Why Did Antigone Bury Her brother?

Sébastien norblin antigone et polynice

Why did Antigone bury her brother? Was it purely out of divine law? Was she right to defy King Creon? In this article, let’s discover what led her to take such action in detail. 


In the play, Antigone buries her brother despite the threat of death. To understand why she buries her brother, we must go over the play:

  • The play starts with Antigone and Ismene, Antigone’s sister, arguing over burying Polyneices
  • Creon issued a law that would prevent their brother from getting a proper burial, and anyone who does bury the body will be stoned to death
  • Antigone, who feels she must bury her dead brother under Divine law, decides to bury him without Ismene’s help
  • Antigone is seen burying her brother and is arrested for defying Creon
  • Creon sends Antigone to a cave/tomb to await her death
  • Haemon, Antigone’s fiancé and Creon’s son, argues for the release of Antigone
  • Creon refused his son
  • Tiresias, the blind prophet, warns Creon of angering the Gods; He saw symbols that equate to garnering the wrath of the Gods in a dream
  • Creon tries to make Tiresias understand his point
  • Tiresias refutes him and again warns him of the tragedy that awaits his fate
  • At the exact moment, Haemon saves Antigone and sees her hanging by her neck in the cave
  • Distraught, Haemon kills himself
  • Creon, upon heeding Tiresias’ words, immediately rushes to the cave Antigone is imprisoned in
  • He witnesses his son’s death and is frozen in grief
  • Creon brings Haemon’s body back to the palace
  • Upon hearing her son’s death, Eurydice, Creon’s wife, kills herself
  • Creon lives miserably afterward

Why Did Antigone Bury Polyneices?

Antigone buried her brother out of devotion and loyalty to both the Gods and her family. Without one or the other, she would not have had the courage or thought of going against Creon’s law and putting her life out on the line.

Allow me to expound; her loyalty to her brother allows her to fight for him and his right to be buried, but this isn’t enough for Antigone to sacrifice herself for a mere burial.

Her intense devotion to the Gods also plays a role in her stubbornness that leads to her demise. She strongly believes in the divine law that all beings in death must be buried, but this doesn’t mean she’d be willing to sacrifice herself for just anyone.

The loyalty to both her brother and the Gods solidified Antigone’s conviction to bury her brother and eventually face death.

She believes honoring the Gods is more critical than any mortal law; this gives her the confidence to march up to her end.  

Why Did Antigone Kill Herself?

Why did Antigone kill herself instead of waiting for her death sentence? Antigone, who felt she was in the right to bury her brother under divine law, is imprisoned in a tomb meant for the dead to await her death sentence. It is not stated in the play why she chose to hang herself, but we can surmise this as a move to escape the horrible death Creon would lay upon her.

Creon and His Pride

Creon, upon taking the throne, issued the denial of burial for Polyneices. The man who declared war upon Thebes was to rot on the surface, and anyone who attempted to bury his body is stoned to death. This directly opposed the divine law of the Gods and further put his people in turmoil.

The harsh punishment was to ensure his hold on the throne; he believed that disobeying his law should result in just retribution. He’s blind to divine devotion in his desire to secure his people’s loyalty to him, but instead of reassuring his people, he unknowingly caused them turmoil.

Mortal vs. Divine Law

The turmoil within the people is evident in the first act of the play. Antigone represents those with intense divine devotion as not to be swayed by mortal laws. Ismene, on the other hand, represents those with enough commitment to both.

Ismene acts like an average person struggling with what to adhere to; she wants to bury her brother according to divine law but doesn’t want to die following human rule.

Creon, on the other hand, represents mortal law. His firm conviction in his direction is what prevents him from ruling wisely. He placed himself on par with the Gods, which angered them, and caused doubt within believers.

Later on in the play, the Gods punish Thebes by refusing their sacrifices and prayers. These unconsumed sacrifices represent the rottenness of the city ruled by a man who puts himself on par with the Gods.

Antigone’s Defiance

AntigoneAntigone defies Creon and fights for her brother’s right to a proper burial. She bravely marches up to face the consequence of getting caught and is seen to hold no remorse for her actions. Even in entombment, Antigone holds her head high, believing in her actions up until the hour of her death. 

Antigone’s defiance can be seen in more ways than one. The most pressing and apparent resistance is her actions against Creon’s law, she goes up against Creon, stating divine law, and when that didn’t work, buried her brother instead. Another instance of Antigone’s stubborn defiance can also be seen in one of the choruses.

The chorus heralds Antigone for her courage in trying to take reigns of her fate, to defy her family’s curse, but it was all for naught, for she did die in the end. One could also surmise that she did change her fate, for she did not die a tragic death, but death by her hands with both her morality and pride intact.    

Antigone After Death

After Antigone’s death, tragedy befalls Creon, but the people of Thebes view her as a martyr. She fought bravely against their tyrannical emperor to fight for her life and beliefs as well. They believe that Antigone laid out her life to combating the mortal law that was causing internal conflict within themselves; they no longer view her as part of the cursed family but a martyr fighting for their religion.

The Family’s Curse

Her family’s curse goes back to her father and his transgressions. To further understand the curse, let’s do a quick recap of the events of Oedipus Rex:

  • The king and queen of Thebes receive an oracle that states their newborn son would kill the current king
  • In fear, they sent a servant to drown their newborn baby in the river
  • The servant, opting not to, decides to leave him by the mountains
  • A shepherd discovers him and brings him to the king and queen of Corinth
  • The king and queen of Corinth name the baby Oedipus and raises him as their son
  • Oedipus finds out he’s adopted and journeys to the temple of Apollo in Delphi
  • In the temple, the oracle says Oedipus is fated to kill his father
  • He decides to journey to Thebes, where he encounters and gets into an argument with an older man and his entourage
  • In a rage, he kills the older man and his entourage, leaving all but one dead
  • He defeats the Sphinx by answering its riddle and is heralded as a hero in Thebes
  • He marries the current Queen in Thebes and fathers four children with her
  • A drought arrives in Thebes, and an oracle appears
  • The drought will not end until the murderer of the previous emperor is caught
  • In Oedipus’ investigation, he finds out that he killed the previous emperor and that the last emperor was his father and his wife’s deceased husband
  • Upon realizing this, Jocasta, the Queen of Thebes, kills herself, and that’s how Oedipus finds her
  • Disgusted with himself, Oedipus blinds himself and leaves the throne to both of his sons
  • Oedipus gets struck by lightning in his journey and eventually dies

In the events of Oedipus Rex, we see that Oedipus’s mistakes curse his family to death by either strife or by suicide. His mistakes haunt his family to the point where only one person is left to continue his bloodline. After leaving Thebes in a hurry, he does not consider that leaving the throne for his sons to share would cause bloodshed in the kingdom.

His sons start a war with each other over the throne and eventually get killed by their own hands. His brother-in-law Creon takes over the throne and continues the family’s curse by his decision, refusing to honor Polyneices’ death. This leads to Antigone’s death and eventually the emperor’s wife and son’s death as well.

The tragedy of the family’s curse ends with Antigone, who the Gods favored, leaving only Ismene as Oedipus’ kin.

ConclusionAntigone and the body of polynices

Now that we’ve finished talking about Antigone, her character, why she buried her brother, and the family’s curse, let’s go over the main points of this article:

  • Antigone is the sequel to Oedipus Rex
  • She has three other siblings: Ismene, Eteocles, and Polyneices
  • Eteocles and Polyneices die from the war for the throne
  • Creon ascends to the throne and bans the burial of Polyneices
  • Antigone buries her brother as stated by divine law due to her strong sense of loyalty and devotion
  • Antigone is then imprisoned where she kills herself, thus starts the tragedy that befalls Creon
  • Creon warned of the death of Haemon due to his actions, rush to free Antigone, but it was too late; Haemon had already killed himself
  • Antigone defies her fate and Creon’s law
  • Creon is trying to stabilize the country, goes against the Gods’ law, and sows discord within his people
  • Creon’s pride not only prevented him from ruling wisely but also brought his family tragedy

And there you have it! Antigone — her downfall, why she buried her brother, and how she resolved the curse of her family.

Ancient Literature (June 8, 2024) Why Did Antigone Bury Her brother?. Retrieved from https://ancient-literature.com/why-did-antigone-bury-her-brother/.
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