As I understand it, it was common practice for a playwright to retell a well-known story with the details changed to suit the playwright's needs. A tidy way to avoid a lot of tedious exposition.

In Antigone, this leads to some significantly different endings:

  • In Sophocles' play, she is imprisoned and hangs herself, Creon has a change of heart too late, and Haemon commits suicide.

  • In Euripides' play, Dionysus intercedes, and everyone lives happily ever after.

  • In Hyginus' interpretation, Antigone is hidden away, and discovered years later, when she is finally executed by Haemon, in spite of intercession from Heracles.

So artistic license aside, is there a canonical ending to the myth?


3 Answers 3


Since Sophocles wrote first, his account is perhaps the "most canonical"; it seems not even the Oedipodea mentions Antigone's actions (as Gantz attests). However, ancient Greeks didn't really think of mythological accounts in terms of "canonicity" until very late. Playwrights were free to change the narrative at will and often did so.

For us, since Sophocles' Antigone is so well known, that has become canonical to us.


The Sophocles version is the canonical one, for several reasons:

  1. It was written first, and has been preserved in it's complete form.
  2. There is some disagreement about what actually happens in the Euripedes version. I hate to use Wikipedia as a source, but this particular one is well cited, largely from this text. I struggle to consider a source canonical if we can't figure out if Dionysus saved the day, or if they managed to marry secretly or what. It also appears to have been written slightly later.
  3. The Hyginus version is likely to have been derived not one step away from Sophocles version, but two: there is another version written by Astydamas the Younger, who is at least 100 years farther in the future:

    differently from Sophocles that it cannot be considered for reconstructing Euripides (cf. Jebb in his Antigone p. xxxvii and Paton [1901], followed by most editors. It is now widely agreed that Hyginus and one or two 4th c. vases reflect the Antigone of Astydamas the Younger

  4. Modern adaptations generally use the suicide ending. For instance, this 1949 opera and this 1961 movie.


The frontispiece to George Steiner's 1989 Antigones is a quote from J. Lempriere's 1797 A Classical Dictionary, "Antigone, a daughter of Oedipuus, king of Thebes, by his mother Jocasta. She buried by night her brother Polynices, against the positive orders of Creon, who, when he heard of it, ordered her to be buried alive. She however killed herself before the sentence was executed; and Haemon, the king's son, who was passionately fond of her, and had not been able to obtain her pardon, killed himself on her grave."

We can assume that this is the classical view of Antigone's fate and that Steiner's book is the single best modern consideration of the play's significance and history. The plurality in Steiner's book title is deliberate and a tip of the hat to the many Antigones for their enduring fascination and many reinterpretations.

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