Sweet Ismene, my dearest sister, you know how much we’ve suffered; how we have had to live with the sins of our father Oedipus, and all that they brought – pain, shame, and humiliation. And now, after all that, this new proclamation from our ruler. Have you heard about it? Or don’t you care about what our enemies are doing to us?
I’ve heard nothing since our two brothers killed each other; nothing either good or bad since the invading army left.
That is why I’ve called you outside away from the others. I wanted to speak to you alone and tell you what I’ve heard.
What is it? You frighten me, Antigone.
Yes. I want to frighten you. Creon has honoured one of our brothers with burial and dishonoured the other. He has buried Eteocles in proper observance of right and custom, so that he can be honoured among the dead below. But he has forbidden anyone to bury or weep for Polyneices. His body must be left unmourned, without a tomb, a feast for scavenging birds. This is the worthy Creon’s decree; he’s coming here in person to spell it out. He doesn’t take this lightly: anyone defying the proclamation is to be stoned to death. Yes. That’s the situation. So now you have the chance
to show whether you are true to your noble birth, or a coward.
My poor sweet Antigone. But, if this is so, what can we do about it?
I have a plan. Are you prepared to join me?
You frighten me again. What do you want us to do?
Will you help me honour the dead?
Bury Polyneices? But you’ve just said that’s forbidden.
I shall bury our brother, even if you don’t want to. I, for one, will not betray him.
You are out of your mind Antigone. Creon is the law.
He has no right to come between my brother and me.
Sister, remember how our father blinded himself when he discovered that he had killed his father and slept with his own mother. He died, hated and condemned by all! Then his wife and mother (one and the same), and she was our mother as well, brought her life to a violent end by hanging herself. And now, finally, our two poor brothers, on a single day, kill each other. And are we going to add to that cycle of horrors? We shall die if we go against the decision of the ruler. We are helpless women, Antigone, not made to fight against men. We are ruled by the more powerful; we must obey this order and if necessary even worse. I shall obey
those who stand in authority, but I shall beg those under the earth to understand I’m being forced to do this against my will. It’s mad to fight a battle you can’t win.
Fine. I wouldn’t let you help me now even if you wanted to; I don’t want you at my side after what you’ve just said. Do as you like; I shall bury my brother. I know it’s right, die if I must! My crime will be a holy crime. I am his and I shall lie buried with him. There will be more time with those below than those on earth. I’ll be there for eternity. But as for you, forget about the gods, if that’s what you want.
That’s not what I want. I just can’t break the laws of the city.
Make that excuse if you like. I’m going to bury our brother.
Oh, poor sister, I’m so afraid for you!
Don’t worry about me; just take care of yourself.
At least keep your plan secret, and I’ll do the same.
No! Go and tell everyone! I’ll despise you all the more if you try to keep it secret. Let the whole world know what Antigone is going to do.
Creon will soon cool that hot heart of yours!
The ones that count will thank me well enough.
If you succeed, but you won’t.
Only death will stop me; your words can’t.
You’re in love with the impossible. And I’m afraid.
If that’s all you have to say, then you are my enemy, and Polyneices will have every right to call you that as well. So let me suffer for what you call impossible, because I know that whatever I suffer, I, at least, shall die with honour.
Then go, Antigone. There’s nothing I can do to stop you. But know that I’ll always love you.
ANTIGONE and ISMENE exeunt.
The CHORUS enters the orchestra.
The sun rises and the stage is bathed in light.
First ray of sun, fairer than any seen before
By Thebes of the seven gates,
At last you appear,
Golden eye of day
Glancing over the streams of Dirce;
You made the man who came from Argos flee,
When, decked out in white armour and trappings,
He attacked our land.
This war was brought upon us
By that man of many quarrels, Polyneices.
He flew against us with piercing scream,
Like an eagle on wings as white as snow;
He came with many weapons
And helmets tossing their horse-hair plumes high;`
He stood above our houses,
Ringing them with spears hungry for gore,
But he fled before they had tasted our blood,
Before the fire of Hephaestus’ pine torches
Had seized the crown of our towers.
Such was the din of war beating his back;
He was no match for the dragon race of Thebes.
Zeus hates a boastful tongue.
Seeing them advance in full force
With the overweening pride of shimmering gold,
Just as one reaches the highest towers
And prepares to bellow victory,
Zeus brings him down with his lightning bolt.
Down he falls and hits the hard earth,
That fire-bearer who raged, a wild Bacchant in his mad attack,
And breathed on us the blasts of hostile winds.
His plan to take the city went awry.
The worthy war-god gave victory to one, defeat to another;
Shattering the enemy he raced our chariot to victory.
Seven spearmen for seven gates,
Matched equal to equal;
Six won and gave their all-bronze weapons
To Zeus the trophy-collector,
While six fell defeated.
But at the seventh gate the ill-fated brothers,
Born of one father and one mother,
Clashed their spears, and
Both lost, sharing a double death.
Since glorious Victory has come
Answering with joy the joy of Thebes,
Let us forget the war
And dance our victory into the night.
We shall visit the shrines of the gods;
May Bacchus be the lord of a dance
That will shake the land of Thebes.
But here is our leader
Newly appointed by the fortune of war.
Why does he ask for this talk with his elder citizens?
Gentlemen, the gods shook our city with a heavy storm, but now they have set things right again. I have singled you out from all the rest because I know how loyal you were to Laius’ government and afterwards, when Oedipus ran the city, you were loyal to him, and when he died your loyalty carried through to his sons. Now that they are dead, I hold all the power since I am their closest relative.
You cannot know a man’s heart, thought and judgement until you have tested his skill in leadership and lawmaking. Any ruler who does not pursue the policies he judges best, but holds his tongue because he is afraid, I think him the lowest of the low. Worse still, ...