Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Antigone, Oidipous Tyrannos (c. 429 b.c.e.; Oedipus Tyrannus, 1715), and Oedipus at Colonus are not a trilogy in the true sense. That is to say, they were not originally written to be performed on a single occasion. Rather, these three plays represent Sophocles’ return to the same body of myths several times during his long career as a dramatist. Nevertheless, the Theban plays, as they are called, together tell the complete story of Oedipus from the height of his power as king of Thebes to the execution of his daughter for the burial of his son, Polyneices.
Antigone, although it concerns the last events in the mythic history of this family, was the first of the three plays to be written. In it, certain elements of plot seem to indicate that Sophocles, in this early period of his career, was still imitating the works of his predecessor Aeschylus. For instance, both Antigone and Creon find themselves caught in a “double bind,” a situation in which they are doomed no matter which course of action they choose. Although Antigone suffers because she violates the law of Creon by burying her brother Polyneices, she would have neglected her religious duty had she left him unburied. Creon suffers because he regards his will as more important than the demands of the gods, although political pressures compelled him to punish the traitor of his city.
Antigone and Creon thus represent...
(The entire section is 478 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
King Oedipus has died in exile, leaving the Kingdom of Thebes to his two sons, Eteocles and Polynices. The king had decreed that his two sons are supposed to take turns as rulers; they agree, initially. After Eteocles refuses to step down after one year, the two brothers fight over the prize. Polynices attacks Thebes, leading to civil war, and in the end both brothers are dead, each by the other’s hand. Creon, their uncle, assumes the role of king. He gives a state funeral to Eteocles but orders that the body of Polynices be left to rot in the sun as an example to his supporters.
Antigone, Oedipus’s daughter, meets her sister Ismene at the gates to Creon’s palace in Thebes. Antigone feels duty bound to bury her brother Polynices despite Creon’s edict and asks her sister for help. Ismene refuses, arguing that as women they should not go against the decisions of men, especially those of the king.
The Chorus is summoned to the palace. Creon informs the Chorus that he claims the throne and that Polynices is to be left unburied. However, Antigone has stealthily sprinkled Polynices’ body with a layer of dirt, giving her brother a symbolic burial. A guard runs to Creon and reports the attempted burial. Creon is furious and accuses the guard of being involved. One of the elders says it is the work of a god, but Creon disagrees. He threatens to torture and kill the guard unless he captures the real perpetrator. The Chorus sings about the wonder of humanity, but for the city to be safe, humanity should both honor civil law and revere the gods.
The guards brush the dirt off Polynices’ body and then hide, looking to ambush whoever tries to...
(The entire section is 686 words.)