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Antigone by Sophocles - an excerpt

Antigone  by Sophocles

Dramatis Personae

 

ANTIGONE: daughter of Oedipus.

ISMENE: daughter of Oedipus, sister of Antigone

CREON: king of Thebes

EURYDICE: wife of Creon

HAEMON: son of Creon and Euridice, engaged to Antigone.

TEIRESIAS: an old blind prophet

BOY: a young lad guiding Teiresias

GUARD: a soldier serving Creon.

MESSENGER

CHORUS: Theban Elders

ATTENDANTS and SOLDIERS

 

[In Thebes, directly in front of the royal palace, which stands in the

background, its main doors facing the audience.]

 

[Enter Antigone leading Ismene away from the palace]

 

ANTIGONE

Now, dear Ismene, my own blood sister,

do you have any sense of all the troubles

Zeus keeps bringing on the two of us,

as long as weíre alive? All that misery

which stems from Oedipus? Thereís no suffering,

no shame, no ruinónot one dishonouró

which I have not seen in all the troubles

you and I go through. Whatís this theyíre saying now,

something our general has had proclaimed

throughout the city? Do you know of it?                                                 10

Have you heard? Or have you just missed the news?

Dishonours which better fit our enemies

are now being piled up on the ones we love.                                                         [10]

ISMENE

Iíve had no word at all, Antigone,

nothing good or bad about our family,

not since we two lost both our brothers,

killed on the same day by a double blow.

And since the Argive army, just last night,

has gone away, I donít know any more

if Iíve been lucky or face total ruin.                                                           20

ANTIGONE

I know that. Thatís why I brought you here,

outside the gates, so only you can hear.

ISMENE

What is it? The way you look makes it seem                                                         [20]

youíre thinking of some dark and gloomy news.

ANTIGONE

Lookówhatís Creon doing with our two brothers?

Heís honouring one with a full funeral

and treating the other one disgracefully!

Eteocles, they say, has had his burial

according to our customary rites,

to win him honour with the dead below.                                                     30

But as for Polyneices, who perished

so miserably, an order has gone out

throughout the cityóthatís what people say.

Heís to have no funeral or lament,

but to be left unburied and unwept,

a sweet treasure for the birds to look at,

for them to feed on to their heartís content.                                                             [30]

Thatís what people say the noble Creon

has announced to you and meóI mean to meó

and now heís coming to proclaim the fact,                                                 40

to state it clearly to those who have not heard.

For Creon this matterís really serious.

Anyone who acts against the order

will be stoned to death before the city.

Now you know, and youíll quickly demonstrate

whether you are nobly born, or else

a girl unworthy of her splendid ancestors.

ISMENE

Oh my poor sister, if thatís whatís happening,

what can I say that would be any help

to ease the situation or resolve it?                                                              50           [40]

ANTIGONE

Think whether you will work with me in this

and act together.

ISMENE

                    In what kind of work?

What do you mean?

ANTIGONE

                        Will you help these hands

take up Polyneicesí corpse and bury it?

ISMENE

What? Youíre going to bury Polyneices,

when thatís been made a crime for all in Thebes?

ANTIGONE

Yes. Iíll do my duty to my brotheró

and yours as well, if youíre not prepared to.

I wonít be caught betraying him.

ISMENE

                                    Youíre too rash.

Has Creon not expressly banned that act?                                                 60

ANTIGONE

Yes. But heís no right to keep me from whatís mine.

ISMENE

O dear. Think, Antigone. Consider

how our father died, hated and disgraced,                                                                [50]

when those mistakes which his own search revealed

forced him to turn his hand against himself

and stab out both his eyes. Then that woman,

his mother and his wifeóher double roleó

destroyed her own life in a twisted noose.

Then thereís our own two brothers, both butchered

in a single dayóthat ill-fated pair                                                                 70

with their own hands slaughtered one another

and brought about their common doom.

Now, the two of us are left here quite alone.

Think how weíll die far worse than all the rest,

if we defy the law and move against                                                                         [60]

the kingís decree, against his royal power.

We must remember that by birth weíre women,

and, as such, we shouldnít fight with men.

Since those who rule are much more powerful,

we must obey in this and in events                                                             80

which bring us even harsher agonies.

So Iíll ask those underground for pardonó

since Iím being compelled, I will obey

those in control. Thatís what Iím forced to do.

It makes no sense to try to do too much.

ANTIGONE

I wouldnít urge you to. No. Not even

if you were keen to act. Doing this with you

would bring me no joy. So be what you want.                                                         [70]

Iíll still bury him. It would be fine to die

while doing that. Iíll lie there with him,                                                         90

with a man I love, pure and innocent,

for all my crime. My honours for the dead

must last much longer than for those up here.

Iíll lie down there forever. As for you,

well, if you wish, you can show contempt

for those laws the gods all hold in honour.

ISMENE

Iím not disrespecting them. But I canít act

against the state. Thatís not in my nature.

ANTIGONE

Let that be your excuse. Iím going now                                                                    [80]

to make a burial mound for my dear brother.                                             100

ISMENE

Oh poor Antigone, Iím so afraid for you.

ANTIGONE

Donít fear for me. Set your own fate in order.

ISMENE

Make sure you donít reveal to anyone

what you intend. Keep it closely hidden.

Iíll do the same.

ANTIGONE

            No, no. Announce the factó

if you donít let everybody know,

Iíll despise your silence even more.

ISMENE

Your heart is hot to do cold deeds.

ANTIGONE

But I know

Iíll please the ones Iím duty bound to please.

ISMENE

Yes, if you can. But youíre after something                                             110           [90]

which youíre incapable of carrying out.

ANTIGONE

Well, when my strength is gone, then Iíll give up.

ISMENE

A vain attempt should not be made at all.

ANTIGONE

Iíll hate you if youíre going to talk that way.

And youíll rightly earn the loathing of the dead.

So leave me and my foolishness aloneó

weíll get through this fearful thing. I wonít suffer

anything as bad as a disgraceful death.

ISMENE

All right then, go, if thatís what you think right.

But remember thisóeven though your mission                                     120

makes no sense, your friends do truly love you.

[Exit Antigone away from the palace. Ismene watches her go and

then returns slowly into the palace. Enter the Chorus of Theban

elders]

 

CHORUS

O ray of sunlight,                                                                                                         [100]

most beautiful that ever shone

on Thebes, city of the seven gates,

youíve appeared at last,

you glowing eye of golden day,

moving above the streams of Dirce,

driving into headlong flight

the white-shield warrior from Argos,

who marched here fully armed,                                                                 130

now forced back by your sharper power.1

CHORUS LEADER

Against our land he marched,                                                                                   [110]

sent here by the warring claims

of Polyneices, with piercing screams,

an eagle flying above our land,

covered wings as white as snow,

and hordes of warriors in arms,

helmets topped with horsehair crests.

CHORUS

Standing above our homes,

he ranged around our seven gates,                                                         140

with threats to swallow us

and spears thirsting to kill.

Before his jaws had had their fill                                                                             [120]

and gorged themselves on Theban blood,

before Hephaistosí pine-torch flames

had seized our towers, our fortress crown,

he went back, driven in retreat.2

Behind him rings the din of waró

his enemy, the Theban dragon-snake,

too difficult for him to overcome.                                                            

 

 

 

 the riv