Fiction > Harvard Classics > Sophocles > Antigone
Sophocles (c.496 B.C.–406 B.C.).  Antigone.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Lines 1–499
ANTIGONE  ISMENE, mine own sister, dearest one;
Is there, of all the ills of Œdipus,
One left that Zeus will fail to bring on us,
While still we live? for nothing is there sad        4
Or full of woe, or base, or fraught with shame,
But I have seen it in thy woes and mine.
And now, what new decree is this they tell,
Our ruler has enjoined on all the state?        8
Know’st thou? hast heard? or is it hid from thee,
The doom of foes that comes upon thy friends?
ISM.  No tidings of our friends, Antigone,
Painful or pleasant since that hour have come        12
When we, two sisters, lost our brothers twain,
In one day dying by each other’s hand.
And since in this last night the Argive host
Has left the field, I nothing further know,        16
Nor brightening fortune, nor increasing gloom.
ANTIG.  That knew I well, and therefore sent for thee
Beyond the gates, that thou mayst hear alone.
ISM.  What meanest thou? It is but all too clear        20
Thou broodest darkly o’er some tale of woe.
ANTIG.  And does not Creon treat our brothers twain
One with the rites of burial, one with shame?
Eteocles, so say they, he interred        24
Fitly, with wonted rites, as one held meet
To pass with honour to the gloom below.
But for the corpse of Polynices, slain
So piteously, they say, he has proclaimed        28
To all the citizens, that none should give
His body burial, or bewail his fate,
But leave it still unsepulchred, unwept,
A prize full rich for birds that scent afar        32
Their sweet repast. So Creon bids, they say,
Creon the good, commanding thee and me,
Yes, me, I say, and now is coming here,
To make it clear to those who knew it not,        36
And counts the matter not a trivial thing;
But whoso does the things that he forbids,
For him, there waits within the city’s walls
The death of stoning. Thus, then, stands thy case;        40
And quickly thou wilt show, if thou art born
Of noble nature, or degenerate liv’st,
Base child of honoured parents.
ISM.  How could I,        44
O daring in thy mood, in this our plight,
Or doing or undoing, aught avail?
ANTIG.  Wilt thou with me share risk and toil? Look to it.
ISM.  What risk is this? What purpose fills thy mind?        48
ANTIG.  Wilt thou with me go forth to help the dead?
ISM.  And dost thou mean to give him sepulture,
When all have been forbidden?
ANTIG.  He is still        52
My brother; yes, and thine, though thou, it seems,
Wouldst fain he were not. I desert him not.
ISM.  O daring one, when Creon bids thee not!
ANTIG.  What right has he to keep me from mine own?        56
ISM.  Ah me! remember, sister, how our sire
Perished, with hate o’erwhelmed and infamy,
From evils that he brought upon himself,
And with his own hand robbed himself of sight,        60
And how his wife and mother, both in one,
With twist and cordage, cast away her life;
And thirdly, how our brothers in one day
In suicidal conflict wrought the doom,        64
Each of the other. And we twain are left;
And think, how much more wretchedly than all
We twain shall perish, if, against the law,
We brave our sovereign’s edict and his power.        68
For this we need remember, we were born
Women; as such, not made to strive with men.
And next, that they who reign surpass in strength,
And we must bow to this, and worse than this.        72
I, then, entreating those that dwell below,
To judge me leniently, as forced to yield,
Will hearken to our rulers. Over-zeal
In act or word but little wisdom shows.        76
ANTIG.  I would not ask thee. No! if thou shouldst wish
To do it, and wouldst gladly join with me.
Do what thou wilt, I go to bury him;
And good it were, this having done, to die.        80
Loved I shall be with him whom I have loved,
Guilty of holiest crime. More time have I
In which to win the favour of the dead,
Than that of those who live; for I shall rest        84
For ever there. But thou, if thus thou please,
Count as dishonoured what the Gods approve.
ISM.  I do them no dishonour, but I find
Myself too weak to war against the state.        88
ANTIG.  Make what excuse thou wilt, I go to rear
A grave above the brother whom I love.
ISM.  Ah, wretched me! how much I fear for thee.
ANTIG.  Fear not for me. Thine own fate guide aright.        92
ISM.  At any rate, disclose this deed to none:
Keep it close hidden. I will hide it too.
ANTIG.  Speak out! I bid thee. Silent, thou wilt be
More hateful to me than if thou shouldst tell        96
My deed to all men.
ISM.  Fiery is thy mood,
Although thy deeds might chill the very blood.
ANTIG.  I know I please the souls I seek to please.        100
ISM.  If thou canst do it; but thy passion craves
For things impossible.
ANTIG.  I’ll cease to strive
When strength shall fail me.        104
ISM.  Even from the first,
It is not meet to seek what may not be.
ANTIG.  If thou speak thus, my hatred wilt thou gain,
And rightly wilt be hated of the dead.        108
Leave me and my ill counsel to endure
This dreadful doom. I shall not suffer aught
So evil as a death dishonourable.
ISM.  Go, then, if so thou wilt. Of this be sure,        112
Wild as thou art, thy friends must love thee still.  [Exeunt.
Enter Chorus
Chor.  Ray of the glorious sun,
Brightest of all that ever shone on Thebes,
Thebes with her seven high gates,        116
Thou didst appear that day,
  Eye of the golden dawn,
O’er Dirkè’s streams advancing,
Driving with quickened curb,        120
In haste of headlong flight,
The warrior who, in panoply of proof,
From Argos came, with shield as white as snow;
  Who came to this our land,        124
Roused by the strife of tongues
That Polynices stirred;
Shrieking his shrill sharp cry,
  The eagle hovered round,        128
With snow-white wing bedecked,
  Begirt with myriad arms,
And flowing horsehair crests.
  He stood above our towers,
Circling, with blood-stained spears,
  The portals of our gates;
He went, before he filled
  His jaws with blood of men,        136
Before Hephæstus with his pitchy flame
Had seized our crown of towers.
  So loud the battle din that Ares loves,
Was raised around his rear,        140
A conflict hard and stiff,
E’en for his dragon foe.
For breath of haughty speech
Zeus hateth evermore exceedingly;        144
And seeing them advance,
Exulting in the clang of golden arms,
With brandished fire he hurls them headlong down,
In act, upon the topmost battlement        148
  Rushing, with eager step,
To shout out, ‘Victory!’
Crashing to earth he fell,
Who came, with madman’s haste,        152
Drunken, but not with wine,
And swept o’er us with blasts,
The whirlwind blasts of hate.
Thus on one side they fare,        156
And mighty Ares, bounding in his strength,
  Dashing now here, now there,
  Elsewhere brought other fate.
For seven chief warriors at the seven gates met,        160
  Equals with equals matched,
To Zeus, the Lord of War,
Left tribute, arms of bronze;
All but the hateful ones        164
Who, from one father and one mother sprung,
Stood wielding, hand to hand,
Their doubly pointed spears;
They had their doom of death,        168
In common, shared by both.
But now, since Victory, of mightiest name,
Hath come to Thebes, of many chariots proud,
  Joying and giving joy,        172
After these wars just past,
  Learn ye forgetfulness,
And all night long, with dance and voice of hymns
Let us go round to all the shrines of Gods,        176
While Bacchus, making Thebes resound with shouts,
  Begins the strain of joy;
But, lo! the sovereign of this land of ours,
CREON, Menœkeus’ son,        180
He, whom strange change and chances from the God
  Have nobly raised to power,
Comes to us, steering on some new device;
For, lo! he hath convened,        184
  By herald’s loud command,
This council of the elders of our land.
CREON.  My Friends, for what concerns our commonwealth,
The Gods who vexed it with the billowing storms        188
Have righted it again; but I have sent,
By special summons, calling you to come
Apart from all the others, This, in part,
As knowing ye did all along uphold        192
The might of Laius’ throne, in part again,
Because when Œdipus our country ruled,
And, when he perished, then towards his sons
Ye still were faithful in your steadfast mind.        196
And since they fell, as by a double death,
Both on the selfsame day with murderous blow,
Smiting and being smitten, now I hold
Their thrones and all their power of sov’reignty        200
By nearness of my kindred to the dead.
And hard it is to learn what each man is,
In heart and mind and judgment, till one gains
Experience in the exercise of power.        204
For me, whoe’er is called to guide a state,
And does not catch at counsels wise and good,
But holds his peace through any fear of man,
I deem him basest of all men that are,        208
Of all that ever have been; and whoe’er
As worthier than his country counts his friend,
I utterly despise him. I myself,
Zeus be my witness, who beholdeth all,        212
Will not keep silence, seeing danger come,
Instead of safety, to my subjects true.
Nor could I take as friend my country’s foe;
For this I know, that there our safety lies,        216
And sailing in her while she holds her course,
We gather friends around us. By these rules
And such as these will I maintain the state.
And now I come, with edicts close allied        220
To these in spirit, for my subjects all,
Concerning those two sons of Œdipus.
Eteocles, who died in deeds of might
Illustrious, fighting for our fatherland,        224
To honour him with sepulture, all rites
Duly performed that to the noblest dead
Of right belong. Not so his brother; him
I speak of, Polynices, who, returned        228
From exile, sought with fire and sword to waste
His father’s city and the shrines of Gods,
Yea, sought to glut his rage with blood of men,
And lead them captives to the bondslave’s doom;        232
Him I decree that none should dare entomb,
That none should utter wail or loud lament,
But leave his corpse unburied, by the dogs
And vultures mangled, foul to look upon.        236
Such is my purpose. Ne’er, if I can help,
Shall the vile share the honours of the just;
But whoso shows himself my country’s friend,
Living or dead, from me shall honour gain.        240
Chor.  This is thy pleasure, O Menœkeus’ son,
For him who hated, him who loved our state;
And thou hast power to make what laws thou wilt,
Both for the dead and all of us who live.        244
CREON.  Be ye, then, guardians of the things I speak.
Chor.  Commit this task to one of younger years.
CREON.  The watchmen are appointed for the corpse.
Chor.  What duty, then, enjoin’st thou on another?        248
CREON.  Not to consent with those that disobey.
Chor.  None are so foolish as to seek for death.
CREON.  And that shall be his doom; but love of gain
Hath oft with false hopes lured men to their death.        252
Enter Guard
GUARD.  I will not say, O king, that I am come
Panting with speed and plying nimble feet,
For I had many halting-points of thought,
Backwards and forwards turning, round and round;        256
For now my mind would give me sage advice:
“Poor wretch, and wilt thou go and bear the blame?”
Or—“Dost thou tarry now? Shall Creon know
These things from others? How wilt thou escape?”        260
Resolving thus, I came in haste, yet slow,
And thus a short way finds itself prolonged,
But, last of all, to come to thee prevailed.
And though I tell of naught, thou shalt hear all;        264
For this one hope I cling to steadfastly,
That I shall suffer nothing but my fate.
CREON.  What is it, then, that causes such dismay?
GUARD.  First, for mine own share in it, this I say,        268
I did not do it, do not know who did,
Nor should I rightly come to ill for it.
CREON.  Thou tak’st good aim and fencest up thy tale
All round and round. ’Twould seem thou hast some news.        272
GUARD.  Yea, news of fear engenders long delay.
CREON.  Tell thou thy tale, and then depart in peace.
GUARD.  And speak I will. The corpse … Some one has been
But now and buried it, a little dust        276
O’er the skin scattering, with the wonted rites.
CREON.  What say’st thou? Who has dared this deed of guilt?
GUARD.  I know not. Neither was there stroke of spade,
Nor earth cast up by mattock. All the soil        280
Was dry and hard, no track of chariot wheel;
But he who did it went and left no sign.
But when the first day’s watchman showed it us,
The sight caused wonder and sore grief to all,        284
For he had disappeared. No tomb, indeed,
Was over him, but dust all lightly strown,
As by some hand that shunned defiling guilt;
And no work was there of a beast of prey        288
Or dog devouring. Evil words arose
Among us, guard to guard imputing blame,
Which might have come to blows, for none was there
To check its course, and each to each appeared        292
The man whose hand had done it. As for proof,
That there was none, and so he ’scaped our ken.
And we were ready in our hands to take
Bars of hot iron, and to walk through fire,        296
And call the Gods to witness none of us
Had done the deed, nor knew who counselled it,
Nor who had wrought it. Then at last, when naught
Was gained by all our searching, some one says        300
What made us bend our gaze upon the ground
In fear and trembling; for we neither saw
How to oppose it, nor, accepting it,
How we might prosper in it. And his speech        304
Was this, that all our tale should go to thee,
Not hushed up anywise. This gained the day;
And me, ill-starred, the lot condemns to win
This precious prize. So here I come to thee        308
Against my will; and surely do I trow
Thou dost not wish to see me. Still ’tis true
That no man loves the messenger of ill.
Chor.  For me, my prince, my mind some time has thought        312
That this perchance has some divine intent.
CREON.  Cease thou, before thou fillest me with wrath,
Lest thou be found a dastard and a fool.
For what thou say’st is most intolerable,        316
That for this corpse the providence of Gods
Has any care. What! have they buried him,
As to their patron paying honours high,
Who came to waste their columned shrines with fire,        320
To desecrate their offerings and their lands,
And all their wonted customs? Dost thou see
The Gods approving men of evil deeds?
It is not so; but men of rebel mood,        324
Lifting their head in secret long ago,
Have stirred this thing against me. Never yet
Had they their neck beneath the yoke, content
To own me as their ruler. They, I know,        328
Have bribed these men to let the deed be done.
No thing in use by man, for power of ill,
Can equal money. This lays cities low,
This drives men forth from quiet dwelling-place,        332
This warps and changes minds of worthiest stamp,
To turn to deeds of baseness, teaching men
All shifts of cunning, and to know the guilt
Of every impious deed. But they who, hired,        336
Have wrought this crime, have laboured to their cost,
Or soon or late to pay the penalty.
But if Zeus still claims any awe from me,
Know this, and with an oath I tell it thee,        340
Unless ye find the very man whose hand
Has wrought this burial, and before mine eyes
Present him captive, death shall not suffice,
Till first, impaled still living, ye shall show        344
The story of this outrage, that henceforth,
Knowing what gain is lawful, ye may grasp
At that, and learn it is not meet to love
Gain from all quarters. By base profit won,        348
You will see more destroyed than prospering.
GUARD.  May I, then speak? Or shall I turn and go?
CREON.  Dost thou not see how vexing are thy words?
GUARD.  Is it thine ears they trouble, or thy soul?        352
CREON.  Why dost thou gauge my trouble where it is?
GUARD.  The doer grieves thy heart, but I thine ears.
CREON.  Pshaw! what a babbler, born to prate, art thou.
GUARD.  And therefore not the man to do this deed.        356
CREON.  Yes, that too; selling e’en thy soul for pay.
GUARD.  Ah me!
How fearful ’tis, in thinking, false to think.
CREON.  Prate about thinking; but unless ye show        360
To me the doers, ye shall say ere long
That evil gains still work their punishment.  [Exit.
GUARD.  God send we find him! Should we find him not,
As well may be, for this must chance decide,        364
You will not see me coming here again;
For now, being safe beyond all hope of mine,
Beyond all thought, I owe the Gods much thanks.  [Exit.
Chor.  Many the forms of life,
Fearful and strange to see,
But man supreme stands out,
For strangeness and for fear.
He, with the wintry gales,        372
O’er the foam-crested sea,
’Mid billows surging round,
Tracketh his way across:
Earth, of all Gods, from ancient days, the first,        376
Mightiest and undecayed,
He, with his circling plough,
Wears ever year by year.
The thoughtless tribe of birds,
The beasts that roam the fields,
The finny brood of ocean’s depths,
He takes them all in nets of knotted mesh,
  Man, wonderful in skill.        384
And by his arts he holds in sway
The wild beasts on the mountain’s height;
And brings the neck-encircling yoke
On horse with shaggy mane,        388
Or bull that walks untamed upon the hills.
And speech, and thought as swift as wind,
And tempered mood for higher life of states,
These he has learnt, and how to flee        392
The stormy sleet of frost unkind,
The tempest thunderbolts of Zeus.
So all-preparing, unprepared
He meeteth naught the coming days may bring;        396
Only from Hades, still
He fails to find a refuge at the last,
Though skill of art may teach him to escape
From depths of fell disease incurable.        400
So, gifted with a wondrous might,
Above all fancy’s dreams, with skill to plan,
Now unto evil, now to good,
He wends his way. Now holding fast the laws,        404
His country’s sacred rights,
That rest upon the oath of Gods on high,
High in the state he stands.
An outlaw and an exile he who loves        408
The thing that is not good,
In wilful pride of soul:
Ne’er may he sit beside my hearth,
Ne’er may my thoughts be like to his,        412
Who worketh deeds like this.
Enter Guards, bringing in ANTIGONE
As to this portent which the Gods have sent,
I stand in doubt. Can I, who know her, say
That this is not the maid Antigone?        416
O wretched one of wretched father born,
What means this? Surely ’tis not that they bring
Thee as a rebel ’gainst the king’s decree,
And taken in the folly of thine act?        420
GUARD.  Yes! She it was by whom the deed was done.
We found her burying. Where is Creon, pray?
Chor.  Forth from his palace comes he just in time.
CREON.  What chance is this with which my coming fits?
GUARD.  Men, O my king, should pledge themselves to naught;
For cool reflection makes their purpose void.
I hardly thought to venture here again,
Cowed by thy threats, which then fell thick on me;        428
But since no joy is like the sweet delight
Which comes beyond, above, against our hopes,
I come, although I swore the contrary,
Bringing this maiden, whom in act we found        432
Decking the grave. No need for lots was now;
The prize was mine, no other claimed a share.
And now, O king, take her, and as thou wilt,
Judge and convict her. I can claim a right        436
To wash my hands of all this troublous coil.
CREON.  How and where was it that ye seized and brought her?
GUARD.  She was in act of burying. Now thou knowest
All that I have to tell.        440
CREON.  And dost thou know
And rightly weigh the tale thou tellest me?
GUARD.  I saw her burying that selfsame corpse
Thou bad’st us not to bury. Speak I clear?        444
CREON.  How was she seen, detected, prisoner made?
GUARD.  The matter passed as follows: When we came,
With all those dreadful threats of thine upon us,
Sweeping away the dust which, lightly spread,        448
Covered the corpse, and laying stript and bare
The tained carcase, on the hill we sat
To windward, shunning the infected air,
Each stirring up his fellow with strong words,        452
If any shirked his duty. This went on
Some time, until the glowing orb of day
Stood in mid-heaven, and the scorching heat
Fell on us. Then a sudden whirlwind rose,        456
A scourge from heaven, raising squalls on earth,
And filled the plain, the leafage stripping bare
Of all the forest, and the air’s vast space
Was thick and troubled, and we closed our eyes        460
Until the plague the Gods had sent was past;
And when it ceased, a weary time being gone,
The girl was seen, and with a bitter cry,
Shrill as a bird’s, she wails, when it beholds        464
Its nest all emptied of its infant brood;
So she, when she beholds the corpse all stript,
Groaned loud with many moanings. And she called
Fierce curses down on those who did the deed,        468
And in her hand she brings some sandlike dust,
And from a well-chased ewer, all of bronze,
She pours the three libations o’er the dead.
And we, beholding, started up forthwith,        472
And run her down, in nothing terrified.
And then we charged her with the former deed,
As well as this. And nothing she denied.
But this to me both bitter is and sweet,        476
For to escape one’s-self from ill is sweet,
But to bring friends to trouble, this is hard
And bitter. Yet my nature bids me count
Above all these things safety for myself.        480
CREON.  [to ANTIGONE] And thou, then, bending to the ground thy head,
Confessest thou, or dost deny the deed?
ANTIG.  I own I did it. I will not deny.
CREON.  [to GUARD] Go thou thy way, where’er thy will may choose,        484
Freed from a weighty charge.  [Exit GUARD.
[To ANTIGONE] And now for thee,
Say in few words, not lengthening out thy speech,
Didst thou not know the edicts which forbade        488
The things thou ownest?
ANTIG.  Right well I knew them all.
How could I not? Full clear and plain were they.
CREON.  Didst thou, then, dare to disobey these laws?        492
ANTIG.  Yes, for it was not Zeus who gave them forth,
Nor Justice, dwelling with the Gods below,
Who traced these laws for all the sons of men;
Nor did I deem thy edicts strong enough,        496
Coming from mortal man, to set at naught
The unwritten laws of God that know not change.
They are not of to-day nor yesterday,


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