Antigone by Sophocles: The Themes of Tragedy, Rebelliousness, and Free Will

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About this sample


Words: 1138 |

Pages: 3|

6 min read

Published: Apr 15, 2020

Words: 1138|Pages: 3|6 min read

Published: Apr 15, 2020


Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Antigone: A Theme of Determination and Recklessness
  3. Conclusion


The concept of "free will" in Greek philosophy lacks a precise definition, yet its implications can be both positive and negative. Essentially, free will entails the ability to make choices based on one's own understanding of what is morally right or appropriate. It empowers individuals to navigate their lives according to their interpretations of various circumstances and influences. From the moment of birth, it is believed that every person possesses this capacity to choose, thereby shaping their actions and determining their destiny.

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Greek tragedy, with its exploration of fundamental themes, offers profound insights into human nature and ethical dilemmas. Among these works, Sophocles' Antigone stands out for its exploration of family duty, societal norms, and individual choices. In this essay on Antigone themes, we will delve into the layers of this timeless play, examining how Sophocles crafts a narrative that resonates with audiences across ages.

Antigone: A Theme of Determination and Recklessness

In Sophocles' play, Antigone, themes of tragedy, defiance, and familial bonds are deeply explored. Among the characters, Antigone emerges as a poignant embodiment of the interplay between free will and fate. Despite the flaws inherent in many characters, Antigone's unwavering determination, recklessness, and impulsive nature ultimately precipitate the downfall of herself and those around her. As one of the four children of Oedipus and Jocasta, Antigone carries with her a burden of tragic familial history, eliciting sympathy and empathy from the audience. Upon learning of her brothers' deaths in battle, she resolves to ensure their proper burial, thus setting in motion the tragic events of the play.

"The general has put an edict over the whole city. Have you heard of it? Or have you avoided learning how our friends suffer the fate of foes?"

Antigone questions Ismene, highlighting the personal grief she experiences due to the tragedies befalling her family. The loss of both parents and now both brothers weighs heavily on her, fueling her resolve to defy the edict and honor her fallen siblings.

"For our two brothers, Crean gives honorable burial to one, but dishonors the other. They say that he hid Eteocles beneath the Earth with well-deserved pomp and circumstances, as one honored among the dead…"

Antigone laments, expressing her indignation at the unequal treatment of her brothers in death. The injustice of denying Polynieces a proper burial incites her defiance of both religious and state laws, as she adamantly insists on fulfilling her duty to him, even at the cost of her own life.

Antigone's selfless actions stem from her unwavering belief in the supremacy of divine law over temporal authority. She remains steadfast in her conviction that her defiance will be rewarded in the afterlife, declaring,

"Be whatever you want, and I will bury him. It seems fair for me to die doing it. I will lie dear to him, with one dear to me…"

Her confrontation with her sister, who prioritizes adherence to state law, underscores her unwavering commitment to her principles, even in the face of mortal consequences.

At the onset of the narrative, during Antigone's confrontation with her sister, Ismene, their opposing viewpoints starkly contrast. Antigone asserts,

"If you say this, you will be hateful to me, and the dead will hate you always-justly. But let me and my foolish plans suffer this terrible thing, for I shall succumb to nothing so awful as a shameful death."

This poignant statement encapsulates Antigone's steadfast belief in the imperative of doing what she perceives as right, even at the risk of incurring societal scorn or facing a dishonorable demise. Her unwavering commitment to honoring her loved one through burial epitomizes her adherence to her moral principles, regardless of the consequences.

Antigone's acceptance of her fate, even in the face of tragic outcomes, underscores her tragic flaw, which eventually becomes the catalyst for the downfall of others. Haemon's suicide, driven by his anguish over Antigone's plight and his conflicted loyalties between his father and his beloved, further exacerbates the tragedy. Similarly, Eurydice's despair upon learning of her son's death underscores the ripple effect of Antigone's actions, ultimately leading to widespread suffering within the familial sphere.

Despite the accusations of "mistakes and failures," Antigone remains resolute in her convictions, steadfastly defending her actions as morally justifiable. She adamantly rejects Creon's attempts to dissuade her, asserting,

"Therefore, there is no pain for me in meeting this fate, whereas if I were to endure that one born from my mother die unburied, that would cause me pain."

Her unwavering adherence to divine law over human decree reflects her unyielding commitment to her principles, refusing to compromise her beliefs for the sake of societal approval or personal safety.

Throughout the narrative, Antigone demonstrates a steadfast refusal to succumb to external pressures or conform to societal norms that contradict her moral compass. Her actions, while perceived as rebellious and reckless by some, are ultimately driven by a deep-seated sense of duty and righteousness. Even in the face of death, Antigone remains unwavering in her resolve, prioritizing her convictions above all else.

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In conclusion, Antigone emerges as a tragic hero whose unwavering determination and steadfast adherence to her principles ultimately lead to her downfall. While her actions may be perceived as reckless or impulsive, they are rooted in a deeply held belief in the primacy of moral duty over societal expectations. Through Antigone's tragic narrative, Sophocles delves into the complex interplay between fate and free will, prompting reflection on the consequences of individual choices and the moral imperatives that guide them. Had Antigone wavered in her convictions and succumbed to societal pressure, the narrative would have unfolded differently, underscoring the profound impact of individual agency and moral integrity on the course of events.


  1. Griffiths, A. (2013). The philosophy of free will: Essential readings from the contemporary debates. Oxford University Press.
  2. Frankfurt, H. G. (1971). Freedom of the will and the concept of a person. The Journal of Philosophy, 68(1), 5-20.
  3. Kane, R. (2005). A contemporary introduction to free will. Oxford University Press.
  4. Pereboom, D. (2001). Living without free will. Cambridge University Press.
  5. Fischer, J. M., & Ravizza, M. (1998). Responsibility and control: A theory of moral responsibility. Cambridge University Press.
  6. Aristotle. (n.d.). Nicomachean Ethics. (W. D. Ross, Trans.). Retrieved from
  7. Sophocles. (n.d.). Antigone. (R. C. Jebb, Trans.). Retrieved from
  8. Dennett, D. C. (2003). Freedom evolves. Penguin Books.
  9. Vihvelin, K. (2013). Causes, laws, and free will: Why determinism doesn’t matter. Oxford University Press.
  10. Mele, A. R. (2009). Effective intentions: The power of conscious will. Oxford University Press.
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Antigone By Sophocles: The Themes Of Tragedy, Rebelliousness, And Free Will. (2020, April 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from
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