Antigone is a daughter of the unwittingly incestuous marriage between King Oedipus of Thebes and his mother Jocasta. She is the subject of a popular story in which she attempts to secure a respectable burial for her brother Polynices, even though he is seen as a traitor to Thebes and the law forbids even mourning for him, punishable by death.
In the oldest version of the story, the burial of Polynices takes place during Oedipus' reign in Thebes, before Oedipus marries Jocasta. However, in the best-known versions, Sophocles' tragediesOedipus at Colonus and Antigone, it occurs in the years after Oedipus' banishment and death, and Antigone has to struggle against Creon. In Sophocles' version, after Oedipus' death, it was decided that the two brothers, Eteocles and Polynices were to reign over Thebes taking turns. Eteocles, however, did not want to give away his power causing Polynices to leave Thebes to set up an army. In the fight against Thebes, the two brothers kill each other. After this event, Creon declares that, as punishment, Polynices' body must be left on the plain outside the city to rot and be eaten by animals. Eteocles, on the other hand, had been buried as tradition warranted. Antigone determines this to be unjust, immoral and against the laws of the gods, and is determined to bury her brother regardless of Creon's law. She attempts to persuade her sister Ismene to join her, but fails. Antigone buries her brother by herself; eventually Creon's guards discover this and capture her. Antigone is brought before Creon, where she declares that she knew Creon's law but chose to break it, expounding upon the superiority of 'divine law' to that made by man. She defies his arguments, provoking his wrath and punishment.
Sophocles' Antigone ends in disaster, with Antigone hanging herself after being walled up, and Creon's son Hæmon (or Haimon), who loved and was engaged to Antigone, killing himself after finding her body. (Also see Oedipus for a variant of this story.) Queen Eurydice, wife of King Creon, also kills herself at the end of the story due to seeing such actions allowed by her husband. She had been forced to weave throughout the entire story and her death alludes to The Fates.
The dramatist Euripides also wrote a play called Antigone, which is lost, but some of the text was preserved by later writers and in passages in his Phoenissae. In Euripides, the calamity is averted by the intercession of Dionysus and is followed by the marriage of Antigone and Hæmon. Antigone also plays a role in Euripides extant play The Phoenician Women.
Different elements of the legend appear in other places. A description of an ancient painting by Philostratus (Imagines ii. 29) refers to Antigone placing the body of Polynices on the funeral pyre, and this is also depicted on a sarcophagus in the Villa Doria Pamphili in Rome. And in Hyginus' version of the legend, founded apparently on a tragedy by some follower of Euripides, Antigone, on being handed over by Creon to her lover Hæmon to be slain, is secretly carried off by him and concealed in a shepherd's hut, where she bears him a son, Maeon. When the boy grows up, he attends some funeral games at Thebes, and is recognized by the mark of a dragon on his body. This leads to the discovery that Antigone is still alive. The demi-god Heracles then intercedes and pleads with Creon to forgive Hæmon, but in vain. Hæmon then kills Antigone and himself. The intercession by Heracles is also represented on a painted vase (circa 380-300 BC).
The stories of Antigone has been a popular subject for books, plays, and other works, including:
Antigones by George Steiner. An examination of the legacy of the myth and its treatment in Western art, literature, and thought—in drama, poetry, prose, philosophic discourse, political tracts, opera, ballet, film, and even the plastic arts.