The first choral ode in Antigone occurs after the scene in which Creon tells the Chorus, representing the people of Thebes, that the brothers Polyneices and Eteocles have killed each other in the civil war over the throne of Thebes. Creon also informs the Chorus that he has assumed the throne of Thebes.
CREON. Now that his two sons perished in one day,
Brother by brother murderously slain,
By right of kinship to the Princes dead,
I claim and hold the throne and sovereignty.
Creon issues an edict that grants Eteocles a hero's burial, but Creon decrees that Polyneices is a traitor to Thebes and that he's to be left in the desert unburied.
A guard enters to tell Creon that someone has already tried to bury Polyneices, and Creon sends the guard to discover who that person is and to bring him before Creon for judgment. Creon goes into the palace, and the Chorus performs the first ode.
An ode is a lyric poem, formal and serious in tone, that praises an individual, an idea, or an event. The word "ode" is derived from the Greek word "aeidein," which means to sing or to chant, as the odes in Antigone might have been performed.
The first ode in Antigone, often referred to as the "Ode to Man," is considered one of the greatest odes in ancient Greek drama. The ode reflects on the nature of mankind and mankind's accomplishments and ends with a warning against succumbing to pride for those accomplishments and of embracing anarchy in an ordered world.
Many are the world’s wonders of the world,
But none more wonderful than man.
Mankind conquered the seas with ships and the earth with plows, tamed animals and put them to work for the benefit of all mankind, and raised houses against the elements.
Mankind learned to use words to express thoughts and ideas and employed those thoughts and ideas in diplomacy and "statecraft."
Mankind has done all of these things; "yet for death he hath found no cure."
The final stanza of the ode praises mankind's intelligence as a "force beyond all measure,” but it also includes a reminder that mankind is capable of both good and evil.
Ironically, the stanza warning against pride and anarchy ends just as Antigone is led before Creon to answer to him for violating his decree by trying to bury her brother, Polyneices.