A boy leads in Tiresias, the blind soothsayer of Thebes.Creon swears that he will obey whatever advice Tiresias gives him,since he owes so much to his past advice. Tiresias tells him thathis refusal to bury Polynices and his punishment of Antigone forthe burial will bring the curses of the gods down on Thebes. Hearingthis, Creon curses Tiresias, calling him a false prophet who trafficsin poor advice and rhetoric. Creon accuses all prophets of beingpower-hungry fools, but Tiresias turns the insult back on tyrantslike Creon. The old prophet argues that the rites for the dead arethe concern of the gods—mortals can rule only in this world. Unwillingto hear any more abuse, Tiresias has his boy lead him away. TheChorus is terrified by Tiresias’s prophecy. Creon admits that hetoo is worried and will do whatever the citizens recommend. Theycall for him to free Antigone, and he reluctantly leaves to do so.Once he is gone, the Chorus prays to Dionysus to protect Thebes.
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A messenger enters and tells the Chorus that a catastrophicevent has taken place offstage: Haemon is dead by his own hand.As the messenger is leaving, Eurydice, Creon’s wife, enters fromthe palace. She has overheard the commotion caused by the messenger’s announcementand asks the messenger to tell her what has happened. He reportsthat just as Creon and his entourage had finished their burial ofPolynices, they heard what sounded like Haemon’s voice wailing fromAntigone’s tomb. They went in and saw Antigone hanging from a nooseand Haemon raving. Creon’s son then took a sword and thrust it athis father. Missing, he turned the sword against himself, and diedembracing Antigone’s body.
Hearing that Haemon is dead, Eurydice rushes back intothe palace, followed by the messenger. Creon then enters, carryingHaemon’s body and wailing against his own tyranny, which causedhis son’s death. Just then the messenger emerges and tells the kingthat the queen has committed suicide, brought to unbearable miseryby her son’s death. Creon weeps and raves wildly as Eurydice’s bodyis brought forth from the palace. The messenger tells Creon thatEurydice called down curses on her husband for the misery his pridehad caused just before she stabbed herself. Creon kneels and praysfor death. His guards lead him back into the palace. The Chorussings a final ode about how the proud are brought low by the gods.
Throughout the play, Creon has emphasized the importanceof “healthy” practical judgment over a sick, twisted mind, but Tiresias informsCreon that practical judgment is precisely what he lacks—only Creonhas a sick and twisted mind. When the catastrophes occur, the messengerdirectly points to the moral that the worst ill afflicting mortalsis a lack of judgment (1373).We may well wonder what use judgment is given the limitations ofhuman beings and the inescapable will of the gods. Perhaps the bestexplanation is that possessing wisdom and judgment means acknowledginghuman limitations and behaving piously so as not to actually calldown the gods’ wrath. Humans must take a humble, reverential attitude towardfate, the gods, and the limits of human intelligence. At the endof the play, Creon shows he has learned this lesson at last when, insteadof mocking death as he has throughout the play, he speaks respectfullyof “death” heaping blows upon him (1413–1419).
Even though Antigone exhibits a blamable pride and a hunger forglory, her transgressions are less serious than those of Creon. Antigone’scrime harms no one directly, whereas Creon’s mistakes affect anentire city. We learn from Tiresias that new armies are rising upin anger against Thebes because of Creon’s treatment of their dead(1201–1205).More important, Creon’s refusal to bury Polynices represents a moreradical affront to human values than Antigone’s refusal to heedCreon’s edict. Creon says at the beginning of the play that thesight of Polynices’ unburied corpse is an obscenity (231),but he clearly doesn’t understand the implications of his own words.Whereas Antigone breaks a law made by a particular ruler in a particularinstance, a law that he could have made differently, Creon violatesan unwritten law, a cultural custom.
The Chorus’s final speech is a remarkably terse list ofpossible lessons that can be learned from the play’s events: wisdomis good, reverence for the gods is necessary, pride is bad, andfate is inevitable (1466–1470).The Chorus claims that the punishing blows of fate will teach menwisdom, but it is hard to feel convinced by their words: Creon’s“wisdom”—his understanding of his crimes—seems, much like Oedipus’s,only to have brought him more pain. And Haemon, Antigone, and Eurydicecan learn nothing more, now that they are dead. The Chorus, likethe audience, struggles to find purpose in violence, though it isnot clear that there is any purpose to be found.