Haemon in Antigone represents an often forgotten character in classic mythology – the innocent victim. Often the offspring of acting characters, victims’ lives are driven by fate and the decisions of others.
Like Antigone herself, Haemon is the victim of his father’s hubris and foolish challenge of the gods’ will. Oedipus, father of Antigone, and Creon, father of Haemon both engaged in actions that defied the gods’ will, and their children, ultimately, paid the price along with them.
Who Is Haemon in Antigone?
Who is Haemon in Antigone? Creon, the king’s son and the betrothed to Antigone, the king’s niece, and a daughter to Oedipus. How does Haemon dies is a question that can only be answered by examining the play’s events.
The short answer is that he died by falling upon his own sword, but the events leading up to his death are far more complex. Haemon’s story has its roots in the past, before he was even born.
Haemon’s father, Creon, was the brother of the previous queen, Jocasta. Jocasta was famously both the mother and the wife to Oedipus. The bizarre marriage was only the culmination of a series of events in which kings tried to defy the will of the gods and circumvent fate, only to pay a terrible price.
Laius, Oedipus’ father, had broken the greek law of hospitality in his youth. Therefore, he was cursed by the gods to be murdered by his own son, who would then bed his wife.
Horrified by the prophecy, Laius tries to have Oedipus killed as an infant, but the efforts fail, and Oedipus is adopted by the King of Corinth, a neighboring kingdom. When Oedipus hears of the prophecy about himself, he flees Corinth to prevent his carrying it out.
Unfortunately for Oedipus, his flight takes him directly to Thebes, where he fulfills the prophecy, killing Laius and marrying Jocasta and father four children with her: Polynices, Eteocles, Ismene, and Antigone. From their very birth, the children of Oedipus seem to be doomed.
The two boys squabble over the leadership of Thebes following Oedipus’ death, and both die in the battle. It is their deaths that precipitate the series of events that lead up to Heomon’s tragic suicide.
Why Did Haemon Kill Himself?
The short answer to why did Haemon kill himself is grief. The death of his betrothed, Antigone, drove him to throw himself upon his own sword.
Creon, the newly appointed king following the death of both princes, has declared that Polynices, the aggressor and traitor who partnered with Crete to attack Thebes, will not be afforded a proper burial.
Laius earned his curse by breaking the greek law of hospitality; Creon similarly breaks the law of the gods by refusing his nephew burial rites.
To punish the traitorous behavior and set an example, as well as assert his own power and position as king, he makes a rash and harsh decision and doubles down by promising death by stoning for anyone who defies his order. The Haemon death comes about as a direct result of Creon’s foolish decision.
Haemon and Antigone, the sister of Polynices, are set to be married. Creon’s rash decision leads Antigone, the loving sister, to defy his order and perform burial rites for her brother. Twice she
returns to pour out libations and at least cover the body with a “thin layer of dust” to appease the ritual requirements so that his spirit will be welcomed into the underworld.
Creon, in a rage, sentences her to death. Haemon and Creon argue, and Creon relents to the point of sealing her in a tomb, rather than stoning her, declaring he does not want a woman for his son who he considers a traitor to the crown.
In the argument, it becomes clear that Creon and Haemon’s character traits are similar. Both have quick tempers and are unforgiving when they feel wronged. Creon refuses to back down on his condemnation of Antigone.
He is determined to have his vengeance on the woman who dared not only to defy him but to point out his error in refusing to bury Polynices in the first place. Admitting that Antigone was right in her actions would mean Creon would need to admit he had been hasty in his declaration against his dead nephew.
His inability to do so puts him in the position of being unable to back down from his order of death, even in the face of his son’s distress. The fight between father and son begins with Haemon trying to reason with his father. He comes to him with respect and reverence and speaks of his caring for his father.
When Haemon starts pushing back against Creon’s stubborn refusal to allow the burial, his father becomes insulting. Any Haemon character analysis must take into account not only the initial exchange with Creon but the scene of Haemon’s suicide.
When Creon enters the tomb and releases his niece from her unjust imprisonment, he finds her already dead. He tries to beg forgiveness of his son, but Haemon is having none of it.
In a fit of rage and grief, he swings his sword at his father. Instead, he misses and turns the sword against himself, falling with his dead love and dying, clasping her in his arms.
Who Caused Haemon’s Death?
It is hard to pinpoint the culprit when discussing Haemon’s death in Antigone. Technically, as he committed suicide, the fault is Haemon’s own. Yet, others’ actions led him to this rash action. Antigone’s insistence upon defying Creon’s order precipitated the events.
It could be argued that Ismene was also culpable in the outcome. She refused to assist Antigone but also vowed to protect her sister with her silence. Her attempt to claim responsibility and join Antigone in death further reinforced Creon’s belief that women are too weak and emotional to participate in affairs of state.
It is this belief that leads Creon to punish Antigone the more harshly for her defiance.
Antigone, for her part, knows full well the sentence she faces for defying Creon’s orders. She tells Ismene she will die for her actions and that her death “will not be without honor.”
She never mentions Haemon or seems to consider him in her plans. She speaks of her love and loyalty for her brother, who is dead, but never considers her living fiance. She risks death recklessly, determined to carry out the burial at any cost.
Creon is the most obvious villain in Antigone. His unreasonable behavior carries on throughout the first two-thirds of the action. He first makes the rash declaration denying Polynice’s burial, then doubles down on his decision in spite of Antigone’s defiance and rebuke.
Even his own son’s grief and persuasive arguments against his folly aren’t enough to move the King to change his mind. He refuses to even discuss the matter with Haemon or hear his thoughts. At first, Haemon seeks to reason with his father:
“Father, the gods implant reason in men, the highest of all things that we call our own. Not mine the skill-far from me be the quest!-to say wherein thou speakest not aright; and yet another man, too, might have some useful thought.”
Creon answers that he will not listen to the wisdom of a boy, to which Haemon counters that he seeks his father’s benefit and that if wisdom is good, the source shouldn’t matter. Creon continues to double down, accusing his son of being a “champion of this woman” and seeking only to change his mind in an effort to defend his bride.
Haemon warns that all of Thebes is sympathetic to Antigone’s plight. Creon insists that it is his right, as the king, to rule as he sees fit. The two exchange a few more lines, with Creon remaining steadfast in his stubborn refusal to release Antigone from her sentence and Haemon becoming increasingly frustrated with his father’s hubris.
In the end, Haemon storms out, telling his father that if Antigone dies, he will never lay eyes on him again. Unknowing, he has prophesied his own death. Creon relents far enough to adjust the sentence, from public stoning to sealing Antigone in a tomb.
The next to speak with Creon is Tiresias, the blind prophet, who informs him that he has brought the fury of the gods down upon himself and his house.
Creon continues to trade insults with the seer, accusing him of accepting bribes and contributing to the undermining of the throne. Creon is churlish and insecure in his role as king, refusing good advice no matter the source and defending his decision until he realizes that Tiresias has spoken the truth.
His refusal has angered the gods, and the only way to save himself is to free Antigone.
Creon rushes to bury Polynices himself, repenting of his foolish hubris, and then to the tomb to free Antigone, but he arrives too late. He discovers Haemon, who has come to find his beloved, having hung herself in despair. Creon cries out to Haemon:
“Unhappy, what deed hast thou done! What thought hath come to thee? What manner of mischance hath marred thy reason? Come forth, my child! I pray thee-I to implore!”
Without so much as an answer, Haemon leaps up to attack his father, swinging his sword. When his attack is ineffectual, he turns the weapon on himself and falls to die with his dead fiance, leaving Creon to grieve his loss.
Haemon’s mother, Eurydice, upon overhearing a messenger relate the events, joins her son in suicide, driving a knife into her own chest and cursing her husband’s hubris with her final breath. The stubbornness, impulsiveness, and hubris that started with Laius have finally destroyed the entire family, including his children and even his brother-in-law.
From Laius to Oedipus, to his sons who fought to both their deaths, to Creon, all of the characters’ choices contributed, in the end, to the final downfall.
Even Haemon himself exhibited out-of-control grief and rage upon the death of his beloved Antigone. He blames his father for her death, and when he is unable to avenge her by killing him, he kills himself, joining her in death.