Of Antigone by Alfred
When the two brothers, the
sons of King dipus, had fallen each by the hand of the
other, the kingdom fell to Creon their uncle. For not
only was he the next of kin to the dead, but also the
people held him in great honour because his son Menceus
had offered himself with a willing heart that he might
deliver his city from captivity. Now when Creon was come
to the throne, he made a proclamation about the two
Princes, commanding that they should bury Eteocles with
all honour, seeing that he died as beseemed a good man
and a brave, doing battle for his country, that it
should not be delivered into the hands of the enemy; but
as for Polynices he bade them leave his body to be
devoured by the fowls of the air and the beasts of the
field, because he had joined himself to the enemy, and
would have beaten down the walls of the city, and burned
the temples of the Gods with fire, and led the people
captive. Also he commanded that if any man should break
this decree he should suffer death by stoning.
Now Antigone, who was
sister to the two Princes, heard that the decree had
gone forth, and chancing to meet her sister Ismené
before the gates of the palace, spake to her, saying, "O
my sister, hast thou heard this decree that the King
hath put forth concerning our brethren that are dead?"
Then Ismené made answer,
"I have heard nothing, my sister, only that we are
bereaved of both of our brethren in one day, and that
the army of the Argives is departed in this night that
is now past. So much I know, but no more."
"Hearken then. King Creon
hath made a proclamation that they shall bury Eteocles
with all honour; but that Polynices shall lie unburied,
that the birds of the air and the beasts of the field
may devour him; and that whosoever shall break this
decree shall suffer death by stoning."
"But if it be so, my
sister, how can we avail to change it?"
"Think whether or no thou
wilt share with me the doing of this deed."
"What deed? What meanest
"To pay due honour to this
"What? Wilt thou bury him
when the King hath forbidden it?"
"Yea, for he is my brother
and also thine, though, perchance, thou wouldst not have
it so. And I will not play him false."
"O my sister, wilt thou do
this when Creon hath forbidden it?"
"Why should he stand
between me and mine?"
"But think now what
sorrows are come upon our house. For our father perished
miserably, having first put out his own eyes; and our
mother hanged herself with her own hands; and our two
brothers fell in one day, each by the other's spear; and
now we two only are left. And shall we not fall into a
worse destruction than any, if we transgress these
commands of the King? Think, too, that we are women and
not men, and must of necessity obey them that are
stronger. Wherefore, as for me, I will pray the dead to
pardon me, seeing that I am thus constrained; but I will
obey them that rule."
"I advise thee not, and,
if thou thinkest thus, I would not have thee for helper.
But know that I will bury my brother, nor could I better
die than for doing such a deed. For as he loved me, so
also do I love him greatly. And shall not I do pleasure
to the dead rather than to the living, seeing that I
shall abide with the dead for ever? But thou, if thou
wilt, do dishonour to the laws of the Gods."
"I dishonour them not.
Only I cannot set myself against the powers that be."
"So be it: but I will bury
11 O my sister, how I fear
"Fear for thyself. Thine
own lot needeth all thy care."
"Thou wilt at least keep
thy counsel, nor tell the thing to any man."
"Not so: hide it not. I
shall scorn thee more if thou proclaim it not aloud to
So Antigone departed; and
after a while came to the same place King Creon, clad in
his royal robes, and with his sceptre in his hand, and
set forth his counsel to the elders who were assembled,
how he had dealt with the two Princes according to their
deserving, giving all honour to him that loved his
country, and casting forth the other unburied. And he
bade them take care that this decree should be kept,
saying that he had also appointed certain men to watch
the dead body.
But he had scarcely left
speaking, when there came one of these same watchers and
said, "I have not come hither in haste, O King, nay, I
doubted much, while I was yet on the way, whether I
should not turn again. For now I thought, 'Fool, why
goest thou where thou shalt suffer for it;' and then
again, 'Fool, the King will hear the matter elsewhere,
and then how wilt thou fare?' But at the last I came as
I had purposed, for I know that nothing may happen to me
contrary to fate."
"But say," said the King,
"what troubles thee so much?"
"First hear my case. I did
not the thing, and know not who did it, and it were a
grievous wrong should I fall into trouble for such a
"Thou makest a long
preface, excusing thyself, but yet hast, as I judge,
something to tell."
"Fear, my lord, ever
"Wilt thou not speak out
thy news and then begone?"
"I will speak it. Know
then that some man hath thrown dust upon this dead
corpse, and done besides such things as are needful."
"What sayest thou? Who
hath dared to do this deed?"
"That I know not, for
there was no mark as of spade or pick-axe; nor was the
earth broken, nor had waggon passed thereon. We were
sore dismayed when the watchman showed the thing to us;
for the body we could not see. Buried indeed it was not,
but rather covered with dust. Nor was there any sign as
of wild beast or of dog that had torn it. Then there
arose a contention among us, each blaming the other, and
accusing his fellows, and himself denying that he had
done the deed or was privy to it. And doubtless we had
fallen to blows but that one spake a word which made us
all tremble for fear, knowing that it must be as he
said. For he said that the thing must be told to thee,
and in no wise hidden. So we drew lots, and by evil
chance the lot fell upon me. Wherefore I am here, not
willingly, for no man loveth him that bringeth ill
Then said the chief of the
old men, "Consider, O King, for haply this thing is from
But the King cried,
"Thinkest thou that the Gods care for such an one as
this dead man, who would have burnt their temples with
fire, and laid waste the land which they love, and set
at naught the laws? Not so. But there are men in this
city who have long time had ill will to me, not bowing
their necks to my yoke; and they have persuaded these
fellows with money to do this thing. Surely there never
was so evil a thing as money, which maketh cities into
ruinous heaps, and banisheth men from their houses, and
turneth their thoughts from good unto evil. But as for
them that have done this deed for hire, of a truth they
shall not escape, for I say to thee, fellow, if ye bring
not here before my eyes the man that did this thing, I
will hang you up alive. So shall ye learn that ill gains
bring no profit to a man."
So the guard departed; but
as he went he said to himself, "Now may the Gods grant
that the man be found; but however this may be, thou
shalt not see me come again on such errand as this, for
even now have I escaped beyond all hope."
Notwithstanding, after a space he came back with one of
his fellows; and they brought with them the maiden
Antigone, with her hands bound together. And it chanced
that at the same time King Creon came forth from the
palace. Then the guard set forth the thing to him,
saying, "We cleared away the dust from the dead body,
and sat watching it. And when it was now noon, and the
sun was at his height, there came a whirlwind over the
plain, driving a great cloud of dust. And when this had
passed, we looked, and lo! this maiden whom we have
brought hither stood by the dead corpse. And when she
saw that it lay bare as before, she sent up an exceeding
bitter cry, even as a bird whose young ones have been
taken from the nest. Then she cursed them that had done
this deed; and brought dust and sprinkled it upon the
dead man, and poured water upon him three times. Then we
ran and laid hold upon her, and accused her that she had
done this deed; and she denied it not. But as for me,
'tis well to have escaped from death, but it is ill to
bring friends into the same. Yet I hold that there is
nothing dearer to a man than his life."
Then said the King to
Antigone, "Tell me in a word, didst thou know my
"I knew it. Was it not
"How daredst thou to
transgress the laws?"
"Zeus made not such laws,
nor Justice that dwelleth with the Gods below. I judged
not that thy decrees had such authority that a man
should transgress for them the unwritten sure
commandments of the Gods. For these, indeed, are not of
to-day or yesterday, but they live for ever, and their
beginning no man knoweth. Should I, for fear of thee, be
found guilty against them? That I should die I knew. Why
not? All men must die. And if I die before my time, what
loss? He who liveth among many sorrows, even as I have
lived, counteth it gain to die. But had I left my own
mother's son unburied, this had been loss indeed."
Then said the King, "Such
stubborn thoughts have a speedy fall, and are shivered
even as the iron that hath been made hard in the
furnace. And as for this woman and her sisterfor I
judge her sister to have had a part in this
matterthough they were nearer to me than all my
kindred, yet shall they not escape the doom of death.
Wherefore let some one bring the other woman hither."
The Body Of Polynices.
And while they went to
fetch the maiden Ismené, Antigone said to the King, "Is
it not enough for thee to slay me? What need to say
more? For thy words please me not nor mine thee. Yet
what nobler thing could I have done than to bury my own
mother's son? And so would all men say but fear shutteth
"Nay," said the King,
"none of the children of Cadmus thinketh thus, but thou
only. But, hold, was not he that fell in battle with
this man thy brother also?"
"Yes, truly, my brother he
"And dost thou not
dishonour him when thou honourest his enemy?"
"The dead man would not
say it, could he speak."
"Shall then the wicked
have like honour with the good?"
"How knowest thou but that
such honour pleaseth the Gods below?"
"I have no love for them I
hate, though they be dead."
"Of hating I know nothing;
'tis enough for me to love."
"If thou wilt love, go
love the dead. But while I live no woman shall rule me."
Then those that had been
sent to fetch the maiden Ismené brought her forth from
the palace. And when the King accused her that she had
been privy to the deed she denied not, but would have
shared one lot with her sister. But Antigone turned from
her, saying, "Not so; thou hast no part or lot in the
matter. For thou hast chosen life, and I have chosen
death; and even so shall it be." And when Ismené saw
that she prevailed nothing with her sister, she turned
to the King and said, "Wilt thou slay the bride of thy
"Aye," said he, "there are
other brides to win!"
"But none," she made
reply, "that accord so well with him."
"I will have no evil wives
for my sons," said the King.
Then cried Antigone, "O
Hĉmon, whom I love, how thy father wrongeth thee!"
Then the King bade the
guards lead the two into the palace. But scarcely had
they gone when there came to the place the Prince Hĉmon,
the King's son, who was betrothed to the maiden Antigone.
And when the King saw him, he said, "Art thou content,
my son, with thy father's judgment?"
And the young man
answered, "My father, I would follow thy counsels in all
Then said the King, "'Tis
well spoken, my son. This is a thing to be desired, that
a man should have obedient children. But if it be
otherwise with a man, he hath gotten great trouble for
himself, and maketh sport for them that hate him. And
now as to this matter. There is nought worse than an
evil wife. Wherefore I say, let this damsel wed a
bridegroom among the dead. For since I have found her,
alone of all this people, breaking my decree, surely she
shall die. Nor shall it profit her to claim kinship with
me, for he that would rule a city must first deal justly
with his own kindred And as for obedience, this it is
that maketh a city to stand both in peace and in war."
To this the Prince Hĉmon
made answer, "What thou sayest, my father, I do not
judge. Yet bethink thee, that I see and hear on thy
behalf what is hidden from thee. For common men cannot
abide thy look if they say that which pleaseth thee not.
Yet do I hear it in secret. Know then that all the city
mourneth for this maiden, saying that she dieth
wrongfully for a very noble deed, in that she buried her
brother. And 'tis well, my father, not to be wholly set
on thy own thoughts, but to listen to the counsels of
"Nay," said the King;
"shall I be taught by such an one as thou?"
"I pray thee regard my
words, if they be well, and not my years."
"Can it be well to honour
them that transgress? And hath not this woman
"The people of this city
judgeth not so."
"The people, sayest thou?
Is it for them to rule, or for me?"
"No city is the possession
of one man only."
So the two answered one
the other, and their anger waxed hot. And at the last
the King cried, "Bring this accursed woman, and slay her
before his eyes."
And the Prince answered,
"That thou shalt never do. And know this also, that thou
shalt never see my face again."
So he went away in a rage;
and the old men would have appeased the King's wrath,
but he would not hearken to them, but said that the two
maidens should die. "Wilt thou then slay them both?"
said the old men.
"'Tis well said," the King
made answer. "Her that meddled not with the matter I
"And how wilt thou deal
with the other?"
"There is a desolate
place, and there I will shut her up alive in a
sepulchre; yet giving her so much of food as shall quit
us of guilt in the matter, for I would not have the city
defiled. There let her persuade Death, whom she loveth
so much, that he harm her not."
So the guards led Antigone
away to shut her up alive in the sepulchre. But scarcely
had they departed when there came the old prophet
Tiresias, seeking the King. Blind he was, so that a boy
led him by the hand; but the Gods had given him to see
things to come. And when the King saw him he asked,
"What seekest thou, wisest of men?"
Then the prophet answered,
"Hearken, O King, and I will tell thee. I sat in my
seat, after my custom, in the place whither all manner
of birds resort. And as I sat I heard a cry of birds
that I knew not, very strange and full of wrath. And I
knew that they tare and slew each other, for I heard the
fierce flapping of their wings. And being afraid, I made
inquiry about the fire, how it burned upon the altars.
And this boy, for as I am a guide to others so he
guideth me, told me that it shone not at all, but
smouldered and was dull, and that the flesh which was
burnt upon the altar spluttered in the flame, and wasted
away into corruption and filthiness. And now I tell
thee, O King, that the city is troubled by thy ill
counsels. For the dogs and the birds of the air tear the
flesh of this dead son of dipus, whom thou sufferest
not to have due burial, and carry it to the altars,
polluting them therewith. Wherefore the Gods receive not
from us prayer or sacrifice; and the cry of the birds
hath an evil sound, for they are full of the flesh of a
man. Therefore I bid the be wise in time. For all men
may err; but he that keepeth not his folly, but
repenteth, doeth well; but stubbornness cometh to great
Then the King answered,
"Old man, I know the race of prophets full well, how ye
sell your art for gold. But, make thy trade as thou
wilt, this man shall not have burial; yea, though the
eagles of Zeus carry his flesh to their master's throne
in heaven, he shall not have it."
And when the prophet spake
again, entreating him, and warning, the King answered
him after the same fashion, that he spake not honestly,
but had sold his art for money. But at the last the
prophet spake in great wrath, saying, "Know, O King,
that before many days shall pass, thou shalt pay a life
for a life, even one of thine own children, for them
with whom thou hast dealt unrighteously, shutting up the
living with the dead, and keeping the dead from them to
whom they belong. Therefore the Furies lie in wait for
thee, and thou shalt see whether or no I speak these
things for money. For there shall be mourning and
lamentation in thine own house; and against thy people
shall be stirred up all the cities, whose sons thou hast
made to lie unburied. And now, my child, lead me home,
and let this man rage against them that are younger than
So the prophet departed,
and the old men were sore afraid, and said, "He hath
spoken terrible things, O King; nor ever since these
gray hairs were black have we known him say that which
"Even so," said the King,
"and I am troubled in heart, and yet am loath to depart
from my purpose."
"King Creon," said the old
men, "thou needest good counsel."
"What, then, would ye have
"Set free the maiden from
the sepulchre, and give this dead man burial."
Then the King cried to his
people that they should bring bars wherewith to loosen
the doors of the sepulchre, and hasted with them to the
place. But coming on their way to the body of Prince
Polynices, they took it up, and washed it, and buried
that which remained of it, and raised over the ashes a
great mound of earth. And this being done, they drew
near to the place of the sepulchre; and as they
approached, the King heard within a very piteous voice,
and knew it for the voice of his son. Then he bade his
attendants loose the door with all speed; and when they
had loosed it, they beheld within a very piteous sight.
For the maiden Antigone had hanged herself by the girdle
of linen which she wore, and the young man Prince Hĉmon
stood with his arms about her dead corpse, embracing it.
And when the King saw him, he cried to him to come
forth; but the Prince glared fiercely upon him and
answered him not a word, but drew his two-edged sword.
Then the King, thinking that his son was minded in his
madness to slay him, leapt back, but the Prince drave
the sword into his own heart, and fell forward on the
earth, still holding the dead maiden in his arms. And
when they brought the tidings of these things to Queen
Eurydice, that was the wife of King Creon and mother to
the Prince, she could not endure the grief, being thus
bereaved of her children, but laid hold of a sword, and
slew herself therewith.
So the house of King Creon
was left desolate unto him that day, because he despised
the ordinances of the Gods.