Antigone key literary elements

Antigone key literary elements



Antigone key literary elements

This tragedy is set against the background of the Oedipus legend. It illustrates how the curse on the House of Labdacus (who is the grandson of Cadmus, founder of Thebes, and the father of Laius, whose son is Oedipus) brought about the deaths of Oedipus and his wife-mother, Jocasta, as well as the double fratricide of Eteocles and Polynices. Furthermore, Antigone dies after defying King Creon.
The play is set in Thebes, a powerful city-state north of  Athens. Although the play itself was written in 441 B.C., the legend goes back to the foundations of Hellenic culture, many centuries before Sophocles’ time.
All the scenes take place in front of the royal palace at Thebes. Thus Sophocles conforms to the principle of the unity of place. The events unfold in little more than twenty four hours. The play begins on the night when Antigone attempts to bury her brother for the first time. Her second attempt at burial occurs at noon the following day, when Antigone is apprehended. She is convicted and kept overnight in a cell. The next morning she is taken to a cave, her place of entombment.
On Thebes: Thebes was the most important city of Boeotia, on mainland Greece. It was one of the chief city-states of ancient Greece, after Athens and Sparta. Sophocles described it as “the only city where mortal women are the mothers of gods.” According to Greek legends, the city was founded by Cadmus and was destroyed by the Epigonoi in the time before the Trojan War. In the sixth century B.C., Thebes recovered its glory to some extent, and in Sophocles’ time it was still a powerful state.

The daughter of Oedipus, the former King of Thebes. Her mother, Jocasta, was Creon’s sister. She is willing to risk her life in order to bury Polynices, her dead brother, thereby defying King Creon’s edict. She is sentenced to death, but commits suicide by hanging herself.
The brother of Jocasta, who was the wife and mother of Oedipus. Creon becomes ruler of Thebes after the deaths of Oedipus’ two sons in the recent civil war. He orders a state funeral for Eteocles, but denies the rites of burial to Polynices. He is compelled to sentence Antigone to death when she defies his law. In the end, he accepts that he has acted wrongly and repents.
The Chorus
The voice of the elders of the city of Thebes. They are the main victims of the recently fought civil war and hence long for peace and stability. They comment on the major events that occur in the play and provide the audience with the public reaction to the private struggles of the ruling family of Thebes.
The only surviving son of Creon. He is in love with Antigone, to whom he is engaged. He pleads in vain with his father for her life. He commits suicide in Antigone’s tomb after he discovers that Antigone has taken her own life.
The elder sister of Antigone, who initially has reservations about helping Antigone to bury the body of their brother, Polynices. She later claims a share in Antigone’s guilt and punishment; Creon refuses to punish her as he considers her temporarily insane.

Tiresias (or Teiresias)
The blind prophet of Thebes, who also appears in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. He comes to warn Creon that dire consequences will follow if he stands by his decision to leave Polynices’ body unburied.
The wife of Creon. She appears only once in the play, when she hears the news of her son’s (Haemon’s)
The watchman
Comes to inform death. She commits suicide at the end of the play.
Creon that someone has attempted to bury Polynices during the night. Threatened with severe punishment for what Creon feels is neglect of duty, the watchman returns to his watch and succeeds in arresting Antigone. He hands her over to Creon for sentencing.
The first Messenger
Comes to inform Eurydice about the death of Haemon. He accompanies Creon to the tomb and later gives a first- hand account of the deaths of Antigone and Haemon.
The Second Messenger
Comes to inform Creon about the death of Eurydice.
The leader of the Chorus
Occasionally speaks a few lines addressed mainly to the audience. He is given the final lines of the play, in which he draws a moral from the sequence of tragic events the audience has just witnessed.

Antigone is the resolute and strong-willed daughter of King Oedipus. She is determined to give her brother, Polynices, a decent burial. She consciously risks her life with this action, which violates both Creon’s unjust decree, as well as the ancient custom of denying burial to enemies of the state. She obeys only the laws of the gods and the dictates of familial loyalty and social decency.
King Creon regards only the requirement of political expediency. Soon after the civil strife between Eteocles and Polynices ends in their deaths, he announces a decree denying Polynices’ burial. He is unrelenting in his stance, as he wants Thebans to know that he is a firm ruler. Thus he sentences his own niece, Antigone, to death for defying his law.
The climax of the play occurs during the encounter between Creon and Antigone. It is a scene marked by dramatic contrast. Here one can see the incompatibility between Creon’s world of physical power (which he takes to be absolute) and the world of spiritual, idealistic strength which Antigone represents. Creon’s vanity is hurt and his anger aroused by the stubborn disobedience of one whom he considers to be merely a mad woman. When he realizes he cannot break or bend her will, he resolves to send her to her doom.
The resolution of the play begins when the Chorus succeeds in making Creon see the injustice of his recent decisions. He orders the burial of Polynices’ body and rushes to Antigone’s cave, only to find that she has hanged herself. The deaths of Haemon and Eurydice soon ensue, and at end of the play, Creon is left alone in his wretchedness. He has paid a heavy price for his folly and rashness. The tragedy lies in the fact that realization has come to late for Creon.

Antigone’s brothers, Polynices and Eteocles, had fought a battle for the throne of Thebes. At the beginning of the play, they are both dead, having killed each other in combat. Creon, the new monarch, has decided to honor the memory of the younger brother, Eteocles, by giving him a state funeral. During his lifetime Eteocles had broken his pact with Polynices, according to which the two brothers had agreed to take turns at ruling Thebes. This enraged Polynices, who brought an army of Argives to fight against Eteocles and the Thebans. Creon had supported Eteocles in this dispute. After the civil war has ended, Creon brands Polynices a “traitor” and proclaims that anyone who attempts to bury Polynices’ body will have to face death.
Antigone resolves to defy Creon’s edict, and in the opening scene (or Prologus) she asks her sister, Ismene, to join her in the act of burying Polynices. Ismene refuses to help Antigone because she does not wish to violate Creon’s order.
Antigone’s strong respect for family bonds and divine laws prompt her to conduct funeral rites for her brother. She is caught by Creon’s watchman and brought before the enraged king. At her trial, Antigone pleads that her defiant act is in accordance with the overriding laws of the gods.
Creon is reluctant to accept this justification and is unrelenting in his harsh stance as he condemns Antigone to be immured (buried alive) in a cave. Ismene comes forward to claim a share in Antigone’s guilt and in the penalty that goes with the crime. Creon dismisses her pleas as he considers her present behavior to be a temporary mental abnormality, although he had earlier accused her of being Antigone’s partner in crime.
Then Creon’s son, Haemon, pleads vainly with his father to forgive Antigone. The blind prophet, Tiresias, also threatens Creon with the catastrophic consequences of defying all divine laws in refusing burial to Polynices. Finally, the Chorus begs Creon to relent and release Antigone.
At last Creon is moved, and he goes to the cave to find Haemon clasping the dead Antigone, who has hanged herself. In blind fury, Haemon charges with his sword towards his father, but misses him and then kills himself. Filled with remorse, Creon returns to his palace to find that his wife, Eurydice, has already received the tragic news of the two deaths from a messenger. In deep despair, Eurydice takes her own life, leaving Creon to grieve alone.

Major Themes
Sophocles’ plays often deal with the specific struggle of a strong- willed individual against fate. In Antigone he depicts a resolute and heroic female protagonist, who pits her individual free will against the intractable forces of fate and against the irrational and unjust laws of tyrannical men, like Creon. Basically, the play centers on the conflict between the steadfast protagonist and an equally resolute antagonist.
Sophocles’ two main characters are placed in peculiar circumstances that force them to act the way they do. There are fatal consequences for themselves and others. Their very personalities seem to initiate the play’s central action, and a conflict of interests soon erupts between these two people of almost equal heroic stature. One is committed to serving the public, and the other is led by the demands of her conscience.

Minor Themes
As the central conflict unfolds, Sophocles makes it known that both Creon’s and Antigone’s firm stances stem from the two great imperatives that underlie all political action: the needs of the individual versus the rights of the state. Creon is constrained to act the way he does for reasons of political expediency. He is a newly appointed ruler who has to rescue his people from the chaotic state of civil war and anarchy brought on by the bitter rivalry of Polynices and Eteocles. Creon is forced to formulate unpleasant laws so that political trouble-makers will think twice before attempting to start another revolt.
Yet Creon’s noble intentions in trying to bring stability back to Thebes ironically backfires on him. Antigone’s protest against Creon’s decree merely underscores the fundamental truth that conscience is very often above the law.

The action takes place in the period of uneasy calm following the civil war in Thebes. In this time of tentative peace, Creon’s new edict introduces a note of harsh repression and punitive malevolence. A mood of uncertainty prevails in Thebes. The Chorus reacts typically to the flux of public events in these disturbed times. At times, the singers of the Chorus express a kind of empathy for Antigone’s unhappy situation; there are other moments when they display silent sympathy for Creon.
As the great debate between the two central figures advances, the elements of foreboding and impending doom predominate in the atmosphere. Creon’s mounting rage is matched by Antigone’s willful obstinacy. Finally, as the catastrophe unfolds, a somber mood prevails as one tragic death follows another. From the pity and terror the audience feels at the deaths of Antigone, Haemon and Eurydice, it is moved at the play’s end to sympathize with Creon in his silent, solitary grief. The pathos of human suffering against the tragic backdrop of death leaves a final impression of catharsis, an emptying of all emotion after the catastrophic storm. As John Milton says at the close of his Samson Agonistes, the audience here experiences the same “calm of mind, all passions spent.”


Author Information
Life of Sophocles (circa 496-406 B.C.)
Sophocles was chronologically the second of the trinity of great Greek tragedians, the other two being Aeschylus and Euripides. He was born at Colonus, a pleasant rural suburb of  Athens, (probably in 496 B.C.) and died there, ninety years later. His father, Sophilius, manufactured armor for a living.
As a boy, Sophocles won prizes for both wrestling and music. In his teens, he is reputed to have led the singing of a lyrical paean to celebrate the famous Greek victory over the Persians at Salamis (480 B.C.). He produced his first set of plays in 468 B.C., and won the first prize although he was competing with his own mentor, Aeschylus.
He wrote more than 120 plays (the titles of over 110 of these are known). However, only seven of his tragedies have survived. Their probable chronological order was: Antigone (441 B.C.), Ajax, Oedipus Rex (also called Oedipus Tyrannus), Electra, Trachiniae, and Philoctetes (409 B.C.). He wrote his final work, Oedipus at Colonus, at the age of ninety. The play was first produced five years after Sophocles’ death by the younger Sophocles, the grandson of the great playwright.
As a dramatist, Sophocles learned his art from Aeschylus. He was instrumental in increasing the number of singers of the chorus from twelve to fifteen. He also had painted scenery in his productions and used three actors, instead of only two, in his dramas. He is known to have had at least eighteen to twenty victories at drama festivals (besides being ranked second on several occasions). These festivals were held at the theater of Dionysus in Athens. His greatest surviving play, Oedipus Rex managed only second place. Sophocles also staged his plays at the “Lenaea,” or feast of the wine-vats, held annually in January after 450 B.C. at the theater of Dionysus in Athens.
Sophocles married twice (first to Nicostrate, and then to Theoris of Sccyon) and had two sons: Iophon, the tragedian, and Agathon, father of the younger Sophocles, also a writer of tragedies. The Greeks regarded Sophocles as a kind of tragic Homer, hailed him as the favorite of the gods and honored him with state sacrifices long after his death. The last part of his life coincided with the glorious age of Cimon and Pericles, the period of Athens’ greatest prosperity. Although he showed little interest in politics and had no special military skills, he was elected as a “strategos” to serve as one of the ten generals who led the war of 441-438 B.C. He was also chairman of the Athenian treasury from 441-410 B.C., serving alongside the eminent statesman, Pericles. In 413 B.C., after the great Athenian disaster in Sicily, he was made one of the “Probouloi” (special commissioners), mainly due to his widespread fame.
From reliable contemporary accounts one learns that Sophocles was a handsome, wealthy man of great charm. He had friends like Pericles and Herodotus, the great Greek historian. The Victorian critic, Matthew Arnold, praised Sophocles as a man “who saw life steadily and saw it whole.” The ancient biographer, Phyrnicus, says that Sophocles’ life was happy and that he retained all his faculties to the very end. Sophocles is reported to have died either by choking on raw grapes or by running out of breath while reciting lines from Antigone, his favorite play.
The Works of Sophocles
Sophocles’ plays were not like those of either Aeschylus or Euripides. His tragedies did not deal with abstract problems of guilt and punishment stretching over generations, like those of Aeschylus (namely his famous trilogy, Oresteia). Sophocles preferred to depict the specific struggles of resolute individuals against the unyielding forces of fate. He did not favor the writing of a whole trilogy to cover one subject but wrote only single plays, such as Antigone or Ajax.
However, Sophocles did write three plays connected to the Oedipus legend from Greek mythology. The first, called Oedipus Rex, deals with the ill-fated reign of Oedipus as King of Thebes. It was written in the middle of his career, while the second, titled Oedipus at Colonus, was written in 406 B.C., when Sophocles was ninety years old. This play narrates the incidents following Oedipus’ downfall as king and his life in exile in the forests of Colonus. Here he was looked after by his loyal daughters, Antigone and Ismene, until his death. The third play in this series is Antigone, which was actually written first in 441 B.C.

To understand a classical play like Antigone it is essential to have a general idea of Greek tragedy (as a form of drama) as well as specific information about the ill-fated House of Cadmus, whose tragic family history comes full circle with the death of Antigone.


Greek Tragedy:
It was originally associated with religious festivals like that of Dionysus, the god of wine. It was often solemn, poetic and philosophical. It told the tale of a central character (the protagonist), who was an admirable but not necessarily flawless person. S/he was confronted by hostile forces and often had to make difficult moral choices in trying to resolve these conflicts. The protagonist’s struggle ended mostly in defeat or death.
Most Greek tragedies were based on myths and consisted of a series of dramatic episodes interspersed with choral odes chanted by an on-stage chorus of ten to fifteen people. This chorus often commented on the dramatic action or analyzed the pattern of events in its own way. They sang, danced and recited the odes to the accompaniment of musical instruments like the lyre, flute or drums. The main episodes were performed usually by not more than three actors appearing simultaneously on stage. Men played the women’s parts, and the same actor appeared in multiple roles. The performers in Greek tragedy wore masks to depict the kind of characters they were enacting.
In his critical work, The Poetics, Aristotle deals with the major elements of Greek tragedy. For Aristotle, the most important part of tragedy was the plot (or action). He felt that any tragic action must be long enough to depict a dramatic change in fortune (from prosperity to misfortune) of the protagonist. In Antigone it is the antagonist, Creon, who at the start of the play has just become king. By the end of the play, Creon has lost both his wife and son and is left despondent. Aristotle holds that character is the second most significant feature which gives drama its moral dimensions. The central personage in Greek tragedy must be morally good, of a heroic stature, true to life and consistent in his/her actions. The change in fortune of the main personage is often the consequence of a fatal flaw in his/her character, or an error of judgment called “hamartia.” The failure of the hero (or heroine) is also due to his/her “hubris,” a false sense of pride in his/her own secure position.
The tragic dramatist must choose suitably heroic characters and place them in a well constructed plot, which aims at representing actions that will invoke “pity and fear” in the audience. Tragedy ideally evokes these dual emotions. The downfall of a noble, well- known, prosperous and moral person naturally evokes one’s pity (in reaction to the hero’s misfortune) and one’s fear (that such misfortune can overwhelm human beings). This leads finally to an effect of catharsis, the purgation of these emotions of pity and fear. This gives tragedy a psychological dimension, as it provides an outlet for undesirable emotions that humans inevitably experience.
Aristotle also pointed out two important devices of the plot: “peripeteia” and “anagnorisis.” “Peripeteia” is often wrongly translated as “reversal of fortune,” but more accurately, it refers to a reversal of the situation: the action turns in a direction opposite from its original course. “Anagnorisis” refers to a person’s realization of a situation. It is a change from the state of ignorance to that of enlightenment. Such changes wrought through “peripeteia” or through “anagnorisis” must occur within the limits of probability and help to create the effect of dramatic irony.
The Ill-Fated House of Cadmus:
Antigone is virtually the last in the line of Theban royalty belonging to this family of Cadmus, who was the founder of Thebes. The story of Antigone can be read and understood entirely only when one takes into account all the tragic consequences that troubled the family of the founding father, Cadmus.
Cadmus was the legendary founder of the Greek city of Thebes and the son of Agenor, King of Tyre. Cadmus’ sister, Europa, was carried off by Zeus in the disguise of a bull. Cadmus, who went in search of Europa, discovered instead the site of Thebes. Cadmus slew the dragon who was guarding Thebes and planted half the dragon’s teeth in the soil. From these teeth sprang a group of armed men who fought each other until only five survived. These five, known as the “spartoi,” were believed to be the  ancestors of the Theban nobility. Thus the city of Thebes was born in a violent manner.
Cadmus  married Harmonia, the daughter of Ares and Aphrodite, and presented his bride with a necklace which was to prove fatal to the Theban dynasty. At the end of their lives, Cadmus and his wife were changed into serpents by the gods.
Cadmus’ daughter, Semele, was loved by Zeus and gave birth to the god Dionysus. Semele was killed when Zeus appeared before her in all his godly glory. Dionysus himself punished the women of Thebes with madness for refusing to accept his divinity. Agave, the sister of Semele, brought about the death of her own son, Pentheus. This story is related in Euripides’ tragedy, Bacchae.
Laius, the father of Oedipus, was the great-grandson of Cadmus. He was killed by his own son, Oedipus, who was unaware of his father’s identity. The god Apollo had warned Laius that his own son would kill him. Thus, when Oedipus was born to Laius and his wife, Jocasta, Laius took the boy and exposed him to the elements on Mount Cithaeron. But Oedipus survived and was brought up by the King of Corinth. Eager to discover his true identity, Oedipus set out in the direction of Thebes. In a chance encounter en route, Oedipus met, quarreled with and then killed his own father, Laius. He became the monarch of Thebes and unwittingly married his own mother, Jocasta. The couple had four children: two sons, Polynices and Eteocles, and two daughters, Antigone and Ismene.
Homer relates that when it was discovered that Oedipus had married his own mother, Jocasta hanged herself, but he continued to rule as king. However, in Sophocles’ tragedy, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus willfully blinds himself and wanders off in self-imposed exile, accompanied by Antigone. He later went to Colonus where he died.
The present play, Antigone, begins with a reference to the battle fought between Oedipus’ two sons, Polynices and Eteocles. They had quarreled over their father’s throne during Oedipus’ lifetime. Oedipus had pronounced a curse on the two, predicting that they would kill each other. When Oedipus died, his sons decided to share power. They agreed to allow each other to rule separately for alternate periods of the year. Eteocles, the younger of the two, began to rule first, but when his reign was over, he refused to give up the throne to his brother. Polynices, in the meanwhile, had married the Princess of Argos. Angered at his brother’s betrayal of trust, Polynices set out with an army from Argos towards Thebes. He placed seven commanders at the seven gates of Thebes. The Argive army was hopelessly routed by the Theban army, led by Eteocles, and the two brothers fought and killed each other in battle. This tale was dramatized by Aeschylus in his Seven Against Thebes.
Creon, the brother of Jocasta and the senior most member of the royal family of Thebes, assumed power. He had favored Eteocles before the battle and now proclaims that Eteocles is a hero who will be given a state funeral. However, Creon ordered that the bodies of the enemies, including Polynices’ body, should not be buried. There are many traditions and legends regarding what happened next. Sophocles tells one of these in his play, Antigone. Other stories tell how Antigone was killed by Creon himself, or was sent into exile for defying Creon’s law and daring to bury her brother’s body.
Thus the House of Cadmus had from ancient times been plagued by disaster and tragedy. Antigone’s tragedy is a culmination of the earlier events that look place in and around Thebes.

Note: Since this particular play has no divisions into acts and scenes, sections have been created and are designated by line numbers. Breaks have been inserted at the points when an important character enters or exits.
Lines 1-99  The Prologos or Expository Scene
The play begins with Antigone’s words addressed to her sister, Ismene. Antigone tells Ismene that their uncle, King Creon, has decreed that Polynices, their older brother, not be given a proper burial. Eteocles, their younger brother, has been buried with great honor as a hero, but Polynices’ body has been left to rot in the open, so that carrion and dogs can feed on it. Creon has ordered that no one should mourn for Polynices, and anyone who tries to bury him will be stoned to death.
Asserting that she will not betray the memory of her dead brother, Antigone invites Ismene to join her in the dangerous task of burying Polynices. Ismene advises her against breaking Creon’s law. She reminds Antigone about the ruin that has fallen upon their family. Creon, Ismene believes, will order their deaths if they decide to bury Polynices. Ismene holds the conventional belief that being a woman, she cannot challenge Creon’s decree.
Antigone does not force Ismene to help her. She decides to perform this task alone, and she thinks that it is a great honor to do so. She believes that she has a “duty towards the dead,” and she accuses Ismene of making weak excuses. She tells Ismene not to fear for her (Antigone’s) life.
When Ismene promises to keep Antigone’s plan a secret, Antigone asks her not to do so. Antigone would much rather have her deed made known to the world. She expresses her wish to die a noble death. Ismene admits that Antigone, though unwise, is unmatched in “faithful love.”
In the opening scene of the tragedy, the audience is introduced to the protagonist, Antigone. She is busy planning a proper burial for her dead brother. She appears strong-willed and is determined to break Creon’s law, even on penalty of death. In contrast, Ismene lacks the will to defy Creon. She is concerned only about her own survival and Antigone’s life. She considers Antigone’s plan to bury Polynices to be “fool-hardy.” While Ismene wants to live within the bounds of the laws of the state, Antigone is willing to break them in order to do what she thinks is morally right. She believes that she owes a duty to her brother. She describes her action as a “holy crime,” emphasizing that the law of the gods must take precedence over the law of the king. Antigone believes that she owes obedience to the divine law that demands a ritual burial for any human being.
The reader (or audience) is also given information regarding Creon’s proclamation when Antigone informs Ismene of the edict. Sophocles thus draws the audience (who, like Ismene, is ignorant of the situation) immediately into the center of things. Events are revealed naturally and chronologically.
Antigone plays the part of a messenger in this first scene as she informs her sister about recent happenings in Thebes. One also gets an insight into the contrast between the two sisters when Ismene speaks the following lines: “We need must bear in mind we are but women,/ Never created to contend with men.”
For Ismene, womanhood is weakness, and she submissively subscribes to the conventional view that women must obey men. Antigone, on the other hand, does not wish to please any man, least of all Creon. She is not the “hapless maiden” that Ismene describes her to be in this scene. Ismene realizes that despite her sister’s apparent lack of wisdom, there is in her (Antigone) a devotion to duty and a strong bond of familial love that remains faithful to the very end.
Towards the end of the scene, the sisters are still at odds with each other. Antigone cannot force Ismene to join her in breaking Creon’s law, nor can Ismene coerce Antigone into altering her decision regarding the burial of Polynices. In a way, Antigone’s desire to bury her dead brother is almost a death-wish. So that she can die an honorable death, she does not want her action to be kept secret. Here again, the two sisters are polar opposites of each other. While Antigone wishes to die heroically, Ismene chooses to live a meaningless and cowardly life, in conformity to Creon’s law. This fact is made more evident in a later scene when Antigone tells Ismene that she (Ismene) has, in fact, chosen life over death. However, Antigone prefers to die nobly rather than live a life of timidity and subjugation to conventional authority.

Lines 100-154  The opening Chorus (or Parodos)
After the initial debate between Ismene and Antigone, the Chorus enters for the first time in the play. It describes the beginning of a new day which dawns over the seven gates of Thebes and the fountain of Dirce. According to the Chorus, this is the “brightest” and “fairest” day that Thebes has seen. The Chorus then gives an account of the battle recently fought at the gates of Thebes between the two brothers, Polynices and Eteocles. The soldiers from Argos, who had supported Polynices, hurried away from the battle because they were losing to the Thebans, led by Eteocles and Creon.
The Chorus next relates how the warriors of Argos came to wreak destruction on Thebes: the man of Argos bears “sharp menace” within his breast and is covered in armor. The Chorus describes the sights and sounds of the furious battle, as the spears fired by the enemy, “(y)awned wide around the gates that guard (their) homes.”
The Chorus believes that the king of the Greek gods, Zeus, and his son, Atres, the god of war, were both on the side of Thebes. Zeus hurled down fire on the enemy, and Ares fought in open battle against the foe. During the battle the seven champions of the Argive army were matched against seven champions of the Theban forces. The two brothers, Polynices and Eteocles, were paired against each other and were killed when they met in combat.
Afterwards the Chorus sings a song about victory and peace. It wishes that the memories of this battle would be wiped out of people’s minds and that thoughts of peace would reign once more over Thebes. The Chorus plans to indulge in “holy dances of delight” and visit every shrine to give thanks to the gods for this newly found peace.
In its first appearance the Chorus gives further information about the background of the play. The Chorus represents the people of the city celebrating the victory of Thebes over the Argives. It vividly describes the battle between the two brothers and is conventional in outlook, displaying a strong faith in the gods. Zeus and Ares are said to have fought for Thebes. The Chorus exults in Thebes’ victory, and at the same time, it prays for a lasting peace. Joy gives way to ecstasy as the Chorus pays tribute to Bacchus with “dances of delight” lasting through the night.
Sophocles uses a wide array of imagery in this opening Chorus. The rays of the sun are compared to the weapons of war that the Thebans used to drive away the Argives. In an extended metaphor, the man of Argos rises “on eagle wing,” hoping to bring ruin to Thebes. Like an eagle, the enemy screeches “sharp menace from his breast” and has a “plumed crest” crowning his helmet. His body is described as wrapped in armor of steel. Thebes, on the other hand, is the “serpent struggling to be free” of the predator. Therefore, the Chorus provides a graphic account of the recent battle.
The gods are seen to be taking sides, and they support Thebes. It is Polynices who comes “breathing madness at the gate.” The battle hangs in the balance until Ares, the god of war, hurls himself among the Argives and fights for Thebes.
At the end of the battle, the Chorus claims that Pallas Athena, the godess of war (and victory), descended upon Thebes as a heavenly omen of Thebes’ victory. Hence, to give thanks to the gods, the Theban chorus visits every shrine “in solemn round.” It concludes its opening sequence by performing a ritual dance on stage. The Chorus pays homage not only to the gods of war and victory, but also to Terpsichore, the Muse of dancing and choral singing.
The Chorus echoes the common citizen’s desire for peace and stability, instead of war. Ironically, the peace for which the Chorus offers such gratitude will soon be disturbed by Antigone’s revolt against Creon.

Lines 155-225  The First Episode or Creon’s Opening Speech
The leader of the Chorus announces Creon’s arrival and informs the audience of Creon’s newly acquired power. The leader wonders why Creon has called for a conference of the elders of Thebes.
Creon enters and assures the elders that the kingdom of Thebes is, once again, “on a smooth course” after the terrible battle between the two sons of Oedipus. Creon has specially selected the audience of elders from those among the Thebans who are loyal to the throne of Laius. Creon stakes his claim to rule the land as the next of kin of the slain ruler, Eteocles. He believes that a good leader should use his power to maintain order.
Creon promises that he will not “keep silence” if any danger threatens his citizens. He will not befriend anyone who does not love Thebes. In order to rebuild Thebes as a great city, Creon proclaims his new decree regarding the two sons of Oedipus. Creon considers one of them a hero and acords him a proper burial: Eteocles, who had fought on the Theban side. By contrast, he considers Polynices to be a traitor who wanted to destroy Thebes. Accordingly, he orders that there will be no burial for Polynices’ corpse; the body shall lie in the open for dogs and carrion to feed on. Creon swears that he will never let a crime against the state go unpunished. At the same time, he promises to honor all those who love the state.
The Chorus accepts Creon’s laws as all-powerful. Creon asks the Chorus of elders to support and maintain his law. When the Chorus asks Creon if he wants them to watch over the corpse, he replies in the negative. He wishes only that they do not show favor to anyone who breaks the law of the state. The Chorus responds by saying that it is not “in love with death.” Creon believes that some man in the Chorus, hoping for financial retribution, may betray him by breaking his law.
In this scene Creon, the antagonist of the play, is introduced. He is Antigone’s uncle and has now become King of Thebes following Eteocles’ death. Creon is an expert at political maneuvering. Comparing the state of Thebes to “a noble vessel” (a ship), he positions himself firmly at the helm.
Creon calls a conference among the elders of Thebes in order to make known to them his decree. He favors Eteocles. He tells the Chorus of elders that he is not unwilling to use force to curb any threat to the state. He brands Polynices a traitor to the state and refuses to give him a decent burial.
In this scene Creon portrays himself as a just and noble ruler, who is willing to go to any extent to protect the state. In acceptance of Creon’s edict, the Chorus asks, “Who is so fond as to be in love with death?” This rhetorical question underscores the absolute authority of the king.
Creon’s speech appears to be a veiled threat to the elders. He does not want any of them to aid potential subverters of his law. The Chorus promises obedience to Creon: “And sure, ’tis thine to enforce what law thou wilt/ Both on the dead and all of us who live.”

Lines 226-331  The Watchmen and Creon
A watchman (guard) enters. He has come unwillingly to meet Creon. He curses his fate and tells Creon of his reluctance to come to the palace. The watchman keeps babbling until Creon demands that he express himself clearly. The watchman tells Creon that the corpse of Polynices has been given a burial by some unknown person, who had crept up to it, even though it was guarded by soldiers, during the night. The next morning, the watchman and his companions discovered that the body had been covered with a fine layer of dust, and that certain religious rites had been performed over it. The sentinels then fought amongst themselves and accused each other of committing the deed. There were no signs that any animals had disturbed the body during the night. The sentinels had decided to draw lots to select someone to inform King Creon about the burial. The watchman now speaking is the unlucky one who was chosen to bring the bad news.
The Chorus tells Creon that some divine power may be at work; it has caused Polynices to be buried without leaving a trace of human involvement. Creon admonishes the Chorus of elders, describing them as foolish old men. Once again, Creon asserts that Polynices was a destroyer and traitor who came to lay waste to the land of Thebes and its temples. Creon believes that the gods cannot honor such villainy. Creon angrily accuses the watchman of accepting a bribe from some “malcontents of Thebes” to bury Polynices’ body. He rants against the evil influence of money. Money, according to Creon, brings cities to their doom and turns honest men into thieves and villains. It has taught mankind to be wicked. Creon asserts that whoever has buried Polynices’ body will surely be punished, and he threatens the watchman with death, unless he (the watchman) can manage to bring to the court the person who has buried Polynices. The watchman vehemently denies having anything to do with the burial and tells Creon that he (Creon) has erred in his judgment. Creon orders the watchman to leave. The watchman predicts that he will never again be seen in Creon’s presence. He thanks heaven for his escape this time and exits.
In this scene, the plot of the tragedy truly begins to unfold. A major event has occurred which will affect all further action in the play. True to the principles of Greek tragedy, the major event (the burial of Polynices’ body by Antigone) has taken place off-stage. Therefore, it needs to be reported by means of a messenger. Here, the messenger is the unhappy watchman. His reluctance to meet Creon is partly amusing and partly pathetic. His fears are quite reasonable. He knows that being the bearer of “unwelcome news,” he is likely to face Creon’s wrath, as indeed he does. The watchman gives the audience (or reader) a detailed, first-hand account of how he and his fellow sentinels had discovered that the body of Polynices was given a swift and incomplete burial. The person who committed this deed was obviously in a great hurry, as the corpse was only partly covered by dust.
Sophocles creates suspense by delaying the watchman’s description of the night burial until he (the watchman) has overcome his initial fears. Once again, the element of fate or destiny appears to play a part here: the watchman is selected by a draw of lots to convey the news to Creon. The superstitious nature of the Chorus is revealed when it states that the burial must be the work of a divine being, as there is no trace of the guilty person.
Creon, having no one else to turn his wrath upon, berates the watchman. Creon also deliberately mentions the gods in his speech. He wants the people of Thebes to believe that the gods support his (Creon’s)law. The Chorus has already suggested that the gods may be against Creon by stating that some divine power has been the cause of the burial.
Creon puts on a false show of being just and laments that people will do anything for money. He is aware that there are malcontents within Thebes who will not accept his rule and are turning restless. He believes that one of these malcontents has bribed the watchman with gold to bury the body. Creon seems to be well aware of weakness in others but does not realize that he, too, has his faults.

Lines 332-380  The First Stasimon
The Chorus: “Many a wonder lives...”
The Chorus sings an ode to man, praising him as the wonder of all things that live and move. Men have built vessels in which they travel “the gray ocean” and “high-swelling seas.” The Chorus asserts that man has even subdued the earth by means of farming: his ploughs turn the earth year by year. He has learned to hunt for his food by catching birds, fish and animals in “woven coils of nets.” Man, according to the Chorus, is thus “craftywise.”
Man, says the Chorus, has been able to tame the wild horse and the tireless mountain bull by means of his extreme intelligence. He uses these beasts to farm the land. Man has learned to create shelters against all kinds ofweather, against “biting frost” and “sharp, roof- penetrating rain.” Man, continues the Chorus, is inventive and imaginative, endowed with many skills. He meets each new challenge with a new device. The only thing that mankind cannot vanquish is Death. However, the Chorus praises the fact that man has been able to discover cures for the most baffling and dangerous diseases.
Man, the Chorus believes, moves toward either evil or good, depending on whether he loves his land and fears the gods above. If he follows the laws of the land and remains true to heaven, the Chorus maintains, then man will keep his high position in the state. But if he acts dishonorably by committing crimes against the state as well as against the gods, he will become an outcast, shunned by all.



Now the leader of the Chorus speaks. He notices a sign of evil, an ill-omen from the gods. He sees that Antigone, the “hapless child of hapless sire” has been arrested. He assumes that she has recklessly broken Creon’s law and has now been caught in the act.
This choral interlude serves to reduce the tension created in the previous scene. It is the only respite that the audience (or reader) will have for a long time. After this point, the drama moves headlong into tragedy.
The Chorus’ song in praise of man is highly musical and rich with images fromagriculture, sailing, fishing, and hunting. Man is shown as noble and all-powerful. He triumphs over both earth and sea, over birds, animals and fish. He is resourceful and is able to find solutions to almost every problem he faces. Only Death stands in his way. Yet the Chorus does not praise man blindly. Towards the end of the song, man is shown to have a capacity for good as well as evil. The good man is one who follows the laws of the state and of heaven, whereas the bad man breaks these laws. The Chorus accepts the good man as a respectable member of society, but the bad man becomes a social outcast. Thus, the Chorus predicts the general reaction to Antigone’s act of rebellion when it becomes public.
The Chorus’ distinction between good and evil is too simplistic in nature, and will soon be proved wrong. The Chorus indulges in moralistic preaching and displays certain prejudices. Antigone may have broken the law of the state, but she is still in the right. Despite the buoyant mood of the choral song in praise of man, the mention of Death’s presence changes the tone. It is a harbinger of things to come. And soon enough, the leader of the Chorus tells of the arrest of the “girl Antigone.” Now the play is on the threshold of tragedy.

Lines 381- 444
The Second Episode:
The Watchman, Antigone and Creon
The watchman enters, bringing along with him Antigone, his prisoner. He announces that it is Antigone who has committed the crime by burying her dead brother and now demands to meet the king.
Creon enters and inquires into the matter. The watchman tells him that the first judgment is often proved wrong by subsequent reflection. He had thought that after the threats he received from Creon the first time, he would never again wish to come to the palace. But now he has come willingly, bearing Antigone as his prisoner. She has been: “Caught in the act of caring for the dead.”
This time there was no need to cast lots, and the watchman came voluntarily to bring the news to Creon. He asks Creon to examine and judge Antigone. The watchman wishes to be free and to get away from “ the bad business” that he has become a part of because of his duty as a guard.
At first Creon cannot believe that Antigone is responsible for the deed, but he is soon persuaded by the watchman’s detailed explanation as to how Antigone was apprehended. After the burial that took place on the previous night, the guards had once again laid bare Polynices’ body, according to Creon’s orders. While they were keeping watch over the corpse in the heat of the noon, there suddenly arose “a whirlwind from the ground.” A dust-storm ensued and the sentinels were forced to shut their eyes to keep out the dust. When the storm had ceased and the sentries had opened their eyes, they saw the girl, Antigone, who cried aloud “in high and bitter key” when she saw that her brother’s body was, once more, laid bare. Antigone cursed the guards for undoing her deed of the previous night. Then she took a jar of brass and from it poured three libations (offerings of liquid to the gods), in honor of her dead brother.
When they saw this, the guards rushed towards Antigone and seized her. They charged her with the “crime” of attempting to bury her brother’s body. Antigone denied nothing, recalls the watchman. He is now both delighted and saddened: delighted, because he has escaped Creon’s wrath and is now free to go, and saddened, because he has drawn “a friend” (Antigone) into distress. However, he concludes that his own well-being is more important to him than that of anyone else.



Creon asks Antigone whether she will confess to the deed or deny it. Antigone asserts that it is she who has done this deed. Creon bids the watchman to depart. He readily does so and seems quite disconcerted about his role in the tragedy.
The plot moves with renewed vigor in this scene. Antigone has been arrested while trying to give her brother a decent burial for the second time. The watchman at first claims to be delighted to have discovered the real culprit, for he is now absolved of the charge of breaking Creon’s law. The real “culprit” is Antigone. Even Creon appears to be amazed to find that it is Antigone who has broken his law. He obviously did not expect a mere girl to defy him.
Once again the watchman plays the part of a messenger, reporting to Creon (and the audience or readers) how Antigone came to be arrested. The sand-storm that descended on the sentinels at noon is taken to be a sign of the rage of the gods. It is, in the watchman’s own words, “the God-sent evil.” After the dust had settled, the watchman recalls how Antigone made a dramatic appearance near the corpse and attempted to bury it in accordance with the religious rites of ancient Greece. Antigone had obviously come well-prepared for the rites of burial, for she carried with her a brass jar containing holy water. She submits meekly to the guards once they discover her.
Towards the end of his speech, the watchman admits that he is sorry to have brought in Antigone as a prisoner, for she is “a friend in distress.” Antigone is obviously admired and well-liked by the watchman, but he prefers not to speak out against Creon and escapes with his own life. Creon soon dismisses him, but not before he has begun the interrogation of his niece, Antigone.

Lines 445-523
The ‘Agon’ OR Debate between Antigone and Creon
This scene continues the action of the previous scene without a break. Creon and Antigone are the two main characters left on the stage along with the Chorus. After Creon has sent away the watchman, he turns to Antigone and asks her if she was aware of his decree concerning Polynices’ body. Antigone curtly responds in the affirmative. Creon then demands to know why she dares to disobey the edict he had laid down.
Antigone replies that the law Creon has made is not the law of heaven, nor is it a law that is in any way just. She asserts that the gods have laid down laws for human beings to follow. Antigone does not believe that Creon, a mere mortal, can issue edicts that defy the “infallible, unwritten laws of Heaven.”
Antigone reminds him that the laws of heaven have been in existence from time immemorial. Nobody can claim to know when they were first framed and set down. Antigone does not want to incur the wrath of the gods by breaking their divine laws only because they clash with the man-made laws of the state. She is aware that she has to die one day, and it does not matter if she dies young. In fact, she prefers an early death, as she has lived a life of “boundless woe.”
Antigone is not afraid or saddened by the prospect of her own death. However, she declares that she could not allow her “own mother’s child” (her brother, Polynices) to lie in the open without a proper burial. She taunts Creon by telling him that if he calls her a fool for committing the deed, then she is foolish only “in the judgment of a fool,” the “fool” being Creon.
The Chorus admires Antigone’s fierce resolve and courage in the face of calamity. But Creon is confident that Antigone’s self- assurance will soon break down. He asserts that the strongest bar of steel which has been hardened by a long process in the fire is often shattered to pieces afterwards. He brands Antigone a criminal and remarks that she has added insolence to her crime by laughing off her offense and appearing to “glory in it.” Creon declares that he cannot let Antigone go free on the pretext that she is a woman. He must prove his manliness and new-found powers by punishing her for the “crime” she has willfully committed. Nor will he spare her because she is his sister’s daughter.
Creon now states that Ismene, Antigone’s younger sister, is a “co- partner in this plotted funeral.” He considers her equally guilty of the “crime,” and he summons Ismene to appear before him. He claims to have seen her recently, walking around the palace in a frantic manner, like a person who is scheming to undertake some devilish plot. He believes that Ismene’s disturbed spirit is a sure sign of her guilt although she has not been caught in the act of committing the deed. Creon promises that the two sisters shall surely be given the “worst of deaths” by the state.



Antigone asks Creon whether he wants more from her than her life. When Creon replies that he claims only her life, Antigone requests that she be given death immediately. Nothing Creon says can change her mind now. She believes that she could find no greater honor than in burying her own brother. She tells Creon that the men of Thebes approve of her deed but are unable to speak out openly because they fear Creon’s power. Antigone sarcastically remarks that being a king has its benefits, the chief of these being the ability to do as one wishes.
Creon tells Antigone that no Theban supports her, but Antigone rebukes him by asserting that they do support her, but “curb their voices” due to Creon’s absolute power. Creon asks Antigone whether she is not ashamed to be the only one to break the law. Antigone responds by saying that her sisterly piety bears no trace of shame. Creon asks Antigone if her actions have been harmful to the memory of her other brother, Eteocles. He tells Antigone that Polynices was a vile traitor who had come to destroy Thebes. Antigone respects her brothers equally. “Death knows no difference,” she says.
Creon maintains that enemies must be hated even if they are dead. Antigone, for her part, has faith in the power of  love and not hatred. Creon then sentences her to death and asserts that he will not be ruled by a woman.
This is the first major agon (debate, or dramatic conflict) in the play between the two main characters, Antigone and Creon. Creon tries to subdue Antigone by proclaiming that she has broken “the published law.” But Antigone is not to be defeated. She is morally correct and she uses this fact to her advantage. Antigone quite sensibly believes in following Heaven’s laws and not those laid down by mortals like Creon. The laws of Heaven are “infallible” for her, as they have existed from the beginning of time. Creon’s law, on the other hand, is but “newly-born,” as Antigone points out. For Antigone, the established laws of Heaven have been tried and proven to be correct.
Antigone holds that death will not bring her as much sorrow as the fact that her brother’s body lies unburied. Her fierce pride and loyalty to family are evident in this scene. The Chorus is the first to observe this: “Fierce shows the maiden’s vein from her fierce sire;/ Calamity doth not subdue her will.”
The Chorus notes that Antigone’s traits have come down to her from her father, King Oedipus. Despite Antigone’s fierce resolve in the face of calamity, Creon is confident that he will be able to break her spirit. He accuses her of being insolent and shameless. His insecurity is evident: her defiance is a threat to his status as a king, and so he must destroy her, even though she is his sister’s child. Creon tries to detract from the fact that Antigone’s action is an honorable one by claiming that Antigone and Ismene had entered into a conspiracy against the state. Antigone, on the other hand, maintains that she has performed a glorious deed.
The entire debate is an attempt by Creon to demoralize Antigone. He tries to prove that she is wrong so that he can gain the upper hand in his attempt to win over the people of Thebes. He asks Antigone whether she has not betrayed the memory of Eteocles (the brother who had refused to give up the throne of Thebes). Unlike Creon, who supported Eteocles because it was politically expedient for him to do so, Antigone treats both her brothers as equals. She does not accept Creon’s argument that Polynices was a traitor who came to destroy Thebes. For Creon, Polynices is the wicked brother, hated even in death; but Antigone adheres to the law of love and is not consumed by hatred for anyone. She makes a powerful and telling statement: “Death knows no difference, but demands his due.”
At the end of the scene Creon has lost his composure and states that he will never allow himself to be ruled by a woman. This scene is the climactic point: it demonstrates the clash between Creon’s world of power and Antigone’s world of ideals. Antigone is resolute to the end and thoroughly enrages King Creon.

Lines 524-582
Creon, Ismene and Antigone
The Chorus announces the arrival of Ismene, in tears and full of anxiety. Creon describes Ismene as “a serpent coiled in the house” and a subverter of his throne. He asks her whether she will acknowledge her role in the burial of Polynices’ body.
Ismene falsely admits to being a partner in crime with Antigone. Ismene wishes to bear her part of the blame. Antigone, however, denies that Ismene played any part in the burial. Ismene wishes to go with her sister to her death, but Antigone forbids her to do so. Antigone asserts that she has done the deed alone and that she does not need this verbal support from her sister. Ismene is hurt as she feels that Antigone is now scorning her.
Ismene laments that she has no joy left in life, but Antigone tells her to save herself. Ismene had earlier chosen life over death when Antigone first revealed to her the secret burial plan. Antigone observes that her life, too, has long been spent in the service of the dead.
Creon upbraids Ismene for taking leave of her senses. He forbids her from addressing Antigone as her sister, for Antigone is “nothing now.” Ismene asks Creon whether he intends to kill his son’s (Haemon’s) betrothed. Creon replies by saying that Haemon “may find other fields to plough upon.” He remarks that Antigone would make a “wicked consort,” not worthy of Haemon. He resolves that “death must come” between Haemon and “his joy.” He orders that Antigone and Ismene be taken away and locked up. It is now settled that Antigone must die.
This scene includes a debate between Antigone and Ismene. Ismene wishes to claim a part in the deed so that she will be able to share the fatal punishment with her sister. But Antigone is unwilling to share with her sister the honor she will receive for burying her brother in defiance of Creon’s law.



Besides, Antigone reminds Ismene that she (Ismene) has already chosen life over death. One may recall that in the opening scene of the play, Antigone had requested Ismene to join her in burying their brother, but Ismene had refused to do so. At that time, Ismene was afraid that Creon would punish them with death if they were caught.
In the present scene, however, Ismene shows some dignity and nobility. Although she has not been an accomplice in the deed, she is now willing to accept death with her sister. Ismene makes a noble offer, but Antigone rejects it. Ismene believes that Antigone is now scorning her because she (Ismene) had earlier refused to help Antigone with the burial plan. It is true that Antigone does not want Ismene to share her glory in dying for her brother; however, Antigone also wants Ismene to live. She tells Ismene: “Life was the choice you made. Mine was to die.”
Again, as in the first scene, the question of choice or free will arises. Antigone chose freely to break the law, for which she knew she would be punished, whereas Ismene chose to live by the laws of the land. Therefore, Ismene has not acquired the right to die at this point. For Antigone, facing death (even as a “criminal”) is a gift from the gods, a release from earthly sorrows. Ismene displays the extent of her sisterly affection in this scene.
When Creon observes the two sisters quarreling over whether Ismene should die with Antigone or not, he naturally concludes that these two have lost their minds. In any case it is not up to the sisters to decide whether Ismene should be accused or not; that is Creon’s prerogative. Creon has already decided that Antigone must die, even though she is engaged to his son, Haemon. He does not care that he will be causing great pain to Haemon. Creon is still unsure of whether Ismene should be punished, although he is certain that Ismene has played her part in the burial by being a silent supporter of Antigone’s cause.

Lines 583-623
The Second Stasimon
The Chorus: “Blest is the life that never tasted woe.”
The Chorus now sings a song of woe which forms a prelude to the final scenes of tragedy which are to follow. They state that the person who has never suffered pain and anguish in his/her life is indeed blessed. The Chorus remarks that when a house (here meaning “family”) has undergone its first tragedy, then troubles come upon it in ever-increasing numbers. Deeper and darker tragedies soon ensue in the manner of the storms that arise near Thrace and disrupt land and sea.
The descendants of Cadmus, according to the Chorus, have suffered terrible calamities in quick succession. Fresh sorrows have distressed each new ruler of Thebes upon ascending the throne. Even the most recent “smiling light” of Thebes has been extinguished. The Chorus believes that the gods have been ruthless in reducing the powerful Cadmus dynasty to ashes.
The Chorus then prays to Zeus, the highest of all the Greek gods. They realize that man is powerless in the face of Zeus’ might. The Chorus remarks that Zeus has ruled forever.
The Chorus believes that there exists in the world a law of misery which does not spare anyone. Those who are comforted by hope soon begin to desire more and are destroyed by the fire of their desire. The Chorus quotes one of the wise men of ancient Greece as saying that the mind often mistakes evil for good. In this present time and age, the Chorus considers few people to be able to live a life free of troubles.
The subdued note that the Chorus strikes in this Stasimon is in sharp contrast to the note of celebration evident in the previous choral song, “Many a wonder lives.” This Choral song sets the mood for the remainder of the play: a mood of solemnity and tragic gloom.



The image of a storm in the sea near Thrace is used to describe the nature of the problems faced by the House of Cadmus. Cadmus was the legendary founder of Thebes and the son of the King of Tyre. He was turned into a serpent and taken to Elysium, and all of his daughters met with disastrous ends. Thus, for a long time, “the stock of Cadmus” has suffered tragedies. Laius, Oedipus’ father, was the great-grandson of Cadmus. When he was the King of Thebes, Laius was killed by his own son, Oedipus, who was ignorant of his father’s identity. Oedipus himself had a tragic life. He unknowingly married his own mother, Jocasta, and ended his life in tragedy. Now it is the turn of Oedipus’ daughter, Antigone, to face death. Already her two brothers have fought against and killed each other. Therefore, as the Chorus rightly puts it, this is a family destined for disaster. The gods do not ever seem to smile kindly on them.
“The new smiling light” that the Chorus admires is Antigone, who will soon be lost “in dark Nonentity.” She used to think about the facts surrounding her birth and life. In a way, the Chorus reiterates that she, like her father before her, is destined to die a wretched death.
For the Chorus, it is the gods who control the lives of men. Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, rules men’s lives from the lofty Mount Olympus. Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece. According to Greek mythology, twelve Olympian gods lived on the summit of the mountain.
The Chorus now sounds pessimistic. They believe that misery is endemic to the world in general, and even if hope exists, it soon results in destruction because it gives rise to fatal desires. The days seem full of despair, and one cannot tell the difference between evil and good, for the “angry God” of desire that rules man’s mind also makes him blind to the truth.
Thrace was a region in the northeast of the Balkan Peninsula. Historians believe that Greece owes the beginnings of its music, mythology and philosophy to the early inhabitants of Thrace.


Lines 624-784
The Third Episode:
Creon and Haemon
The leader of the Chorus announces the arrival of Haemon, Creon’s youngest child. Haemon appears to be mourning since he has heard of Antigone’s misfortune. The leader of the Chorus wonders whether Haemon is mourning because Antigone will be lost in the prime of her youth or because he is to lose a bride.
When Haemon enters, Creon asks him whether he is angry with his father for having sentenced Antigone, Haemon’s “promised bride,” to death, or whether he will unquestioningly accept his father’s will. Haemon mildly responds that he will follow Creon’s orders and that he prefers his father’s “wise government” to the fairest bride.
Creon is pleased with his son’s response and enters into a lengthy monologue on the virtue of having obedient children. He is happy that Haemon has bowed his “constant mind” to his father’s will. A child’s loyalty to his father, remarks Creon, is important because the child can support the father in moments of danger. But a child who is disloyal brings, according to Creon, only sorrow to his unfortunate father. Creon advises Haemon against giving up his own worth for the sake of a woman. He explains that a “wicked wife,” such as Antigone, brings no comfort. He asks Haemon to reject such a woman and to leave her to her wretched fate.
Antigone was the only one among all the Thebans who refused to submit to Creon’s law. Creon has asserted that she must die, and now he cannot break his “word before the state.” Creon cannot tolerate rebels within his own state. He believes that the law of the state must be respected and obeyed at all costs. His speech now turns into a lecture on the politics of the state. Creon argues that it is law-breakers, like Antigone, who destroy law and order, thereby bringing about the downfall of cities. Such “traitors” cause wars which consequently bring death and destruction. Creon asserts that he must “defend the law” at all costs and not submit to a woman’s will. He declares that he would rather be struck down by a man. The Chorus praises Creon for speaking wisely.
Haemon initially accepts that his father speaks wisely, insofar as he (Creon) is concerned with protecting the safety of the state. But Haemon warns Creon that the citizens of Thebes are unhappy that their monarch has condemned Antigone to death. Haemon observes that the citizens are unable to speak out against Creon’s decision for fear of punishment. The Thebans in the street, reveals Haemon, mourn for Antigone and hold her in high esteem for her glorious deed. They feel that Antigone’s deed merits the highest praise. Haemon labels this unrest among the people as “the dark rumor spreading silently.”
Haemon declares that his father, a king of high renown, is precious to him. Children glory in their parent’s fame, notes Haemon. Yet he advises Creon against neglecting to take into consideration others’ points of view. Haemon states that the man who presumes he alone is wise is actually a fool. He tells Creon that it is no disgrace to listen to the voice of reason. Haemon cites the example of the tiny plant which yields to the flow of torrential waters in order to save its twigs, while the huge tree, which stubbornly resists the torrent, is swept away. Similarly, Haemon speaks of the mariner who does not loosen the sail when caught in a storm, and consequently causes his vessel to capsize because his sail is too tightly set. Haemon pleads with Creon to relent and accept change, as it is inevitable. Haemon understands that it is good to possess wisdom, but he also recognizes that man is not infallible, as far as his judgment is concerned, and so he must learn to accept criticism.
The Chorus now begins to realize that Haemon’s arguments are correct. The Chorus asks Creon to learn from his son, but it also advises Haemon to be guided by his father. The truth lies somewhere between the two extreme stances adopted by father and son.
King Creon will not tolerate being lectured to by his young son. Haemon responds to this by saying that when it comes to the question of what is right and what is wrong, age makes no difference. Creon asks Haemon whether he (Haemon) considers Antigone to be a criminal. Haemon’s reply is that the whole of Thebes denies the allegation that she has committed a crime. Creon rebukes him by asking, “Am I ruled by Thebes?” Haemon candidly remarks that a single person does not make up a city. Creon now accuses Haemon of defending Antigone, to which Haemon replies that he cares about Creon, his father. Creon had already labeled Haemon “the woman’s champion”; now Haemon asserts that Creon is “the woman” for whom he is trying to rescue the situation. Creon is angry with Haemon for showing such impudence. Haemon observes that he (Creon) has spurned the gods. Creon describes his son as an “(a)bominable spirit, woman-led!” He proclaims that Antigone will not live to be his wife. Haemon warns Creon that Antigone’s death will ruin him (Creon). Creon takes this to be a threat and promises that Haemon shall pay for his insolence. He orders Antigone to be brought and put to death immediately in the presence of her lover, Haemon. But Haemon refuses to stay and watch her suffer. He swears that he will never again see his father and walks out.
The Chorus observes that Haemon has left angrily and warns Creon that Haemon’s youthful spirit may, in its present condition, cause him to act irresponsibly. Creon does not care for what Haemon may do, as he has already decided to stand by his decision to destroy both the sisters, Ismene and Antigone. When the Chorus asks whether Creon intends to execute both the sisters, Creon finally concedes that only Antigone, the one who performed the deed, should die. The Chorus asks to be made aware of the means of execution that Creon proposes to use. Creon replies that Antigone will be buried alive in a “cave-like vault” in the desert.
Another important player is introduced in the scene: Haemon, the youngest son of Creon. Haemon has been betrothed to Antigone, his cousin, and now comes before his father to challenge his (Creon’s) decision that Antigone must die. This leads to the third major agon (debate) of the play.
At first, Haemon succeeds in pleasing his father, by stating that he would follow his father’s will. Creon then enters into one of his lengthy monologues in which he stresses to Haemon the importance of being obedient to one’s parents. He also dubs Antigone a “wicked consort” who is not fit for Haemon. Besides, Antigone is a threat to the state of Thebes, as she has openly defied Creon’s law. Therefore, she must die. This is Creon’s reasoning, and he wishes to impress upon his son that he (Creon) is right and that Antigone is in the wrong. In a way, Creon now equates Antigone with her brother, Polynices, whom he had also branded a traitor. Such people, pronounces Creon, are a threat to the state, and therefore they should be dealt with firmly. Once again Creon ends one of his monologues by stating that he will not give in to a woman’s will. He fears that his image will be tarnished if he allows a woman to get the better of him. Thus, by justifying Antigone’s punishment, Creon attempts to pacify Haemon.
Haemon continues to address his father with respect. He accepts that his father is in the right, as far as matters of the state are concerned. Then he introduces his first note of dissent. He informs Creon about the unrest among the people of Thebes, who feel that Antigone is being treated unjustly. While common people cannot speak out against Creon for fear of incurring his terrible wrath, Haemon can speak more openly, as he is Creon’s own son. He does not speak as a rebel, but as an advisor, giving Creon fair warning about the situation. Even as he praises his father for carrying out the responsibility of a king, Haemon admonishes Creon for not lending“an ear to reason.” The Chorus had earlier accepted Creon’s words as wise, but now they acknowledge that Haemon, too, is correct. The Chorus, characteristically, does not take a side during this debate. It cannot tell which of the two, father or son, is absolutely correct.
Creon is right in asserting that the law of the state is all-powerful. However, he is morally wrong because his law contradicts that of the gods. Creon’s insensitivity is evident in this scene, as he discredits Antigone’s name while speaking to Haemon, her lover. He does not try to soothe Haemon or calm him down, but instead provokes Haemon to the point where his son is forced to walk away. Creon shows little human understanding here. He is utterly tactless in dealing with his son and altogether brutal in the manner in which he dismisses the idea that Haemon and Antigone could have been man and wife. His obvious insensitivity stands in sharp contrast to Haemon’s deep concern, both for Antigone and his father. Creon sees Haemon’s concern as insolence and swears that he will have Antigone killed in front of Haemon. Creon’s ruthlessness is the last straw for Haemon, who exits in anger, but not before warning his father against acting like a cold-blooded dictator: “No city is property of a single man.”
After Haemon’s exit, Creon states that he wishes to put to death both Antigone and Ismene. However, the Chorus’ question causes him to change his mind, and he decides that only Antigone will die. The painful nature of her death (by live burial) makes the situation appear more tragic and shows Creon in a ruthless light.

Lines 785-803
The Third Stasimon:
The Chorus: “Love unconquered in fight”
The Chorus sings an ode in praise of love. Love is described as a warrior, who is “never conquered in fight.” Love wreaks havoc on the wealthy and the famous. Love is personified as a human being, or a lover, who keeps watch the whole night long in order to make advances towards a young maiden. Love roams over seas and resides in lonely dwellings in the forest. Nobody can avoid the thrills and  pains of love. Humans, as well as the gods, are overcome by love and experience its frenzy.
Love, in a light and frivolous manner, leads “righteous minds” into wrong. Thus love brings about the ruin of those who were once good people. The Chorus blames love for causing the “unkindly quarrel” to erupt between Creon and Haemon. The Chorus asserts that even kings and makers of mighty laws are subordinate to the “heart-compelling eye of winsome bride.”
The Chorus ends with the line, “Madly thou mockest men, dread Aphrodite.” The leader of the Chorus now speaks. He is unable to restrain his tears, for he sees Antigone making her way to her final resting place.
Haemon’s appearance in the previous scene and his quarrel with Creon has had its effect on the Chorus. The Chorus now sings about love and its ability to rule over all. Love is compared to a soldier who destroys rich, established people. Love keeps watch all night in order to seduce a young maiden. Love exists in every corner of the world and rules over everyone, both mortal and immortal. According to Greek mythology, even the gods hadlove affairs.
The Chorus sees love as a distraction which draws righteous men to their doom. It conveys the belief that Haemon’s love for Antigone has caused a rift between Creon and Haemon. The Chorus maintains that a beautiful bride can possess more power than a mighty king. Therefore, the Chorus concludes that men are helpless under the spell of the all-powerful emotion of love. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, rules over men’s hearts and sways men so that they are led towards disaster. She is aptly described as “dread Aphrodite.”
The leader of the Chorus is deeply moved when he sees Antigone walking to her place of execution. As a citizen of Thebes, he sympathizes with Antigone and is unable to distance himself from what is happening. Like the Chorus, the audience begins to pity Antigone. They respect and admire her for her fascinating courage

Lines 804-944
The Fourth Episode:
Antigone’s Lament
Antigone is led in by the guards. She addresses the citizens of Thebes, telling them that she goes to her final resting place. She will take her last look at the sunlight. Never more will Antigone see the dawn. Antigone laments that she will never be married and no wedding songs will be sung for her; only an untimely death awaits her.
The Chorus assures Antigone that her death will not be an inglorious one. She will die with great honor and fame. The Chorus observes that she is not to die in battle or due to a terrible disease. Antigone, by contrast, has chosen her own death. Among all mortals, she alone goes alive to the world of the dead, remarks the Chorus.
Antigone reminds the Chorus of the death of Tantalus’ child, Niobe, who was turned into a column of stone after the deaths of her children. Niobe met her end on the heights of Mount Sipylus, and over her “stone-cold breast” the ivy clings and grows, says Antigone. The dew runs down Niobe’s cheek, and the “eternal snows” cover her and cause a “tearful stream” to pour down from the mountain. Antigone remarks that, like Niobe, she also will suffer death because it is her destiny. Like Niobe, she will be trapped in the earth.
The Chorus reminds Antigone that Niobe was born to a goddess, while Antigone is merely human. Therefore, the Chorus believes that Antigone has achieved greater glory in death, even rivaling the fate of Niobe, “a daughter of sire Divine.”
Antigone is distraught and feels that the Chorus mocks her by telling her that her death is unique. Antigone asks the citizens of Thebes and the landmarks of Thebes, such as the fount of Dirce and the spacious grove where Theban chariots run, to stand as witnesses to her lonely and unlawful execution. As she goes towards her doom, Antigone reveals that she feels completely helpless because she belongs neither to the land of the living nor that of the dead, but stands somewhere in between.
The Chorus praises Antigone for her courage and tells her that she did not foresee the full force of Creon’s “Justice.” The Chorus believes that her father’s misfortune now causes Antigone to be sent to her doom.
On being reminded of her father’s tragedy, Antigone is even more saddened. She recalls that all the sorrows of the world have been experienced by the family of Cadmus. She speaks of the “cursed marriage” between her parents, Oedipus and Jocasta, who unwittingly committed incest. Antigone, who was the fruit of this unhappy marriage, is now destined to die, young and unmarried. She addresses her dead brother, Polynices, telling him that in his death, he has also destroyed her.
The Chorus admits that Antigone’s deed was “pious.” However, they also realize that Creon, whose “power would show,” must not allow anyone in Thebes to defy the laws that he lays down. The Chorus tells Antigone that she is going to her death because of “a self-willed passion.”
Antigone once again mourns that she goes “friendless, uncomforted” and “unmourned” to her death. As dawn breaks, Antigone is led towards her doom.
Creon now enters and mocks Antigone by remarking that if criminals were given time to make final speeches before their execution, such speeches would never come to an end. He orders that Antigone be taken away to her “vaulty tomb.” He does not care whether she lives on or dies in the walled-up cell. He claims that he is not guilty of causing Antigone’s death.
Antigone begins once again to grieve for herself. Although she is sad that she has to die young, she is happy at the prospect that she will soon join her father, Oedipus, and her mother, Jocasta, as well as her brother, Polynices, for whom she has given up her life. She admits that she would not do as much for a child or a husband as she has done for her brother: she considers that a husband or child can be replaced, but a brother cannot. Antigone’s parents are both dead, and she therefore understands what it means to lose a family member. Antigone breaks down and cries to Heaven. She is miserable over having been robbed of the right to be a mother or a wife. Despite her piety, she is being punished as a criminal. She swears that if Creon’s law is to the liking of the gods, she will repent and ask forgiveness for her deed, but if Creon’s law is ultimately unjust, then Antigone demands that Creon, too, should suffer the pain that she is suffering.
The Chorus observes that Antigone’s soul is still passionate, even as she faces death. As Antigone is led out by the guards, she tells the people of Thebes to observe that she goes “oppressed” and “unworthily” to her death.
Up to this point in the play, Antigone has been extremely stoic, not revealing much emotion. In an earlier scene soon after her arrest, Antigone stated that life to her meant nothing (lines 463-464), as she has lived a life of sorrow. But now, as she is being led to her tomb, she cannot control her emotions any longer and laments that she will not be able to live life to its fullest; she will not fulfill her womanly needs. She will not be able to enjoy the pleasures of married life or raise children. Only death waits for her: she becomes in a sense, the bride of death.
The Chorus tries to console her by saying that her death is a glorious and honorable one, unmatched by any other, for she goes alive to the land of the dead. Antigone recalls that Niobe, the daughter of Tantalus, had met with a fate similar to her own, when she was turned to stone on the heights of Mount Sipylus. The use of images from nature, the “tearful stream” and eternal snows,” adds to the pathos of the description. The Chorus remarks that since Niobe was born of a goddess, and since Antigone will suffer a similar fate to Niobe’s, Antigone’s death is indeed a glorious one.
Antigone believes that the Chorus is making fun of her in her moment of despair. She asks all those present, as well as the natural landmarks of Thebes (the fountain and grove), to bear witness to her unwarranted death. Antigone is even more despondent because she goes alive and friendless to her tomb. At this moment she belongs to neither the land of the living nor that of the dead. The Chorus’ attempts to soothe her, however, have the reverse effect, when they remind her of her father, Oedipus, and his fall. She addresses her dead brother, Polynices, saying that his “princely marriage” to the daughter of the King of Argos ultimately brought his downfall, as well as Antigone’s (since Polynices led an army from Argos against Thebes.)
The Chorus now stops trying to console her and instead tries to prepare her for her death. They play a double game, at times sympathizing with Antigone, at others asserting that Creon must enforce the law of the state in order for Thebes to have a stable existence. They point out that it is her “self willed passion” which is the cause of her downfall.
Creon enters and in his turn tries to wash his hands of the entire matter, claiming that the state is “guiltless in the matter of this maid.”
He asserts that he is not taking Antigone’s life, but only ordering that she be walled up in a tomb, with provisions. Whether she lives or dies is none of his business. This is Creon at his hypocritical best. He knows very well that Antigone is bound to die in the walled-up cave, yet he pretends that the sentence he has passed on her is not so serious.
Antigone, who realizes the horror of her impending entombment, now bursts into a heart-rending lament for herself. She finds comfort in the belief that after death, she will meet her beloved parents and brothers. She has lost all her composure now and wonders why she, who has acted honorably, should die the death of a criminal. She leaves it in the hands of the gods to decide whether she was right or wrong in burying her brother. If she was right, Antigone asks that the people who pass judgment against her on earth should suffer as she suffered. This curse becomes something of a prophecy, as Creon does suffer terrible calamity at the end of play. The Chorus realizes that Antigone’s spirited nature is still alive, even in her last moments. Finally, Antigone is taken away. This is the last the audience shall see of her.

The Fourth Stasimon:
The Chorus “Even Danaë’s beauty left the lightsome day.”
The Chorus sings of Danaë, the daughter of Acrisius, King of Argos, who was confined in a tower of  brass by her father. Yet Zeus loved Danaë and came to meet her as a shower of  gold(“the golden rain”).
Misfortune, which is destined to occur, will come no matter how great or powerful the sufferers may be. The Chorus recalls how the son of Dryas was trapped in an “eyeless vault of stone” by the Greek god, Dionysus, as a punishment for having played a prank on the god and his followers.
The Chorus then sings about the legend of Phineus’ two sons, who were blinded by their father at the behest of their stepmother. The sons cried out to Heaven for revenge until Zeus responded by blinding their father, Phineus. However, the sons of Phineus cried chiefly for their mother, Cleopatra, who was “the source of their rejected birth.” Cleopatra came from the family of Erechtheus and lived out her life in far off caves, where she endured terrible storms. Although she was born of divinity, she too suffered a terrible fate.
In this choral piece, the audience is told about the inevitability of doom. The Chorus has just seen Antigone being led to her death and asserts the belief that destiny rules the lives of everyone, both mortal and immortal. It cites the example of Acrisius, the King of Argos, who imprisoned his daughter, Danaë, because an oracle had predicted that her son would kill him. But Acrisius could not escape the hand of Fate and was killed by his daughter’s son.
The Chorus goes on to tell of the imprisonment of the son of Dryas by Dionysus, and of the blinding of the sons of Phineus. Fate is seen as striking a blow at Phineus with her shuttle (a kind of weapon). The Chorus ends by relating the tale of Cleopatra, the mother of Phineus’ children, who spent her days in isolation in remote caves.

Lines 988-1090
The Fifth Episode:
Tiresias and Creon
Tiresias, the seer of Thebes, enters, led by a boy. He addresses the “Lords of Thebes” (the Chorus), saying that since he is blind, he needs the help of the young boy who is his guide. Creon asks Tiresias why he has come.
Tiresias reminds Creon that his advice to Creon on previous occasions has been sound and useful, and has saved Thebes from destruction. Creon agrees. Tiresias now warns Creon that Thebes is once again on the “edge of peril.” Creon admits that he is frightened by Tiresias’ warning and asks about the nature and cause of the impending disaster.
Tiresias begins to answer Creon’s question. He relates that once, while he sat on his ancient seat of divination, he heard birds of prey screeching and fighting among themselves. He could hear the talons of two birds tearing each other apart. Frightened by these strange noises, Tiresias offered a sacrifice to the fire-god at the high alter of Thebes. But the fire did not burn brightly because a liquid had dripped onto the fire from the bones of the animal which Tiresias had offered as a sacrifice. Thus the fire was turned into “a sputtering fume.” The animal’s bile was thrown up high into the air. Tiresias took this as an bad omen. Although Tiresias could not see all of this, it was reported to him by his helper, a young boy. Tiresias accuses Creon of causing these strange happenings to occur through his (Creon’s) obstinacy. Tiresias says that throughout Thebes, the sacred altars have been infected because of the dogs and vultures who have fed on the decaying body of Polynices, which lies out in the open due to Creon’s decree.
Tiresias complains that the gods refuse to accept sacrifices from infected altars. He advises Creon to relent and to listen to reason. He asks Creon not to be inflexible, but to make amends for his unnatural behavior. He tells Creon that there is no honor in demeaning the man who is already dead. Tiresias believes that careful counsel “is precious to the understanding soul.”
Creon describes himself as the target of everyone’s anger. He accuses Tiresias of having taken a bribe to speak out against Creon. He promises never to allow Polynices’ body to be buried. Creon asserts that he is not frightened by the disturbances among the animals and birds of Thebes. He states that defilement among men cannot rise up to the gods.
Tiresias laments the fact that Creon speaks unwisely. He tells Creon that he (Creon) suffers from the disease of wealth. Tiresias is angry because Creon has labeled him as a false prophet. Creon does not relent and calls Tiresias “dishonest.” At this, Tiresias responds with a prophecy that is almost a curse. He warns Creon that within a few days two members of Creon’s own family will die as recompense for the death of Antigone and the cruel manner in which Creon has refused a burial for Polynices’ body. The “powers beneath” (the gods of the Underworld, Hades and Persephone) demand that Polynices’ corpse be buried. Tiresias tells Creon that the avenging gods and the “furies of the grave” are waiting to bring “ruinous harm” to Creon’s family. Tiresias predicts that the palace halls will soon ring with the sound of mourners crying for the dead. He warns Creon that the people of the cities whose unburied sons lie outside Thebes are forming armies to attack Thebes. He ends by telling Creon that since Creon has attacked Tiresias personally, it is now his (Tiresias’) turn to play the archer and shoot arrows at Creon. Tiresias’ arrows take the form of curses. He leaves in a hurry, warning Creon not to act unwisely.
Tiresias, the blind prophet of Thebes, appears as a character in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Euripides’ Bacchae and Phoenissae. Tiresias was granted the gift of prophecy by Zeus. As in Oedipus Rex, Tiresias comes to warn the King of Thebes about the impending dangers awaiting him, and as in the Oedipus play, the king insults Tiresias and at first refuses to listen to him.
Tiresias, although blind, can “see” more clearly than most men. He has heard the quarreling among the birds who were fighting for their share of Polynices’ body. For Tiresias, such an event is a bad omen. Furthermore, his sacrifice to the gods at the altar of Thebes was rejected. Tiresias concludes that something is wrong within Thebes, and it is none other than Creon’s edict concerning the burial of Polynices. The body has begun to decompose and the air surrounding Thebes is now rife with infection. Tiresias asks Creon to change his thinking and allow for Polynices’ body to be buried, so that the gods may be satisfied. Then, the people of Thebes can once again live in an atmosphere free of the stench of death.
Creon is stubbornly unrelenting. He wildly accuses Tiresias of accepting a bribe from those who wish to see Polynices buried.
Creon has at this point provoked Tiresias’ wrath. Tiresias reveals to Creon all that he sees as a prophet. He foretells the deaths of two members of Creon’s family in exchange for the cruel treatment that Creon has meted out to Antigone and for his refusal to allow Polynices’ burial. Tiresias observes that the gods of the Underworld are unhappy because Polynices’ body needs to be buried so that his spirit can reach Hades. Tiresias warns Creon that unless he retracts his proclamation and forgives Antigone, he shall suffer great tragedy in the days to come. Tiresias, being an old man, is offended by Creon’s hasty and ill-phrased remarks, and he storms out of the palace in anger.

Lines 1091-1114
Creon and the Chorus
After Tiresias’ departure, the Chorus warns Creon that “there is terror” in Tiresias’ prophecy. The Chorus knows that Tiresias, in the many years that he has advised kings, has “never spoken falsely to the state.” Creon is well aware of this. While he is full of dread of Tiresias’ words, he finds it difficult to yield to the old prophet.
Creon asks the Chorus of elders to advise him, and he tells them that he will follow their advice. The Chorus advises him to release Antigone from the vault and to allow Polynices’ body to be buried. Creon finds this counsel hard to follow, but finally accepts it as Fate. In spite of his own misgivings as a politician, Creon says that he is forced to accept the Chorus’ advice. The Chorus tells him to go personally to rescue the situation, and Creon hurries out with his entourage for the hill where Antigone is to be entombed. Creon now feels that it is better to conform to tradition.
In this scene, Creon makes a complete about-face. Right up to this point, Creon has been resolute, convinced that Antigone should die. Now suddenly he accepts what Tiresias and the Chorus tell him to do. He has obviously been shaken by Tiresias’ prophecy. However, his repentance comes only after Tiresias’ exit.
As a king, Creon cannot bear to be seen losing face before his subjects. Thus, he does not yield to Tiresias’ words. It is only when the Chorus of elders speaks on the side of Tiresias that Creon relents. He finally sees that he has been stubborn to the point of rigidity. He realizes that the citizens of Thebes, as represented by the Chorus, do not approve of his proclamation. He rushes out to rectify the wrongs he has committed, but it turns out that he is too late.

Lines 1115-1154
The Fifth Stasimon:
The Chorus “O God of many a name”
The Chorus now sings a dithyramb (a short poem), praising the god, Dionysus (or Bacchus). As the Chorus informs the spectators, Dionysus was born of the union of Zeus, the king of the gods, and Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, the founder of Thebes. Dionysus is thus the son of Zeus, who “wields the withering flame.” The Chorus asserts that Dionysus/Bacchus protects the Greek settlers staying in southernItaly. The Chorus refers to the legend of the women of Thebes, who refused to worship Bacchus and were punished with madness.
The Chorus now describes the haunts of Bacchus (the places he frequents). The worshippers of Bacchus include the nymphs of the Corycian grove, close to Delphi. The Chorus describes Bacchus as he moves beneath the mountain of Nysa where the nymphs sing his praises.
The Chorus thanks Bacchus for maintaining Thebes’ prosperity among cities. They ask Bacchus to bring “healing” to Thebes once again. Bacchus is described as the leader of a heavenly choir, and the child of him “who dwells in light” (Zeus). The Chorus requests him to bring joy back to the city.
In this interlude, the Chorus sings a dithyramb in praise of the god Dionysus. The dithyramb was developed into a literary genre by the poet, Arion. The dithyramb became popular among the Greek playwrights in 509 B.C. The dithyrambic Chorus did not wear masks.
Sophocles introduces the dithyramb not merely as a matter of literary tradition, but because Dionysus was the son of Semele, a princess of Thebes. Therefore, Dionysus is identified as a Theban deity, who protects the interests of Thebes. It is only natural, therefore, that the Theban Chorus should pray to him for help and ask him to heal their “violent woe.” Like the ordinary citizens of Thebes, the Chorus hopes for peace and security.
Dionysus is described as a god who brings joy and soothes cares. His followers, the nymphs, were female personifications of natural objects, such as trees, rivers and mountains. The nymphs of the Corycian grove looked after Dionysus when he was young. Thus, Dionysus lived amidst nature’s beauties. The Chorus describes how on the heights of Mount Nysa, praises are sung to Dionysus by his followers, who include Satyr, Sileni Maenads and Bassarids, all of whom were collectively known as the “Bacchi.”
In the last stanza the Chorus requests Dionysus to bring back prosperity and security to Thebes. Thus the Chorus demonstrates the belief that the lives of men are determined by the gods, or by Fate. The Chorus laments that Thebes is full of “violent woe.” It paints a Bacchic (or Dionysian) scene which reveals Dionysus surrounded by a choir comprising his followers, who sing and dance in ecstasy.

The Exodus: Lines 1155-1242
Eurydice and the Messenger
A Messenger enters. He addresses the Chorus, telling them he would neither praise nor criticize any person, since the fortunes of each human being change swiftly. He remarks that nobody can come to any conclusion from mere observation. The messenger divulges that at one time he had envied Creon as a king and a powerful man, the ruler of Thebes. But now, the messenger asserts that Creon has “nothing.” He describes Creon as “a living corpse.” He asserts that although Creon is still materially rich, he (Creon) has no happiness left in life.
The Chorus wishes to know what “new affliction” has struck King Creon. The messenger replies that Haemon has died, by his own hand, as he was filled with rage at his father for causing the death of Antigone. The Chorus observes that Tiresias’ prophecy is beginning to come true. It now announces the entrance of “Creon’s unhappy wife, Eurydice.” The Chorus is unsure of whether Eurydice has heard the news of her son’s death.
Eurydice enters and addresses the Chorus of Thebes, telling them that she had just come to the gates of the temple of Pallas when she heard news of Haemon’s suicide. She still cannot believe it to be true and asks the messenger to relate the incident once more to her. She maintains that she is “no novice in adversity.”
The messenger swears to tell Eurydice all that he has seen. He does not intend to tell lies that would soften the impact that the tale will have on Eurydice. He intends to tell her the whole truth, filled as it is with harsh facts. He reports how he followed Creon to the spot where the body of Polynices lay open. There, Creon and his men sought forgiveness from the gods of the Underworld, Persephone and Pluto. The body of Polynices was washed clean and then cremated. Following this, Creon and his followers went to the vault where Antigone was to be buried alive. On reaching it, they heard a loud and bitter cry. The messenger recalls that Creon, on hearing Haemon’s cry, ordered his men to enter the tomb. Creon’s men then entered the vault and found Antigone hanging in a noose of her own making. Haemon was discovered on his knees clinging to Antigone. The messenger reports that Creon had entered the tomb and had begged his son to leave Antigone’s body and to step away. But Haemon only scowled at his father and made an attempt to pierce Creon with his sword. When Creon fled from the tomb, Haemon killed himself with his sword, and in a dying embrace, he held onto Antigone’s body. After hearing all this, Eurydice quietly walks off.
The action has now moved to catastrophe. One learns about Antigone’s and Haemon’s deaths only by means of reportage, as the Greek playwrights of Sophocles’ time did not believe in depicting scenes of violence on the stage.
Once again, Sophocles attempts to create suspense by making the messenger ramble on for some time before he comes to the crux of the matter. From Antigone’s tragedy, the play now begins to become the tragedy of Creon’s family. Of course, Creon is no hero or man of nobility. However, his suffering is great enough in the end to make him appear as a tragic personage. The messenger himself is overcome with grief as he reports the scene to Eurydice.
In a single sentence, the messenger damns Creon, laying the entire blame for the deaths on him: “They are dead, and they that live/ Are guilty of the death.”
Eurydice appears to have taken the messenger’s tale in stride, for she does not weep openly. But appearance is not reality, and she is to take her own life soon, due to her despair over Haemon’s death.
The scene of Antigone’s death, although not performed for the audience, is highly dramatic in description, and yet not unexpected. In an earlier scene, Haemon had already quarreled with his father regarding Antigone’s punishment. Haemon’s death is the result of Creon’s obstinacy: Creon was unwilling to bow down to his son’s demands, and he must now pay the price for being so stubborn. Antigone decides to take her own life. She preferred death by suicide to being walled up in a cave. Hers is a brave and noble death, and no cowardly suicide.

Lines 1243 - 1353
Creon: the Final scene/Exodus
The Chorus wonders at Queen Eurydice’s silent departure. The messenger is filled with hesitation. The Chorus believes that Eurydice’s inability to grieve openly at Haemon’s death is a sign that she is actually deeply distressed. It is preferred that she grieve openly, for suppression of the emotions is bad for the mourner: “There is a danger, even in too much silence.”
The Chorus now notes the return of Creon, who is carrying the body of Haemon. The Chorus openly blames Creon for Haemon’s death.
Creon enters carrying his heavy burden. He blames himself for being too stubborn and repents having passed the decree regarding Polynices’ burial. He curses himself for being so foolish and rash in his actions. The Chorus laments that Creon has learned to follow the right path too late. Creon believes that some god has set him on the road to despair. He cries out as if he has been mortally wounded.
A second messenger enters and tells Creon that he (Creon) is master of sorrows. He reveals to Creon that Eurydice has stabbed herself. Creon is inconsolable. The messenger draws open a curtain, behind which lies the body of Eurydice. He recounts how Eurydice had just mourned at the bed of her dead son, Megareus (who died defending Thebes), and then at Haemon’s bed, before killing herself with a “keen knife.” Before dying, she had cursed Creon and blamed him for the death of her sons.
Creon is filled with terror at this news. He asks whether anyone would put him out of his misery by giving him a mortal blow. He falls into deep distress and begs his followers to take him away. He sees himself as responsible for Eurydice’s death and claims that he has nothing left in the world. He laments that he does not wish to live another day. The Chorus advises Creon that time will determine whether or not he will survive this catastrophe. The Chorus tells Creon that prayer is useless, as everything is predestined. Creon cannot bear to remain with the bodies of his wife and child. He feels that the hand of Fate has fallen heavily upon him. He is taken away by his followers as the Chorus sings the Exodus, or final song.
The Chorus asserts that those who act wisely will live happily, as long as they also follow Heaven’s laws. Proud men who boast about themselves will soon be punished for their pride. They will be forced to suffer immense sorrows. Men will learn to act wisely, explains the Chorus, only when they are old and experienced.
The conclusion of the play reveals a sobered Creon. He has lost his will to live, due to the deaths of his wife and son. He claims to have learned his lesson although it is too late to remedy the present tragedy. Tiresias’ prophecy has come true. Creon comes to a realization (what Aristotle would define as “Anagnorisis”) at the play’s end. He realizes his mistake in passing an unjust proclamation and accepts responsibility for all that has happened. He had already taken the first step towards repentance when he personally saw to it that the body of Polynices received a funeral (and burial). However, he was too late to rescue Antigone.
Once again, fate has played its part. Antigone seems destined to die. She herself shows an awareness of her destiny throughout the play. Due to chance or misfortune, Creon arrives too late to save her. Had he come to the vault before burying Polynices’ body, Antigone and Haemon might have been saved. But the wheels of fate, once set into motion, cannot be stopped. Antigone must die, and Creon must suffer; only then can there be tragedy.
Eurydice mourns not only for Haemon’s death, but also for the death of her elder son, Megareus, who was killed in the battle against the Argive army.
The Chorus plays a significant part at the play’s end. When Creon is miserable and does not wish to live, they remind him that his duty as a king requires that he should live: “We must attend to present needs.”
The Chorus also reiterates the theme of destiny as an all-powerful force. Their Exodus is moral in tone and assesses Creon’s behavior throughout the play. Creon began by acting foolishly and boasting arrogantly. He refused to pay heed to the warnings of Tiresias and did not believe that the gods were angry with him. Now, through a painful experience, Creon has learned his lesson. As the Chorus says: “High boastings of the proud/ Bring sorrow to the height to punish pride.”

The character of Antigone is one of the most extraordinary portraits in classical Greek drama. It occupies a unique place in the consciousness of western civilization, from the ancient Greeks to the present. Sophocles’ Antigone (like his later play, Electra) focuses on a strong-willed woman who wins the respect of the audience by her unyielding adherence to an ideal, regardless of the consequences.
The obstinacy of both Antigone and Electra and their unwavering commitment to a sacred purpose continue to captivate modern audiences. While Electra’s purpose is to avenge her father’s murder, Antigone insists on burying her dead brother, Polynices. Antigone sets her intractable will against the forces of fate. It is her inner strength that enables her to resist manipulation by those who try to draw her away from her purpose.
For most of the play, Antigone contemplates death stoically and remains morally undefeated. Sophocles portrays in Antigone a figure through whom he can express his faith in the tremendous spiritual potential of humankind. He endows his heroine with the noblest qualities of mind, heart and soul, setting her up as the highest ideal for all humanity. Her highly developed consciousness stands above and outside all of human law. She makes the supreme sacrifice of giving up her life to uphold what she believes is right.
Antigone possesses a well-developed sense of duty based on family ties. It is this which prompts her to decide that she must bury Polynices’ body. She is keenly aware of the fact that divine law ordains that a corpse must be buried with the appropriate religious rites. (The Greeks firmly believed that a soul could not enter the Underworld after death unless the burial ceremonies were properly conducted.) Furthermore, Antigone insists on giving her brother a decent burial because it is the last right that every human being is entitled to. It is a social obligation owed to the dead by the living.
From the opening scene onwards, the audience sympathizes with Antigone completely. She permits no doubts to undermine her decision and allows no hesitation to deter her from her course of action.
However, conflicts do arise, not from doubts within herself, but due to her relationships with the other characters that surround her: Ismene, Haemon and Creon. The first conflict occurs when Antigone asks Ismene to join her in burying their dead brother and Ismene refuses because she does not want to give up her life. In rejecting Ismene’s argument for life, Antigone resists the conventional temptation of the pleasures of youth. She is also able to resist the call of love, for in choosing to die, she eliminates her chance of marrying Haemon, to whom she is betrothed.
It is Antigone’s encounter with Creon that brings out her strengths. Creon’s world of material and physical power cannot stand up to the idealistic strength of Antigone’s greater world of spiritual power. In the climactic scene of the play between Creon and Antigone, one witnesses how her towering will remains firm, calm and composed while Creon is reduced to a quivering mass of rage and slighted vanity.
She is not the mere mad woman that Creon takes her to be. Her stubborn defiance of his authority merely underscores the sacred tenet embodied in Antigone’s character: individual conscience and morality stand far above any man-made law. Yet one must not understand Antigone to be a perfect character. She is no saint: she is infuriatingly stubborn and cannot be swayed from any decision she has set her mind to.
Some critics have accused Antigone of being a martyr. She combats Creon’s interrogation with an almost unheard of insolence towards civil authority. She obeys “the infallible, unwritten laws of heaven” although she knows that her determination to do her duty towards her unburied brother will bring her an unjust death. But, as Antigone herself says, death is no great pity: “Who does not gain by death/ That lives, as I do, amid boundless woe?” And she strikes out effectively against Creon’s poor judgment when she says: “I am foolish only in the judgment of a fool.”
In the final analysis, Sophocles humanizes Antigone. As she goes out to meet her death, she appears almost like Christ, who, on the eve of his death, agonized over it in the garden of Gethsemane. She speaks movingly of her impending death and of the fact that she has lived an incomplete life, for she has:
“.......never known Or married joy or tender motherhood. But desolate and friendless I go down Alive, O horror, to the vaults of the dead.”
Surely Antigone’s obstinacy and insolence for the right cause is far more admirable than Creon’s opinionated defense of the wrong cause. Antigone does not choose to stand idly by and watch an evil world roll on in its heartless, mindless grind. She prefers to die a glorious and stoic death.
Creon, the brother of Jocasta, and Antigone’s uncle, was called upon to rule Thebes on three occasions: after the death of Laius (father of Oedipus), following the downfall of Oedipus, and again after the death of Oedipus’ two sons. At the start of Sophocles’ Antigone, Creon has just assumed full powers as king in his own right. (He was named regent during his previous terms as ruler of Thebes.)
Generally, Creon is viewed as the villain of this tragedy; the one who wields the repressive power of a dictator. As soon as Creon assumes the reins of the government, he is faced with a great political crisis: how to rescue the people of Thebes from the civil war and anarchy into which the murderous hatred of Polynices and Eteocles has plunged the state. He has the rather unenviable task of restoring the chaotic state of Thebes to normalcy, peace and justice. These were ideals that all the Greeks valued greatly in public life.
So, Creon is forced to formulate some rather unpleasant laws that are bound to come into conflict with the high ideals of a sensitive and deeply moral person like Antigone. Political necessity demands that Creon must adopt a firm stance on Polynices’ apparently treacherous action of attacking his home state. To an astute and pragmatic politician like Creon, it is no more than a question of practicality that he must make an example of Polynices’ rebellion and brand him a traitor. Creon is merely following established Greek political precedents in denying the rights of burial to one who had proved false to his homeland.
However, in doing so, Creon fails to understand that his brand of civil law transgresses and even negates the demands of a higher spiritual law. Ironically, in trying to prevent further chaos and anarchy from gripping the lives of the Theban population, Creon merely succeeds in creating an explosive situation. Resistance to his edict comes from the most unexpected quarter. He cannot comprehend what motivates Antigone to oppose his law. Creon holds the rather narrow view that all individuals living in a state must obey all its laws in order for human society to avoid disintegration into total anarchy. He is not too deeply concerned with how far morality and politics can work together for the good of the state. He is not averse to the idea that morality may sometimes be sacrificed in the interest of practical politics.
To retract from his own law would mean to accept defeat in his very first political maneuver. So Creon steers his steady course towards the catastrophic decision to have Antigone buried alive in the cave. He makes this rash decision in a fit of rage and on the spur of the moment. He refuses to heed the advice of his son, Haemon, and the warnings of the seer, Tiresias. Creon fears that he would lose face if he retracts his own (unjust) law.
Creon recognizes his error only after Tiresias’ fatal predictions and the Chorus’ subsequent admonishment. At last he yields to the voice of basic humanity and decides to reverse his earlier rigid stance. (This is known as “peripeteia.”) He knows he cannot “fight with destiny,” so he quickly buries Polynices and then hurries to Antigone’s cave. But his decision comes too late.
Creon falls into a state of dire panic in his last moments on stage. His wife, Eurydice, has taken her own life on hearing of Haemon’s death. Thus, Creon is left to brood alone over the tragic consequences of his own fatal decisions. He lives on as an infinitely sadder but wiser man (his “anagnorisis”).
General Information
Greek tragedy contained two basic elements: the dramatic spoken exchanges between two or three lead characters (usually in iambic trimeters) and the choral song in lyric meters, sung to the accompaniment of music (mostly the flute or lyre). By the early fifth century, Aeschylus and Phyrnichus invented many graceful and dignified steps for the Chorus to perform, as they recited or chanted their lyrics.
The word Chorus comes from the Greek word “choros” which means “dance.” At first, the Chorus was an important part of public religious rituals and was later included in public performances of Choral lyric poetry. As early as the 7th and 6th centuries B.C., the performances of tragedy in Attica (an area around Athens) were part of religious festivals, like the Dionysia, and included the use of a Chorus. It was later featured in comedy as well.
The original choral lyric was called the “dithyramb.” It was sung and danced in honor of the god Dionysus during his festivals. In Antigone, the final Chorus before the close of the play is an apostrophe (an address or speech) to Dionysus: “O God of many a name!...” Sophocles follows the archaic Attican tradition in assigning a dithyrambic Chorus to the singers in what is their final major utterance on stage. From being a separate literary genre, the choral lyric thus came to be incorporated as part of tragedy and comedy.
The Chorus sang or chanted the lyric passages of a drama to the tune of a flute with stylized choreography. The grave and dignified dance of tragedy was distinct from the more abandoned dances of comedy and was denoted by the term “Emmelia” which means gracefulness.
Like the main actors in a play, the Chorus was masked, as the surrender of individual identity was an intrinsic part of all Dionysian ritual. In tragedy, the Chorus always performed in character as a group of people involved in and commenting on the main action of the drama. Sophocles uses the Chorus in Antigone as a group representing the ordinary people of Thebes. Through them he is able to show public reaction to the crises of unfolding events, particularly, to the actions of the leaders and how these affect people’s lives. All through the play, one observes how the Chorus is concerned with public welfare, peace and the internal  security of Thebes, which ensures their own survival.
Occasionally, the leader of the Chorus, known as the “coryphaeus” or “hegemon,” got singled out from the rest of the group. He was sometimes allowed to converse briefly with the other characters on stage or to utter a solo speech addressed either to the rest of the Chorus or directly to the audience. This gave him the
possibility of partaking in the main dramatic action. Although Sophocles permits the Chorus-leader in Antigone to utter a few separate dialogues, they are not of major significance. His only important utterance is the last one, in which he sums up the moral of the tale at the close of the play:
“High boastings of the proud Bring sorrow to the height to punish pride: A lesson men shall learn when they are old.”
The Chorus was often trained by the poet himself, who, in this capacity, was called the “chorodidaskalos.” The members of the Chorus were selected and backed financially by a prominent private citizen called the “choregus.” The Chorus originally consisted of twelve members, and Sophocles is known to have increased the number to fifteen.
There is something of the effect of Grand Opera in  Greek tragedy, chiefly due to the rich musical experience that the proper use of the Chorus could create. Through the intricate choreography employed, the Chorus also created spectacular effects in the grand sweep and dignified pattern of its on-stage movements. In fact, much of the dramatic force of a play like Antigone springs from the sharp contrasts provided by the musical choral passages and the high rhetoric of the purely dramatic parts.
The Chorus in Antigone consists of a group of ordinary Theban citizens, people loyal to their state and their gods, to the law and the common human values of family and society. Through the Chorus, Sophocles is able to represent public reaction to the crises of unfolding events in his play. He demonstrates the response of the common people to the various actions of the high and mighty in their state and how it impinges upon them.
The Chorus is chiefly concerned with public welfare and the security of Thebes. The members of the Chorus serve as well- informed commentators on the events and characters around them, and they often express their somewhat conventional views on social, political, moral and religious issues that tend to affect their lives. They also lay the foundations for the occurrence of the unfolding incidents of the play by outlining the background to the present actions. Therefore, the Chorus’ initial role is to present the exposition of the play.
In Antigone, Sophocles uses the Chorus mainly to examine in fuller detail, all the ramifications of the central dramatic conflict. To a large extent, the tragedy is seen and presented to the audience through the observant eyes of the Chorus. This entity observes the turn of events from close quarters and hence has much authority to review or comment on them. The Chorus provides a kind of emotional and mental foil (contrast) to the central figures.
The Chorus assumes different roles at different times. This is necessary for the progress of the tragic action of the play. It was considered undesirable in Greek tragedy to present scenes of war and violence on stage. Hence, at first, the Chorus gives one a graphic picture of the battle of the seven against Thebes, which culminates in the dual deaths of Polynices and Eteocles. Here, their function is purely narrative as they provide the expository details.
A skilled dramatist like Sophocles would try to involve his audience more fully in the tragic events unfolding on the stage. This becomes possible if the audience can identify closely with the Chorus. Sophocles gives the Chorus many traits common to an audience: concern for public safety, fickle-mindedness, and conventional attitudes to most public matters regarding family, society and the state. At times, the Chorus empathizes with Antigone, but at others, it realizes that support for Antigone’s cause could mean a continuity of the recent instability in Thebes.
The Chorus also assumes the role of courtiers in Creon’s court. The members of the Chorus listen respectfully to Creon’s every word and pay heed to his commands. Disobeying Creon’s edicts could spell disaster for them, as they well know.
Also, the Chorus sometimes takes on the role of elder citizens of the state, providing Creon with some wise counsel. The elders try to influence his behavior by guiding him on the basis of their wide experience of common life. They suspect something untoward may happen after Haemon’s confrontation with Creon, saying: “How angrily he went, my lord,/ The young, when they are hurt, grow desperate.”
As representatives of the people of Thebes, the Chorus is unable to make up its mind as to who is right and who is wrong. The Chorus is sincerely concerned for Antigone in her doom, but it is caught in the vice-like grip of fear that Creon spreads through his powers as ruler. The members of the Chorus are truly shaken by the disturbing events: first by the civil war and dual deaths of Polynices and Eteocles, then by the discovery that Antigone has defied the edict preventing Polynices’ burial, and then by the king’s cruel decision to kill her: “It is determined then that she must die.” They strongly believe that fate has a hand in the ensuing tragedy. They believe Tiresias’ predictions and warn Creon not to go against the will of the gods.
As Antigone leaves for her execution, the Chorus comforts her and reassures her that her act will bring her great honor. Yet it also reminds Antigone that “a self-willed passion” was the reason for her “overthrow
Aristotle in his Poetics praises Sophocles as an innovator in tragedy. The introduction of a third actor (“tritagonist”) enabled Sophocles to make plot, dialogue and the relationship between characters more complex. He abandoned the Aeschylean practice of  writing trilogies on related events; instead, he gave each of his plays a self-contained plot. In Sophoclean plays, the unity of action is complete and the plot is handled with amazing dexterity and at a rapid pace.
For Sophocles, it is the innate character of a heroine, like Antigone, that initiates the central tragic action. Sometimes, the central Sophoclean character (as in Antigone) dies well before the end of the play, resulting in a slight slackening of the tension in the action. However, the concluding part still seems to follow necessarily from what has preceded. For example, the deaths of Haemon and Eurydice are the result of Antigone’s death and add to the final tragic effect. Sophocles rarely distracts attention from the self- contained world of his play. The outlines of his story are drawn from a well-known body of myth, already familiar to the audience.
For the plot of Antigone, Sophocles drew material from the familiar legends of Oedipus, the King of Thebes, and also from an earlier play by Aeschylus called Seven Against Thebes.
The plot of a Greek tragedy usually consisted of five parts: the prologue, the Parodos, the five Epeisodia (episodes), the five stasima and the Exodus (or epilogue). Sophocles follows the conventional pattern of plot  constructions with very little deviation from the norm.
The Prologos (literally ‘fore-word’) forms the prologue to the actual play. It is the part preceding the first entrance of the Chorus and usually consists of a monologue (or dialogue) setting forth the subject matter of the tragedy and the basic situation from which it starts. In early Greek tragedies, the Chorus entered first and performed this function of exposition. Sophocles prefers a later method in Antigone, by making Antigone reveal her decision to bury Polynices to her sister, Ismene.
The Parodos is the second segment of the plot and refers to the song (and stylized movements or dance) which accompanies the first entrance of the Chorus on stage. The opening Chorus song serves a purely expository function in Antigone.
These two initial segments of the plot are followed by five major “Epeisodia” or episodes. In these scenes, one or more of the three central actors took the major and minor roles, along with the Chorus. The word “Epeisodian” meant, originally, the entrance of an actor to announce something significant in the plot to the Chorus. The episodes contained both typical passages and narrative or dramatic dialogues, lamentations and incidental songs or utterances by the Chorus. Each of these episodes is followed by a stasimon, a song sung by the Chorus.
In Antigone, the first episode concerns Creon’s announcement to the Chorus of Theban elders that he has forbidden the burial of Polynices. It also includes the arrival of the watchman who informs Creon of the perfunctory night burial of Polynices by an unknown hand. Creon lashes out at him and accuses him of conspiring in this act.
The stasima (plural for “stasimon”) were expressions of emotion evoked by the preceding episodes, given mainly by the Chorus and serving as interludes between episodes. The first stasimon follows the first episode: the Chorus sings a song in praise of the human race and of the state. The second episode follows, during which one sees Antigone, captured by the watchman, being brought before Creon to face trial and punishment. This episode constitutes the climax of the play and proves the great strength of Antigone’s character.
This great scene of confrontation is followed by the second stasimon which begins: “Blest is the life that never tasted woe.” It mentions the evil fate tormenting the house of Cadmus. In the third episode, Creon is confronted by his son, Haemon, who is betrothed to Antigone. The father-son conflict provides a secondary agon (debate) in the play, following the primary agon between Antigone and Creon in the second episode. Appropriately, the third episode is followed by the third stasimon, whose theme is love: “Love unconquered in fight.”
In the penultimate episode of the play, Antigone is led to her tomb. This scene evokes profound pity for her, as well as awe at her impending fate. Her exit is covered by the fourth stasimon, which tells of the tragic fate suffered by mythical Greek figures before Antigone: “Even Danaë’s beauty...”.
In the fifth and final episode, Tiresias, the prophet, warns Creon against displeasing the gods. Here, the “peripeteia,” or turn in the nature of events, takes place when Creon does a complete about- face and decides to spare Antigone’s life and to allow for Polynices’ burial. There is also a moment of “anagnorisis” for Creon as he begins to understand that he must bow to the power of fate: “Oh! it is hard. But I am forced to this/ Against myself. I cannot fight with Destiny.”
The fifth stasimon is a dithyramb in honor of the god, Bacchus. The Chorus prays to Bacchus, hoping that he will rescue Thebes from its present crisis.
The exodus or final scene follows the final (fifth) stasimon. In this scene, the messengers bring news of Haemon’s and Antigone’s deaths. It presents the denouement of the tragedy. Eurydice, Haemon’s mother, commits suicide and Creon is left alone to mourn his fate. The leader of the Chorus recites the last lines of the play as part of the Exodus and articulates the moral of the tale.
Thus, in Antigone, Sophocles remains strictly within the bounds of the norms of classical Greek tragedy as far as plot construction is concerned.
The central concern of the play is Antigone’s fateful struggle against Creon’s cruel edict. Sophocles in Antigone expresses his belief in the spiritual capacity of a human being. Antigone is endowed with the finest qualities. She is noble, upright, and possesses a strong sense of loyalty to family and devotion to the gods. She sticks to her ideals, even in the face of a cruel death.
Creon represents the harshness of the world of physical and political power as opposed to Antigone’s idealistic world. Creon must act to protect the interests of the state and to protect his own interests as sovereign. He follows an ancient tradition of battle in denying the enemy, Polynices, a proper burial. But in doing so, he not only acts inhumanely, but as Sophocles reiterates throughout the play, displeases the gods.
The Greeks had a firm belief in the force of destiny, which is central to the play. The Chorus in the second stasimon refers to the role that fate has played in causing the woes of the House of Cadmus. After Tiresias’ warning, Creon finally admits that fate is all-powerful, and he accepts the Chorus’ advice and sets out to save Antigone. Thus, one could conclude that the characters in the play are not in control of their own lives; fate ultimately controls their lives.
Yet, in the prologue, Antigone refers to the freedom of will (choice) available to a human being. She asks Ismene to choose whether she will help her to bury their brother. In the second episode, Antigone reminds Ismene: “Life was the choice you made,/ Mine was to die.” The two sisters, Antigone and Ismene, are polar opposites. While Antigone chooses to defy Creon and to die nobly, Ismene, desiring the security of life, timidly accepts the dictates of the male- dominated society of which she is a part.
Antigone’s confrontation with Creon is also the confrontation of the individual against the state. Antigone is able to question Creon’s laws because of her determination and courage. She is unrepentant, as she does not believe that she has committed a crime. In the climax of the play, she chooses the divine laws of heaven over the laws of the state (as laid down by Creon). She declares that the laws of the state are not binding in her case because they have been laid down by a man, and men are not infallible. Creon attempts to subdue Antigone’s “stubborn spirit” by condemning her to death, but Antigone retains her composure. It is only in the scene of her exit (the fourth episode) that Antigone breaks down, when she is led to her death. Sophocles shows here that Antigone, despite her courage, suffers the anguish of any normal human being.
While Antigone believes in the power that emanates from within the individual, Creon professes faith in the power gained by holding office. “Power shows the man” says Creon, in his opening speech to the Chorus of elders. A certain gender bias is evident in lines such as the following: “Better, if it must happen, that a man/ should overset me./ I won’t be called weaker than womankind.”
Creon plays the game of political expediency. He is trying to restore peace and stability to Thebes and cannot allow a mere girl to defy him, as this will make him appears spineless. He had favored Eteocles against Polynices in the battle between the two brothers, as it was politically profitable for him to do so. Creon tries to justify his actions in episode four (the scene with Haemon), by stating that he must protect the interests of Thebes. Here, Sophocles deals with the  relationship between father and son, and between Haemon and Antigone. Creon tries to win Haemon over to his line of thinking by introducing the idea of filial devotion. But Haemon does not fall into the trap. His  love for Antigone seems greater than his concern for the state and the king. He accuses his father of acting like a dictator and succeeds in arousing Creon’s wrath.
Each of the two major characters of the play, Antigone and Creon, have their own faults. Antigone’s tragic flaw (or hamartia) is, according to the Chorus, “a self-willed passion.” She yearns for a noble death and seizes the opportunity to gain it by defying Creon. Until the scene of her exit, she shows no desire to live. She tells Creon:
“That death would come, I knew Without thine edict;--if before the time, I count it a gain. Who does not gain by death, That lives, as I do, amid boundless woe?”
If her life appears tragic to her, death seems even more pitiable, and Antigone breaks down in the scene of her exit. It is only at this late stage that she betrays any desire to live. She mourns because she will never enjoy the  fruits of marriage and thus will not be fulfilled as a woman and a mother.
Creon, like Antigone, is obstinate and unyielding. Like Antigone, he too is a shattered individual in the end. At different times in the play, different people warn Creon that he is acting irrationally. The watchman, Haemon, Tiresias and the Chorus all advise Creon against foolish and impetuous conduct. Creon’s decisions are quite rash. He even insults Tiresias and angers him. Finally, fate catches up with Creon when he goes to the cave where Antigone is immured. It seems as if Tiresias’ predictions have sealed Creon’s fate.
In the end, Creon realizes that royal powers are of no use in a world determined by the dictates of fate. It is Creon’s destiny that he must live on and suffer the pangs of guilt, while the innocent people, Antigone, Eurydice and Haemon, have killed themselves. The Exodus is, in a way, a statement of the major theme of the play. The leader of the Chorus concludes that devotion to heaven and rational behavior are essential for man. Creon’s pride has brought him disaster. Thus, there is a sense of “catharsis” at the end of the play, as all the emotions of fear, pity and awe are exhausted.
Sophocles makes use of dramatic irony in Antigone to heighten the tragic effect of the play. Instances of irony can be observed throughout the play.
One major instance is Antigone’s own idea of a noble death. Before her final exit, Antigone appears steadfast and courageous and ready to face death. But as she is led to the tomb, she is unable to maintain her composure and reveals her human frailties.
The Parodos, too, holds an instance of irony. Here, the Chorus hopes and prays for peace after the civil war in Thebes. Little do they know that Thebes is soon to face problems again. Creon’s fall at the end is also ironic, for he believes from the beginning of the play that his fortunes are on the rise after his enthronement. However, he comes to the conclusion that even the mightiest king is powerless in the face of destiny. This is an instance of the irony of situation. Creon’s opening speech, in which he makes his proclamation concerning Polynices, is also fraught with ironic possibilities. When he passes his law, Creon does not realize that he is about to bring a fresh crisis to Thebes. He foolishly believes that he is restoring stability and peace to his kingdom by establishing such an inhumane law.
The Greek epic poet, Homer, made excellent use of epic similes in his famous Iliad and Odyssey. Sophocles, too, uses an epic simile in the opening Chorus (the Parodos) when he describes how the man from Argos came to Thebes like an eagle descending on its prey. The metaphor is extended as the eagle is described feeding with “hungry jaws” on Theban flesh. The armor of the man from Argos is compared to the plumed crest of the eagle.
In the second stasimon, “Blest is the life...,” the Chorus compares the troubles faced by the House of Cadmus to a Thracian tempest. These similes lend a certain grandeur to the choral songs. The comparisons are fitting and well executed, and through them the choral songs become more poetic in nature.

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Antigone key literary elements


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Antigone key literary elements



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Antigone key literary elements