In the fourth scene of Sophocles’s ‘Antigone,’ Antigone moves closer to the tomb where she will die. She reflects on the curses of her life and the sadness she confronts in dying alone.
A Plea for Compassion
Antigone has been sentenced to death for trying to bury her brother Polyneices.
This punishment – demanded by her uncle Creon, the king of Thebes – is now making the leader of the Chorus cry as he watches her approach the stone tomb where she will be walled in alive. While she walks to the tomb, Antigone asks for the compassion of her friends, both for her approaching death and for never having the chance to marry her fianc;, Haimon, who is also Creon’s son.The Chorus responds by saying that she will receive her share of esteem and admiration. Antigone is, after all, a woman who has dared to defy a king. But courage is not on her mind now. Instead, Antigone is thinking of the great sadness that she now feels that will continue to deepen as she waits for death, without anyone by her side.
Her fate reminds Antigone of Niobe, whose unending tears flowed even after she was turned to stone for bragging about her children. Unlike the immortal Niobe, though, Antigone is, as the Chorus reminds her, mortal.
The Chorus’s words upset Antigone, who protests she shouldn’t be belittled before she dies. The Chorus responds by noting that the ‘guilt’ of her father, Oedipus, has influenced Antigone’s fate. Not only did Oedipus kill his father, but he also had an incestuous relationship with his mother Jocasta – resulting in the birth of Antigone, her sister Ismene, and their brothers Eteocles and Polyneices. Thinking of her family and of her fiancé Haimon, Antigone cries:”O Oedipus, father and brother!Your marriage strikes from the grave to murder mine. ”Punishment for the incestuous union between her father and mother – who is also Antigone’s grandmother – has now fallen on Antigone: she is certain her family’s deeds have damned her.
The Chorus, however, reminds Antigone that her actions were her own doing and that laws must be obeyed.
To the Tomb
Finding the Chorus’s words unpleasant, Antigone says that she wants to be taken away because the sun oddly has begun to chill her and the eternal quiet of her tomb is all she longs for now. Creon, provoked by Antigone’s words, interjects that if people’s mournful speeches could delay death, no one would ever die. He then demands that guards take her at once to her tomb, and adds that whether she lives or dies within the tomb’s walls is not their concern. They are not, Creon explains, to blame.”O tomb, vaulted bride-bed in eternal rock,” Antigone says. Then, comforting herself, she recalls that in the underworld, she will soon see her parents and Polyneices – the brother she has been intent on burying.
Antigone knows that she has honored Polyneices and is guilty of nothing. She adds that if Creon should be judged guilty of her death, he should meet the same fate. Then Antigone implores the people of Thebes to remember how intense her pain has been and who has made her suffer so.
A Dragon’s Curse
Of the many themes found in Sophocles’s Antigone, one that figures prominently is the idea that Antigone is being punished for the sins of her father, Oedipus, as much as for her own actions. In the fourth scene of the play, we find both the Chorus and Antigone referring to the stigma of Oedipus’s behavior that has shaped his daughter’s fate.Oedipus killed his father Laius; he then married his mother Jocasta. As we have learned in the play, Oedipus was unaware that Laius and Jocasta were his parents because Oedipus had been abandoned on top of a mountain while an infant.
Still, the gods believed that Oedipus was guilty both of homicide and incest. Being born of a woman who was both mother and grandmother, Oedipus’s children had always been stigmatized.Although Oedipus and his mother’s behavior shocked Thebes, their actions were not nearly as scandalous as others committed by their ancestors. Known as the House of Thebes, Oedipus’s family had been responsible for any number of atrocious acts.
One ancestor named Agave, for example, tore the body of her son Pentheus into pieces when he found her at an orgy. Agave then placed her son’s severed head on a pole, before walking back to Thebes, the city where Pentheus had been king. The grandfather of Pentheus and the father of Agave had been Cadmus, who killed a dragon that lived in a spring at Thebes.
The dragon’s death caused Cadmus and his descendants to be cursed, bringing tragedy to many in his line, ending with Antigone.
In the fourth scene of Sophocles’s Antigone, we find Antigone on the way to the tomb where she will be shut in alive for attempting to bury her brother. Antigone speaks of her immense sadness. She will never have the chance to marry her fiancé Haimon; she must face death alone – a fate, she believes, is a punishment for her father’s actions. Her whole family has lived for generations with a curse in their lineage from their founder’s slaying of a dragon.
Although this family tragedy is mentioned by the Chorus as a cause for Antigone’s punishment, the Chorus ultimately blames Antigone for bringing about her punishment. Tired of so much discussion about Antigone, Creon orders the guards to take her quickly to the tomb – where she is now ready to be walled in and meet her fate.