The allusions in Antigone shape Sophocles’ classic in a way that references various themes and works famous at the time. In ancient times, the Greek classic alludes to themes such as the Greek tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, and even Oedipus Rex.
How Allusions Shaped the Story of Antigone
These allusions create a dynamic that captivates the audience allowing free expression and relation to the portrayed story. To further understand the apparent allusions in Antigone, we must briefly go over Antigone’s tale.
Antigone’s tragedy starts as the sequel to Oedipus Rex begins. Her brother Polyneices, who was exiled to Argos, started a war with Thebes over the throne his twin brother refused to concede.
Both Polyneices and his Eteocles, the then king of Thebes, lay their lives down on the battlefield, leaving the throne to their uncle, Creon. The story follows Antigone, Oedipus’ daughter, who fights for her brother’s right to a proper burial while going against Creon’s orders.
King Creon brands Polyneices as a traitor, refusing to give him a proper burial. He threatens to execute anyone caught attempting to bury the traitor. This didn’t sit well with Antigone because, despite his wrongdoings, she believed that all deaths deserve a proper burial as per divine custom.
Despite the king’s warnings, Antigone decides to bury her brother and is caught by the king’s guards. She is imprisoned in a tomb, awaiting her death. This marks the first prominent allusion in the play.
Main Allusions in the Antigone
Allusions of Greek mythology are vast; from referencing small events to referencing great wars, Greek classics fall short of these implied and hidden meanings. One of these is seen in Antigone’s imprisonment in a tomb. Her fate is comparable to Nobie, Tantalus’ daughter, a former queen of Thebes whose children were killed by the gods.
Her extreme hubris brought about tragedy to her family, comparing and even placing herself above the gods. Her rudeness was paid for by her children, who were killed by the divine beings. Niobe, herself, turned to stone.
This allusion is in direct reference to both Odysseus and Creon. Antigone’s fate is alluded to by her imprisonment and death; because of her father’s rudeness, she, the daughter, is destined to be killed by the gods just as Nobie’s children were.
Romeo and Juliet: Antigone and Haemon
The second central allusion can be seen in Antigone and her lover’s death. Their tragic fate of death and love can allude to Shakespeare’s classic Romeo and Juliet. Both Romeo and Juliet exhibit the same theme as our sad heroine, Antigone.
They would instead end both their lives for their freedom to love than to idly sit by and have their freedom stripped away from them. In this case, Antigone would rather take her own life than admit she did wrong; she believed in her brother’s right to be buried by religious customs and did not see such a crime.
She took matters into her own hands, bearing the consequences, and buried her brother, a decision that imprisoned her in a tomb. Rather than giving Creon the satisfaction of her imprisonment, she eagerly joins the realm of Hades, eager to be with her brothers.
Haemon, Antigone’s lover, just like Romeo, attempts to save his lady from imprisonment but only finds a corpse upon his arrival. Deeply distressed from his beloved’s death, he takes his own life and joins her in the afterlife, just as Romeo did in Shakespeare’s classic.
Oedipus and the Sphinx
Another allusion that could be noted in Antigone’s death is Oedipus and the Sphinx. In Oedipus Rex, the prequel to Antigone, Oedipus encounters a beast with the body of a lion, the head of a woman, and the wings of an eagle.
The beast was known for presenting travelers with riddles that tested their minds, held intellectuals very closely, killing those who could not answer her rhymes. The sphinx would devour beings with lower intellect. She had not encountered a traveler she had not eaten yet.
On his way to Thebes, Oedipus is blocked by the sphinx, demanding an answer for her riddle. She states, “What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?”
Oedipus thinks and immediately answers, “Man.” The sphinx, who had not encountered anyone wiser than her, is quickly baffled by Oedipus’ answer. In rage and frustration, the beast throws itself from a cliff and dies in the process.
This precisely demonstrates the theme of Antigone. The beast would rather die than live knowing someone has outsmarted her and her riddles. In comparison to this, Antigone would rather die for her beliefs than live in isolation for a crime she did not do.
Creon as Athens
The final allusion in Antigone can be found in Creon himself. His character is similar to the Greek tragedy in the late 6th century B.C.E., where Athens, a great and mighty nation, conquered and bullied adjacent Greek cities far and wide.
The Athenians, hungry for imperial power, made their words law, deeming minor inconveniences as crimes and executing those who opposed them. With greatness comes a fall, and because they spread their power too thin, the empire collapsed.
Creon symbolized Athens because it was a strong power that bullied its subject all around. Their tyranny rained far just as Creon’s tyranny reigned and opposed the gods’ commands. Creon could have prevented the tragedy bestowed upon him, but he has fallen just as Athens once did because of his hunger for the throne and loyalty.
But just as Athens fell, Creon is conquered at the end, when his family commits suicide due to his greed.
We’ve discussed some of the different allusions found in Antigone, its importance in the Greek classic, and the implications of each.
Let’s go over the main points of this article:
- Sophocles writes Antigone allusions as a way to reference specific ideas or themes to shorten the play.
- Antigone’s tragedy begins when Creon rose to power and refused the burial of one of her brothers.
- Polyneices deemed a traitor by Creon, is an exiled prince deprived of the throne by his twin brother, Eteocles.
- In retaliation to this, Polyneices journeys to Argos and starts a war with Thebes, which took both his and his brothers’ lives.
- Antigone, despite Creon’s commands, is caught burying Polyneices; thus, her tragedy begins.
- Allusions such as Romeo and Juliet, The Greek Tragedy, and Oedipus and the Sphinx are some of the prominent allusions written in the play; these three hold the essential references giving way for the audience to grasp both the theme and feel of the scenes.
- Antigone’s tragedy is compared to Nobie’s, a former queen of Thebes, whose hubris ends up killing her children in the process; this, in relation to Oedipus and his indiscretions, affecting the fate of his children.
- Antigone is compared to the sphinx through death; the sphinx would rather die than admit someone was more intelligent than her; in relation to this, Antigone would rather die than be isolated for a crime she deemed was an immoral sin.
- Romeo and Juliet could be likened to Antigone and Haemon, for their love and desperation for freedom led them to such tragic fates.
- Creon as Athens is an allusion used to reference Creon’s greed for power and the consequences one must face for imperial lust; he, like Athens, crumble and fall from the desire they so eagerly sought.
In conclusion, the allusions seen in Antigone are used to reference paramount literature at the time of the release of Sophocles’ play.
This literary device in the story is used to allow the audience to completely grasp a more profound and broader bandwidth the Greek classic has to offer, allowing the spectators to immerse themselves in Antigone completely.