The Language of Love and Hate in Antigone

"You will make me hate you, and the hatred of the dead, by all rights, will haunt you night and day. But leave me to my own absurdity, leave me to suffer this – dreadful thing. I will suffer nothing as great as death without glory."

~ Sophocles’ Antigone

Sophocles: (c. 496-405 B.C.E.)

Sophocles is recognized as one of the greatest of the ancient Greek dramatists. 

Antigone is the second in his Theban trilogy, though it was written first.

(image borrowed from


The major themes of love and hate are actively portrayed throughout Antigone. Not only can this be observed all through the plot of the story, it can be seen as well within many of the individual characters.


Antigone on Love and Hate

by Stephanie Schmuhl

The character Antigone takes on a very dynamic and interesting role by displaying many strong personality traits and holding tightly to her personal convictions. With a powerful affinity for the dark world of the dead, this woman proves her allegiance first to the divine institutions of the gods, rather than to the mortal institutions of man.

       Speaking her mind and showing Creon her true feelings made Antigone’s behavior quite different from that of other women during her time.  Photo courtesy of anti.php 


Refusing to abide by the decrees made by her uncle and king; this female character takes on a rebellious role quite different from that of the other more docile women of the time. Creon even acknowledges this as he says to her, "While I’m alive, no women is going to lord it over me" (Sophocles 86).  Not only is Antigone passionately open about her unorthodox beliefs, she takes active steps to live by them. Her obvious love for the world of the dead casts a somber yet oddly admirable feeling over the character. This coupled with her harsh and confident words not only to the king, but to her sister as well make her personality one not easily forgotten.  

The polarized emotions of Antigone add to the suspense of the drama allowing the character’s point of view to be vividly played out. A woman like no other, she reveals a romantic infatuation with the non-living and turns her defiance of the king into a noble cause. Despising Creon’s law against the proper burial of her brother, Antigone challenges the political jurisdiction she falls under. Not only is this type of action unheard of, but unthinkable from a woman. Furthermore, Antigone not only defies her mortal ruler; she challenges him to respond to her deviance, particularly by means of execution. It seems an interesting position for her. By making a mockery of Creon, Antigone is able to defend her brother’s name while concurrently placing herself in a position to be delivered to the life she craves.

When her desire to be put to death is quenched, Antigone’s character grieves for the earthly things she will not have or see. She moans and cry’s for the husband she will not marry and mourns her loathsome childhood. Antigone states, " Such, such were my parents, and I their wretched child. I go to them now, cursed, unwed, to share their home" (Sophocles 103).  While all this seems contrary to her previous actions, perhaps it is yet another example of how smitten Antigone really is with death. She not only has a strong affection for the life she believes will come, but for the process it will take to get there as well as the martyred existence she will leave behind.


         As Creon reacts violently to Antigone’s hateful words, he realizes that she is a woman who will not back down.   Photo courtesy of 


Throughout the play, Antigone makes many things quite clear to Creon. She actively proves to him how little respect she has for him and tries desperately to make him see that he is not above the law of the gods and should not fool himself into believing so. Nor should he fault her for trying to appease those in a higher position. She says, " I have longer to please the dead than please the living here: in the kingdom down below I’ll lie forever. Do as you like, dishonor the laws the gods hold in honor" (Sophocles 63).  Antigone does not feel the laws inflicted by mortal man hold weight against those inflicted by the gods. She speaks openly to Creon, explaining the error of his ways and in return is verbally abused as well as humiliated. In the disturbing end however, Creon is shown the truth in Antigone’s words.

Within the play, Antigone’s odd passions and loathing not only distinguish her character from those around her but also play a major role in the story line. Her emotions and reactions guide the plot as well as give the reader an interesting heroine with non-conventional motives.

--For further insight on the characters in the play through close analysis of the choral songs, click here.  (Specifically notice the section titled "Relationships in Antigone")


Ismene on Love and Hate

by Heidi Bontrager

Under the rule of Creon, women such as Ismene were restricted to follow the rules of the men of that society.  At the death of Ismene’s brother Polynices, Antigone questions her own sister’s heart by laying guilt upon Ismene for not standing up against the ruler of the land in order to give their brother the burial he rightfully deserved.  The question lies with Ismene and her feelings towards her sister and her slain brother; does she love them?  In some perspectives the approach that Ismene takes is cowardly; however it was the expected approach.

  If she did in fact truly love each of them with no restrictions she would have joined Antigone in the burial. The fact that she did not says something about the way that she thinks and how she values human life. The way that she lives she could not possibly fully love someone, but only stick to the rules and look to the men for the way that her life should be lived. She fears the rulers and let’s herself be governed by their law no matter what Gods it may defy. In a conversation with Antigone, Ismene says, “I’d do them no dishonor…but defy the city? I have no strength for that” (Sophocles 63).  She seems to not want to dishonor the Gods, but yet she follows a rule that is set by the King that does just so. She is afraid to die for honor, but when she is alive she has none. She might as well defy the town and die with Antigone for the sake of her dead kin.

There is no question that Ismene loves Antigone in the sense that she is her sister and has taken care of her since their parents died. The question is though; does she love her sister enough to leave the ways that she has known and stand up against the town and her powerlessness? Well, this question is answered when Ismene tells Antigone, “You’re in love with impossibility” (Sophocles 64).  Ismene never had enough emotion to die for any cause. She loved her brother, but not enough to give him the rights that he deserved. To be buried like a man and a human being. On the other side of the spectrum Ismene’s emotions turned to hate for others.

She feared the town with the power that it had over her and the way that situations were conducted within the town. The fact that King Creon would not let her brother be buried made her feel animosity towards the people of the town for the fact that no one else would stand against them except for her sister, even though she herself, could not do the same. She let her idea that she has no power take her over and make her think that she did not have the right to stand up for the love of a sister and brother. Instead she pitied them and kept her inner thoughts to herself.

Love and hate are powerful emotions. Sometimes people are confused about what is right and wrong by fear taking them over and turning into hate. This hate keeps individuals from doing what is respectful. In this case Ismene’s hate and fear of the city won over the love that she had for her sister and slain brother.

Antigone and Ismene

This image portrays the close loving relationship Ismene and Antigone shared.  It is from a modern stage adaption.

(image borrowed from Antigone%20Ismene.html )

--This page gives the opportunity to learn more about Sappho, a female poet from the ancient times who was also quite different than the average woman, especially how she toys with the idea that death would be a better alternative to marriage.  click here


Creon on Love and Hate

by Ashley Bouque

            Many of Creon’s lines in Antigone reflect on the contempt he shows for traitors to him and his country.  To him, Antigone is the greatest traitor to her country and king after she deliberately disobeys him, giving a proper burial to her brother Polynices.  After Creon expresses his disgust in her disobeying his orders, she argues the burial was due and she was right in doing so.  This is where the actual term “hate” is spoken by Creon.  He remarks, “Oh but I hate it even more when a traitor, caught red-handed tries to glorify his crimes,” (p 83, lines 552-554) speaking of Antigone’s defense of herself.  “Hate” is such a strong and powerful word, it seems peculiar he would actually suggest he hates his own niece. 

            However, this can be easily explained by the fact that in Greek society at the time the play takes place, the polis was most important in people’s lives and the center of their world.  The city is Creon’s first priority; this can be best conveyed by observing that he is even willing to give up family members and hate them when faced with an act that hurts his city.  Creon’s only use in the play of the word “hate” here serves to show the honor he has for the city and the role it plays in his life. 

            Similarly, Creon uses the word “love” only once throughout the play.  Though it is equally a serious word as “hate,” “love” is used in a somewhat derisive manner. His tone is sarcastic and mocking of Antigone.  After she argues her burying Polynices was right because it was done out of love, Creon tells her “Go down below and love, if love you must-love the dead!” (p 86, lines 592-593)  By his mocking of Antigone’s love of her brother, the reader can see that Creon respects neither the notion of familial love nor romantic love.  As king, he feels the only love he should feel is that for his city and its rules and regulations.  Instead of respecting the idea of the love his son has for Antigone and the love he should show towards his niece, Creon better demonstrates the love Greek political leaders showed for their positions.  He loves neither Antigone nor Haemon enough to make an exception to the city's rules and his laws pertaining to the burying of "traitors to the city," as he says Polynices was.  Only after he realizes his stubbornness was the cause of both his son and wife's suicide does Creon show any sort of actual "love" for his family.  His remorse appears and he sees how he was wrong in his demanding Antigone be put to death.  Creon’s frivolous use of the powerful words “love” and “hate” serves as a tool that helps the reader better understand the role the polis had in Greek society.

Antigone and Creon (as depicted in a Jean Cocteau's drawing)

This image symbolizes the confrontation between Antigone and Creon throughout the play.  In the play they "butt heads" over several topics; this depicts these disagreements.

(image borrowed from

--Creon's view of honor in times of war can easily be compared to Pericles' views in his Funeral Oration.  Both men insist upon the concept of honoring war heroes who died fighting for something they believed in.  (to read more about Pericles' Funeral Oration click here )


Haemon on Love and Hate

by Alicia Gehlhausen

            There is a prevalent theme of love and hate in the play Antigone.  Creon’s son Haemon experiences both of these emotions during the progression of the play.  When Haemon is first introduced to us he expresses unconditional love for his father.  He respects his father’s kingly powers and decision making abilities and tells Creon that he obeys him (93).  However, Haemon’s love for his father turns into great dislike.  Haemon suggests that his father not punish Antigone for her actions.  He tells Creon that all of Thebes is in Antigone’s favor, “no woman ever deserved death less, and such a brutal death for such a glorious action…she deserves a glowing crown of gold” (95). 

            Is this play a form of propaganda?  Is the Athenian born Sophocles ridiculing Thebes?  Is it true that the two city-states did not get along?  According the book Ancient Greece, the Thebans were antidemocratic (215) and the Athenian government was democratic.  This means that the Athenian government and the Theban government did not see eye to eye.  Sophocles has shown this in his play. It is depicted by having Haemon representing the Athenian government and Creon representing the Theban government.  Haemon believes that Creon should follow the views of the general public, which are not to punish Antigone for carrying out the honorable duties of the family.  The majority of the city of Thebes was in agreement on this issue.  Creon on the other hand was looking to future establish his power.  He said he would punish anyone who buried the young man Polynices, and that he had full intentions of following through with punishment (68).  He had to show Thebes that he would abide by his own words since he was a new ruler (67). 

This is similar to what a new teacher does on the first day of school.  The new teacher can not risk giving the impression of being a push-over because if he does, that is how the students will treat him.  Respect is given to those who have control of a particular situation.  In addition Creon wanted total power over the city of Thebes, a direct opposite of the democratic Athens.  Haemon believes Creon to be “insane” about his views on how to use his powers (99). 

--(Haemon's calling Creon insane is a puzzling element in Antigone.  To read more about the concept of madness and logic in this play click here. )

            The other side of Haemon is that he deeply respected Antigone and everything that she stood for.  She went against Creon’s laws in order to carry out her own personal believes and to burry her brother.  Would any other king have allowed her to do this, the burry a so-called traitor of the city?  Haemon felt so strongly in agreement with Antigone and disagreement with Creon that he killed himself to prove his point.  Is this another story about a doomed love relationship?  If Haemon can not marry Antigone while he is living, (99) he will do it in death.  Haemon is making a demonstration against his own father.

            This play is a form of propaganda against Thebes.  This plays underlying theme is to promote further dislike towards the Theban government within the Athenian citizens.  The Athenians are encouraged to demonstrate against Thebes.  Was Sophocles just a playwright with an innocent script that was only what it appears to be?  No, this play has a deeper meaning.

Creon lamenting the deaths of Haemon and Eurydice

This image reveals the sorrow and grief Creon experiences after his son's and wife's death. 

He realizes his role in their deaths and holds himself accountable.

(image borrowed from


Links to other web sites with more information on Antigone:


--all page numbers refer to Sophocles-The Three Theban Plays, translated by Robert Fagles, published by Penguin Classics


By Ashley Bouque, Heidi Bontrager, Alicia Gehlhausen, and Stephanie Schmuhl

Indiana University C101-Ancient Greek Culture

Professor T. Wareh Fall 2002