffered, there is only gain in this, and no loss. [Creon smiles grimly at her.] Yes, I would have had reason to grieve only if I had left my mother’s son unburied, and if in doing what I did I seem foolish to you, perhaps -- perhaps the reason is no other than the judge who condemns me is himself a fool! CHIEF ELDER: Perverse and obstinate, headstrong child of a headstrong father, when will she learn to yield?
CREON: Know then, passionate fool, that hardest steel can be broken, and horses have been made tame with a bit in their wild teeth! [To the Elders] Guilty in transgressing my law, she is twice guilty now with her insolence; sister’s child though she be and so near in blood, I say she is the guilty man -- and I am no man at all, if I let her escape the full penalty of the law. [As the Elders react with horror] Yes, she -- and her sister -- shall not escape their doom. [As the Elders and Antigone are about to protest] I found the other one sniveling indoors and distraught; I have no doubt that she is guilty, too; though most I hate those who when trapped at last [looking at Antigone] try to brazen out their crime with reasons and call it a glorious deed.
[At a gesture from him attendants go into the palace for Ismene.] ANTIGONE: No man standing before you thinks otherwise, but their tongues are tied; there is nothing base in honoring our own blood.
CREON: Yes, if you honor the good.
ANTIGONE: The dead man was a brother no less than the other man!
CREON: Brother, indeed, a man bent on laying waste his land while the other defended it! And died its champion. An evil man shall not be accorded the same honors as a blameless man.
ANTIGONE: Which of us can say who is blameless and who is not? Polynices had an equal right to the throne he claimed. But if no other reasons move you, remember, Creon, that Hades, the lord of the dead, claims equal rights for all.
CREON: Not when the man dies an enemy of the state; then he becomes unholy.
ANTIGONE: Who knows what is holy or unholy below!
CREON: I know one thing, which you appear not to know: an enemy should be hated even in death.
ANTIGONE: But I was made for love, and not for hate.
CREON: Go then, and love below, in the world of the dead. While I live, I shall not take my law from any woman.
[Ismene comes out of the palace door at the right, guarded by Creon’s attendants. She rushes down the steps, tearfully.] CHIEF ELDER: [to the other Elders, but intending his words for Creon] Those are a sister’s tears; and that is guiltless, gentle sorrow dropping down like rain.
CREON: [turning fiercely on Ismene] You, too, there, creeping like a viper in my house, secretly draining me of my blood, scheming with the other one to thrust me from my throne! Come, now, answer me: Will you wail out your innocence, or will you confess your guilty part in this?
ISMENE: [impulsively, looking desperately at Antigone] Yes, I have done the deed -- that is, if she will let me have my share of suffering.
ANTIGONE: No! Justice will not suffer this. I would not give you a share in my glory now. The deed was mine alone!
ISMENE: Don’t reject me, sister. Let me die with you.
ANTIGONE: I want no friends in words. You had no hand in it; so let my death alone be enough.
ISMENE: And what life will I have here alone; what will life be worth without you, Antigone?
ANTIGONE: Ask Creon! You have no ears for anyone else!
ISMENE: You are laughing at me, sister. Does my grief give you such pleasure?
ANTIGONE: There is no pleasure in my laughter.
ISMENE: Let me help you.
ANTIGONE: No. Save yourself. I don’t begrudge you your life.
ISMENE: But I want to share your fate.
ANTIGONE: A little while ago you chose to live: Live, then, Ismene.
ISMENE: Antigone! Oh, sister, remember I warned you.
ANTIGONE: Yes, I know, and your wisdom is approved in this world; mine will be approved in the other. My life I gave up long ago.
[Creon has been listening to them mockingly. It is evident that he has never had a high opinion of Ismene, the weaker sister.] Creon: [to the Elders] Of these two girls, the one [pointing to Antigone] is only recently gone mad; the other [he looks at Ismene] has been foolish ever since her life began.
ISMENE: O Creon, the miserable are always foolish --
CREON: You certainly are to want to join the guilty.
ISMENE: But how shall I go on living when she is not here?
CREON: That is simple: She is no longer here.
ISMENE: But how can you kill Antigone when she is betrothed to your son?
CREON: Death will annul the betrothal. [brutally] There will be other fields for him to plow.
ISMENE: He will never espouse anyone so dear to him.
CREON: I don’t want a wild slut like your sister for Haemon!
ISMENE: O dear Haemon, how your father wrongs you!
CREON: Enough of your love and marriage prattle. You bore me.
CHIEF ELDER: You are determined, then, to deprive your son of his bride?
CREON: [grimly]I won’t! But death will!
CHIEF ELDER: [troubled] So she must die?
CREON: I am determined that she shall. [to his attendants] Take them inside; they are women and are not to roam about, either of them, like men. [looking at Antigone] And guard that one well. Even bold natures take to their heels when they see death closing in on them.
[Antigone and Ismene are taken to their quarters in the palace, while Creon starts pacing about angrily on the lowest step. Meanwhile, the Elders have moved away a little from their previous positions; and, much troubled, they talk among themselves. Their lines merge into another choral recitation. Percussion up, then under.] CHORUS OF ELDERS:
Blessed are they who have never known the taste of suffering,
But once a house has been shaken by the wrath of heaven,
The curse never fails, passing from life to life.
Doom swirls from generation to generation
We have seen the gathering evils of this royal house
Whirl on and bring grief upon grief
From age to age, father to son without end;
Surely some god smites them down.
And now the last green sprig of the race of Oedipus is brought low.
A sprinkle of blood-stained dust due to the gods of the underworld
And a seizure of frenzy at the heart have cut it down.
A knowing man was he who spoke in years gone by
That evil things seem ever good to those whom fate draws to their destruction:
Short is the hour free from grief.
[Percussion out. Then Haemon, who has quietly entered from the right side of the stage, starts moving slowly toward his father.] CHIEF ELDER: Here comes Haemon, the last of your sons, Creon, brought here by grief for his bride, or is it anger that brings him?
CREON: We shall know soon enough without having to consult any diviners.
[Moving somewhat less confidently to Haemon] Son, I know why you have come out; you have been told about the judgment on Antigone. You have not come here in a rage against your father, surely! We are still the good friends we have always been, whatever I did?
HAEMON: I am your son, father, as ever. Your wisdom at the helm of state means more to me than any marriage.
CREON: Spoken like a true son! Fix your heart on nothing but this -- obey your father and all will be well. This is what all men pray for: to see dutiful sons growing to manhood in their houses. Whoever breeds undutiful sons breeds trouble and delights his enemies.
[To Haemon] Do not lose your reason, my son, over an unprofitable woman for the sake of a little pleasure; know that the pleasures of marriage soon grow stale, and cold are the embraces of a wife when she proves worthless. Since I caught the girl disobeying me, the only one in the entire city, and she defied me in front of all the people, I had no choice. I would have made myself out a liar if I had let her go. She must die! Let her appeal as much as she wants to the ties of kinship, she must pay the penalty.
[As Haemon remains silent, Creon becomes agitated.] Haemon, a city needs the rule of a man, and no man rules the state if he doesn’t rule his household. No one may dictate to the ruler or overrule him. Disobedience ruins cities; disobedience makes desolate the homes of men; disobedience in little things and great breaks the ranks of armies. It is better, in truth, to have death than disorder.
[As Haemon starts to speak] Remember, my son, the will of a mere woman must never sway us; I would rather resign from the throne than let a woman defeat me.
HAEMON: The gods, my father, have bestowed reason upon man; and no greater gift has been given to us. Far be it from me to say to you that you are not always in the right; I could never bring myself to reprove you. Yet, father, the reason that has been implanted in all men requires us to heed other men’s thoughts as well as our own; and I, who have made it my business to hear words men withhold from you out of fear, I have heard whisperings in the city that in this you are not right. “No woman,” men say, “ever deserved this judgment less, none was treated more shamefully for a nobler deed.” It is your welfare and your good name that concern me most. No, father, these are not trivial murmurings, but words to be weighed.
CREON: [his anger rising] The words of common people, little better than slaves?
HAEMON: [eagerly] Father, we must never think that only our words are wise. Look how the trees must yield their leaves to the winter leaf by leaf; look how the sailor must slacken his sheets of sail to keep his ship afloat. Father, relent to the reason of others; forget your anger and forgive.
CHIEF ELDER: The lad has spoken well and, you, my king, have also spoken well. So each of you can learn from the other.
CREON: [exploding] Shall a man of our years learn wisdom from a boy?
HAEMON: [pleading] Consider only my words, father, not my years.
CREON: Tell me this: Is it intelligent to sanction lawlessness?
HAEMON: I do not plead for the lawless.
CREON: Who dares say it is not lawless to do what she did?
HAEMON: All the people, father!
CREON: [raging] Shall the Thebans prescribe to me?
HAEMON: Father, there is no state where one man’s will is supreme.
CREON: Is not the state his who governs it?
HAEMON: A state for one man is no state. What you want is to govern alone, and that is to rule only in a desert.
CREON: [to the Elders] So I am not to be allowed to punish traitors! I see I have given life to a weakling, who is a slave to a woman; that boy of mine has become a woman’s champion.
HAEMON: Only, father, if you are a woman, because I am concerned for you alone.
CREON: An excellent concern! -- to wrangle with one’s father!
HAEMON: Only when I find him offending against justice and doing wrong.
CREON: So I do wrong when I respect my rights? I would not make a liar of myself, I had to choice but to carry out my decree! Whatever you say, you will never marry her in this world.
HAEMON: Then she shall die -- and in dying cause another to die.
CREON: [misunderstanding] So, you’ve come at last to this and dare threaten your father!
HAEMON: [puzzled] How have I threatened you in calling your decision unwise?
CREON: You woman’s bondsman, you dare answer me again?
HAEMON: Would you speak and expect no answer?
CREON: [furiously] So you taunt me, too. This passes all bounds, and you shall smart for it at once.
[Shouting to the attendants] Bring out the loathsome girl and let her be slain immediately -- in his presence. HAEMON: Never think of it! And never shall you see my face again.
[Haemon runs out] CHIEF ELDER: [worried, while the other Elders murmur among themselves, distressed] The boy has run out in a rage. A young mind, Creon, is dangerous when it is goaded.
CREON: [beside himself, yet a little uncertain ] Let him run! Where he will, do or dream to do what no man can do; he shall not save these two girls from their doom.
CHIEF ELDER: Will you have both slain?
CREON: [reconsidering] No, of course; you do well to remind me. Only the one who performed the burial shall die.
[As Antigone, her hands tied, is led out of the palace through the side door, he starts to go up to the center palace door.] CHIEF ELDER: And what death have you decreed for her?
CREON: [He hasn’t thought of this and is taken aback by the directness of the question. Perhaps he has gone too far! He hesitates and begins to back down a little, but not without trying to bluster his way out.] There is the open rock by the old abandoned road, where it is loneliest. Let her be taken there, and let the cave be walled up there in the rocky vault. I have no wish to make the mistake of tainting the city with her blood, but still living she shall be buried there. Then let the unseen powers of the underworld, whom she has loved so well, take her in charge. Let her pray to them to release her; let her learn, though she learns too late, how vain it is; that it is lost labor to revere the dead.
[Creon goes up the steps into the palace without looking at the Elders, as Antigone, her hands bound, comes out of the door right. Seeing her, he makes a sign to the attendants to unbind her hands -- and enters the palace. As the Elders gather together to form the chorus, we see Antigone’s hands being unbound, and Ismene runs out distractedly to her, but she is dragged back by attendants. Percussion up, then under.] CHORUS OF ELDERS:
O love, invincible,
Not even the undying gods can escape you,
Nor can any mortal man whose life is but for a day!
Your beauty drives him to distraction.
You turn astray the souls of just men to their eternal ruin;
And here in our city you have brought strife between father and son,
And victory belongs only to the love-light in the eyes of a bride.
Immortal Aphrodite, once more
You have worked your invincible will.
[Percussion out. By now Antigone has been brought down and is passing the Elders, who range themselves in two files for her to pass through.] CHIEF ELDER: And now I, myself, am brought beyond the bounds of strict loyalty; for I cannot hold back my tears as I see before me Antigone, the young bride, hurried to the bridechamber where all must lie.
ANTIGONE: Yes, look upon me, men of my fatherland, as I leave the sunlight, never to look upon it again. Hades leads me, death who welcomes all to his black shore, an unwed wife for whom no bridal song shall ever be sung; no dawn for me will shine again as I go my way.
CHORUS: But honor is yours, girl of the noble heart! You depart with glory to the place of the dead, not smitten by the sickness that decays, untouched by the edge of the sword, of your own free will, alone among mortals, you go down to the world below forever young.
ANTIGONE: You only mock me when you praise. In the name of our fathers, do not taunt me to my face. Bear witness how unwept of friends and by what cruel laws condemned I pass on to my rock-closed prison with no home on earth or in the shades below, no home either among the living or the dead.
CHORUS: If only you had been less bold, unfortunate daughter of a fated race. Not for yourself alone you suffer -- like your father, you dared too much, and your father’s guilt has undone you.
ANTIGONE: My father’s guilt! You have come to that at last, my bitterest thought, reawakening my grief for my father and the doom of our great house, for the bridal horror of mother and son, the infection of the marriage. From what parents did I draw my miserable life? O Oedipus, my father, from the grave have you smitten me down? And, brother, my unfortunate brother, it is certain your dying has brought me to death.
[Creon has come out of the center door of the palace glowering. Some of the Elders see him and move guiltily away from Antigone.] CHIEF ELDER: Your headstrong will has brought you to this pass. Reverence for the dead is due reverence, but laws enforced with power cannot be safely defied. You have chosen your doom with your rashness.
ANTIGONE: Unwept, then, and friendless I must journey on this road that lies open for my fate! No longer shall I behold the daystar’s sacred light, no tear shed, no moan of a friend for me!
CREON: [coming down the steps] Enough! Take her away. If all who are condemned to death were given time to wail at their will, their lamentations would keep them alive forever. Block up the vault and leave her there alone -- let her live there as long as she wants or let her die there. Our hands shall be clean, not having shed her blood. I want only this, that she shall not share the light of day with us.
[He makes a gesture, as if saying “Is this an unreasonable thing to wish?” and with a sign from him Antigone is led away.]
ANTIGONE: I go to find my own in death! My unhappy father will bid me welcome; my miserable mother, too; and you, my wounded brother Polynices, whom I tended in his death. None of you will blame me, I know; for I transgressed no law of God. If I have done wrong, I shall come to know my sin there from the gods themselves; [looking hard at Creon, who averts his face from her] but if the guilt is his who judges me here, I say, may he suffer for it there in equal measure!
CHIEF ELDER: [shaking his head] Still the same tempestuous heart, driven by the same contentious winds!
CREON: The guards who let her tarry here so long shall be punished for the delay.
ANTIGONE: Ah! That man’s voice sends me to my death.
CREON: [sarcastically] I would not deceive you by letting you think otherwise!
ANTIGONE: I go, the last of the noble line that gave you kings, men of Thebes! Remember what I suffer -- and at whose hands! -- because I would not disregard the laws of God! [exits] [Suddenly, as they turn around, they are thunderstruck, and Creon himself is visibly startled. For suddenly a majestic figure appears, wearing a prophet’s robes and an ancient, priestly mask. There stands Teiresias among them, his left hand holding a boy, a novice of the priesthood, by the hand -- that is, the boy who leads him, for Teiresias is not only very old, but blind. Apparently, nobody was prepared for his coming. It is as if he had come out of the earth mysteriously. He must have approached them soundlessly, walking on light feet. And, indeed, there is something unreal and eerie about him. He raises his right hand.] TEIRESIAS: [to the Elders] Princes of Thebes, we have come with linked steps, this boy and I, having only one pair of eyes between us; a blind man can move only with a guide’s help.
CREON: What is the meaning of all this?
TEIRESIAS: I will tell you, Creon, and see to it that you heed my words.
CREON: It was never my custom to slight your counsel before, Teiresias.
TEIRESIAS: You steered the city’s course well then, and you prospered when you did!
CREON: I can attest to the benefits, and gladly acknowledge my debt.
TEIRESIAS: In that case listen to me now. You stand once more on the fine razor edge of fate.
CREON: What is it? Your words fill me with dread.
TEIRESIAS: Hear my warning then! Sitting as of old on the throne of prophecy by the ancient shrine where birds are wont to gather about me, a noise of doom came to me, Creon, birds were screaming at the altar, and fearful was their shrieking passion; then my ears, that serve me for eyes in my blindness, then my ears accustomed to know the whir of wings, told me they were tearing each other’s flesh with murderous talons. I then made a trial of sacrifice at the altar, but the fire of God would not light; a sorry trickle oozed down from the sacrificial flesh, and the embers smoked and sputtered -- then I knew everything!
CREON: What riddle are you spinning out for me, Teiresias?
TEIRESIAS: [sternly] No riddle at all, Creon: the city’s altars are polluted, dogs and unclean birds have tainted them with carrion from the miserable corpse of the son of Oedipus. The gods reject our prayer now that bird and beast have tasted human flesh at the walls!
CREON: What is your drift? [He regards Teiresias narrowly.] TEIRESIAS: It is you have done this and brought evil upon Thebes with your folly; for what glory, rather than folly, is there in slaying the slain?
[Creon makes an angry gesture.] Think on this, my son! To err is the common lot of men, but having once erred, he is not blest who stands obstinate. Yield to the dead, Creon! Commit no outrage against a corpse; I speak only for your own good, and such counsel should be welcomed, not scorned or resented.
CREON: It seems I have been the target of every man’s arrow. Soothsayers have been bribed to deter me from my purpose -- prophets have made merchandise of me all my life. I tell you, old man, you may aim all your shafts at me, you may get all the gold of India and fill your house with every sort of gifts, yet that corpse shall have no grave, though eagles themselves take up the traitorous flesh morsel by morsel to the throne of heaven. Teiresias, it is a shameful thing when so old a man as you barters his wisdom in the market place!
TEIRESIAS: [desperately] Does no man know -- no man understand?
CREON: [sarcastically] What, Teiresias? Quick; read me your little lecture.
TEIRESIAS: I have nothing to say that you did not learn from me before, that a word in season is worth all of a man’s wealth --
CREON: [jeering] Tell me how high you set your fee! The tribe of prophets has always loved gold.
TEIRESIAS: And kings have always loved power.
CREON: Do not forget yourself, Teiresias; you are speaking of your king!
TEIRESIAS: I have good reason to know it, since it was I who made you king.
CREON: I admit you have some skill as a seer, but you are inclined to be dishonest.
TEIRESIAS: Stirred as I am, I shall speak words I have left unspoken --
CREON: By all means! But don’t expect to be paid for them.
TEIRESIAS: In this alone you are right: Creon, you will not want to pay me for these words, but listen well. The sun will not have driven his chariot far before -- corpse for corpse -- you have given something of your own flesh to death. The Furies of Hades are awakened, the dread avengers, because you have thrust children of the sun into darkness, lodging the living in the grave, while, in denying burial to a corpse, you have kept a soul in the world that belongs to the dark gods below! Here then a prophecy unpaid by any man. Yet a little while, a very little while, and a wail of men and women shall fill the house of Creon. Yet a little while, and the angry cities of men shall look with loathing on the one who gives human limbs to dogs and beasts. These are arrows for your heart, proud man, and they will reach their mark without fail. [To the boy] Now lead me away, my boy, that he may vent his scorn on younger men or learn to keep a better tongue in a clearer head. [He leaves ] [The Elders have covered their faces with their hands at the dreadful prophecy, and Creon himself has been visibly affected. He stands like a dazed man, saying nothing. He seems unaware of the departure of Teiresias, who has slowly gone toward the exit at the left, watched by the Elders until he is enveloped in a mist and disappears. There is a pause. The Chief Elder moves forward from the Chorus.] CHIEF ELDER: The man has gone, my king, leaving behind dire prophecies. I have never known him to be mistaken.
CREON: [reluctantly] Nor I; it is this that troubles me. The choice is hard. To submit is bitter, but not to give in may be dangerous.
CHIEF ELDER: Creon --
CREON: What would you like me to do?
CHIEF ELDER: Free the girl from her tomb -- and give the unburied man a grave.
CREON: So you want me to yield -- renounce my intention --
CHIEF ELDER: [impulsively] Yes, Creon -- yes! And with all speed, for the vengeance of God is swift-footed . . .
CREON: It is hard to give in; but I cannot fight with destiny.
CHIEF ELDER: And do not leave this to others; you must go yourself.
CREON: You are right. I must undo the evil myself. My heart misgives me, and I realize now that the gods’ laws must be heeded by man to the very end of his days. [To attendants] Quickly now, take axes to open the tomb; but since mine was the judgment, I will release her myself.
[He places himself at the head of his followers. Creon, attendants, servants, rush out in disorder. And as they leave, Eurydice, the queen, a subdued but intense and evidently long-suffering woman, comes out of the center door with great anxiety. Unaccompanied. She watches the departure, glances hesitantly at the Elders who have moved away from the steps of the palace Eurydice, showing concern, goes into the palace -- into the door at the left, which we presume led to Antigone’s and Ismene’s apartment -- as if she were concerned.Eurydice comes out with Ismene. And the Chief Elder, noticing them, detaches himself from the Elders and moves toward them, mounting the steps.] [Suddenly, however, a nearly breathless messenger, one of the attendants who followed Creon, runs in from the right, and seeing only the Chief Elder runs up to him, falling down on his knees. The second chorus sees him, becomes silent, and moves closer -- hopefully. The first chorus continues, very low, noticing nothing at first.]
MESSENGER: [breathlessly] House of the king, what news I bring! How inexorable is fate to mortal man! Creon was blest once, a savior of this land who was given dominion, but fortune raises up and fortune casts down. Now he has lost everything, and man bereft of all joy is no more than a breathing corpse -- let him heap up riches in his house, and let him live royally, if he has no happiness I would not give the shadow of a vapor for everything he possess.
[Eurydice mounts down a step, with Ismene and other women following her.] CHIEF ELDER: What is this fresh affliction that has come upon us?
MESSENGER: Death! Both are dead, and a man still living bears the guilt.
[By now the first chorus has risen from its prayers and moved closer to the Messenger.] Haemon the prince is dead, and his blood shed by no stranger.
CHIEF ELDER: Who, then, is the slayer? Surely not his father!
MESSENGER: By his own hand, in anger with his father is Haemon slain.
CHIEF ELDER: O prophet Teiresias, how are your words proved true! -- But here comes the queen -- by chance, or has she heard everything?
[Eurydice approaches the Messenger] EURYDICE: [to the Messenger] I heard mention of fearful news, whereupon I fell into my handmaids’ arms as one bereft of sense. Give your news again; I shall listen calmly -- grief and I have not been strangers.
MESSENGER: I shall report what I saw, and not conceal what will be revealed soon enough. First we stopped outside the wall to give Polynices’ corpse a proper burial. But we found the body so cruelly mangled by dogs that we washed the little that remained, pouring sanctified water and praying for forgiveness to Hades and to the dread goddess of the crossroads, and we burned the remains on freshly-cut branches. Then above his ashes we raised a high mound in his memory, heaping the earth of his mother-land over him. Then, delaying no longer, we hastened to the doomed maiden’s nuptial chamber in the rock. But soon from far off one could hear a man’s loud voice lamenting and we ran to tell the king, and Creon, coming nearer, raised his voice in anguish, calling out, “I have a foreboding that this is the hardest road I have yet to traverse, for I hear my son’s voice. Run quickly to the tomb, my men, where the stones have been wrenched away, leaving a gap, then look through the crevice and tell me if it is Haemon you see there -- or are the gods deceiving me?” His despair speeding us on, we soon arrived at the cave, and looking through the crevice, we caught a glimpse of the girl lying strangled in a noose she had made of her fine linen.
[At this moment Ismene crumples in a heap on the stones of the steps.] There also, beside her, we saw Haemon, his arms around her waist, lamenting the loss of his bride and cursing his father’s crime. Creon went in to him, then, calling to him, “What is it, my son, that is unhinging your mind?” Come forth my child -- I implore you to come out.” But the youth, fiercely glaring at this father beside him; and drawing his sword, he thrust it at Creon. But missing his aim, and in anger at himself, Haemon leans with all his weight against the blade and drives the sword into his own breast. He falls and gathering the maid in his arms feebly, his blood staining her white cheek, he gasps out his life. Dead is the bridegroom with his bride, corpse grasping corpse, keeping his nuptials in the house of death, a witness that of all the misfortunes afflicting men, nothing is so dire, nothing so evil, as unwisdom.
[Saying nothing, Eurydice goes up the steps blindly, watched by the stunned Elders as she enters the palace.] CHIEF ELDER: What are we to make of this? The queen has left us without a word.
MESSENGER: I, too, am troubled by her silence -- but she may have deemed it more seemly to grieve in private.
CHIEF ELDER: Yet a grief so quiet portends no less a danger than excessive grief.
MESSENGER: We must see whether she has not hidden some purpose in her troubled heart. Silence so unnatural is too desperate!
[He goes into the palace.] CHIEF ELDER: See the king himself approaching -- bringing with him, if I dare say it, no stranger’s evil, but his own.
[And now Creon enters with heavy steps, followed by his attendants, bearing the body of Haemon. At this the Elders move toward him, and the Chief Elder comes down the steps from the palace, making a gesture of compassion toward Creon. Creon steps away from the outstretched arm.]
CREON: There is nothing so blind as the unseeing heart, and my wretched blindness has undone me. You behold a father who killed his son, and a son who perished young, not by his own, but by his father’s folly.
CHIEF ELDER: Would that wisdom had not come so late, alas!
CREON: O, I have learned a bitter lesson! Yet I think some god not to be resisted by man hurled me down the paths of cruelty on which I trampled out the life I held most dear.
[A sound of lamentation comes from the palace. Then the great central door opens, flung open by the Messenger.] MESSENGER: [speaking hesitantly, before the body of Eurydice is revealed] You have brought a heavy burden with you, my king, but another awaits you within.
CREON: What worse misfortune follows my misfortune?
MESSENGER: Your wife, the mother of the corpse you bring freshly stricken, is dead.
CREON: O god of the underworld, whom nothing appeases, have you no mercy for me! [To Messenger] And bearer of such bitter news, what words are you speaking? I was already a dead man before you smote me anew. My wife dead? -- death heaped upon death?
[Attendants have brought Eurydice and placed her body on the top step of the stairs fronting the palace.] MESSENGER: You may see for yourself; it is no longer hidden.
CREON: But lately I held my son in my arms, and now another corpse -- his unhappy mother -- O wife! O son!
MESSENGER: I found her at her altar, crying out that her son, the last of her womb, was gone; then calling you a slayer of sons, she took the knife from the altar and struck at her heart.
CREON: [bowing his head] Would that someone had struck at mine! Is there no one to thrust a sword into my bosom? My guilt is great and it weighs on no one but myself. Wretched that I am, I was the slayer, not she who slew herself -- it was I alone! [To his attendants] Away -- lead me away with all speed; my life is nothing but a death!
CHIEF ELDER: You do well to depart, my master -- if anything can be well in so much misfortune. To be brief when trouble comes our way is the best course.
CREON: Let it come, let it; the best fate for me would be death. May I never look upon the light of another day.
CHIEF ELDER: Death will come when it will, and the future rest where it must. Meanwhile there is much to be done.
CREON: This is true, but all my desire was in that prayer; I do not wish to live.
CHIEF ELDER: In vain your prayer! -- mortals are not spared their destined pain.
CREON: Then lead me away at least, a rash and foolish man [looking down at his son’s body and then toward his wife’s above] who slew you, my son, and you, too, my wife. Where to turn, where to find support, I wish I knew. Everything has gone amiss with me, everything I had in hand has come to nothing -- a heavy fate has crushed me to earth!
[Creon is led up the stairs, followed by attendants who bear the body of Haemon inside. Then another bier is brought in by other attendants who have been in the background throughout this scene. It is the body of Antigone. And Ismene, who has recovered during the previous action and has remained behind, realizes it is her sister. She throws herself at the bier, calling out, “Antigone!”, and follows the body as it, too, is brought into the palace -- through the center door, the attendants taking their cue from the Chief Elder, who bows and points to the center door; as if to indicate she should be placed near Haemon, her lover. Whereupon -- as the door closes on Antigone -- the Elders, forming the Chorus, speak with one voice -- simply and without accompaniment.] CHORUS:
Nothing secures happiness so much as wisdom,
And in matters touching God it is best to be reverent!
Great pride in man is punished with great blows,
And after many years, in old age,
Chastening sorrows teach us at last to be wise.
The End NOTE: The reader should note that the stage directions in brackets are solely for a television production. The original has no reference to Antigone in this scene.