Antigone is perhaps one of the most strong-willed women in Greek literature. Her unwavering self-confidence and spirited nature cannot be but admired. However, her single-minded commitment to burying her brother can be seen as either an honorable act of love for her family or a rebellious teenage act against authority. Is Antigone a rebel or a martyr? The evidence points both ways at first. When Creon decrees that Polyneices should not be buried because he died a traitorous death, there is never any sign that Antigone has faltered in her decision to disobey Creon. The play starts with Antigone trying to convince Ismene to join her in burying their brother. Either Antigone is extremely close to her brother or she has been waiting for a reason to defy Creon. The first sign that Antigone’s motives are perhaps rebellious is when she becomes angry with Ismene because she is too timid to break the law. Instead of forgiving Ismene or understanding her sister’s hesitant nature, Antigone accuses her of being a traitor to the family. On the other hand, if Antigone truly loves her brother as strongly as she professes, Ismene’s refusal to help her could have upset her deeply. Indeed Antigone insists, “I will bury him; and if I must die, / I say that this crime is holy; I shall lie down / With him in death, and I shall be as dear / To him as he to me” (1326).
However, when she is captured, she is more intent on lecturing Creon and criticizing his policies than professing her love for her brother. This Antigone is more concerned with becoming a martyr than the peace she supposedly wants to secure for her brother’s soul. Indeed Creon accuses her of this when he declares, “[t]he girl is guilty of a double insolence, breaking the given laws and boasting of it” (1334). And she reveals her real intention when she says, “I should have praise and honor for what I have done” (1334). If she really was breaking the law because of love for her brother, she would not want praise and honor and attention. Finally, when Ismene is brought in and accused by Creon of having a part in Antigone’s plan, Antigone refuses to allow Ismene to share in the blame. Ismene is now ready to share responsibility for Antigone’s actions because she realizes her duty to her brother and does not want to live if Antigone is dead. Antigone however refuses to let her be condemned to death as she does not want Ismene “to lessen [her] death by sharing it” (1336). These actions are a demonstration of Antigone’s self-centered motives. She will not allow Ismene to share her death, because she wants all the glory a martyr’s death will bring.
This arrogant and selfish Antigone is not representative of the traditional strong-willed martyr of Greek mythology. Yet her personality flaws make Antigone a more believable, if imperfect heroine. Regardless of her motives, Antigone still sacrifices herself for her family, and is able to give her brother peace in the Underworld. Indeed it is Antigone as the imperfect heroine that makes her one of the most fascinating women in Greek drama.