Antigone Ode 2 Summary

What is the meaning of the second choral Ode in Antigone by Sophocles?

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The Choral Ode title "Ode II" takes place between lines 465 and 492, between scenes ii and iii. Choral Odes usually take place between scenes or divide scenes. The Chorus comments on what has just been witnessed in the previous scene and serves as the voice of the community.


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first strophe reads as follows:

CHORUS: [Strophe 1] Fortunate is the man who has never tasted God’s vengeance! / Where once the anger of heaven has struck, that house is shaken / For ever: damnation rises behind each child / Like a wave cresting out of the black northeast, / When the long darkness under sea roars up / And bursts drumming death upon the windwhipped sand. (465–470)

In this first section, the Chorus discusses the vengeance of the gods. They say that those who have not suffered as a result of the gods' vengeance are lucky, not only because they do not face that wrath but also because the gods will continue to punish the sinner's family for generations. This seems to refer to the curse of Oedipus, Antigone's father. The cursed prophecy that destroyed Oedipus, Laius, and Jocasta continues to haunt the next generation. The Chorus uses the simile of the wave to show that the gods' vengeance continues to whip the sand (the family/descendants) with the dark force of their rage.

The antistrophe then replies: 

I have seen this gathering sorrow from time long past / Loom upon Oedipus’ children: generation from generation / Takes the compulsive rage of the enemy god. / So lately this last flower of Oedipus’ line / Drank the sunlight! but now a passionate word / And a handful of dust have closed up all its beauty. (471–476)

Here, the Chorus continues on the theme of how a family curse continues through the generations. Oedipus's children, including Antigone, suffer as a result of "this gathering sorrow from time long past." The gods are still angry, and so Antigone must suffer.

The second strophe sings:

What mortal arrogance / Transcends the wrath of Zeus? / Sleep cannot lull him, nor the effortless long months / Of the timeless gods: but he is young for ever, / And his house is the shining day of high Olympos. / All that is and shall be, / And all the past, is his. / No pride on earth is free of the curse of heaven. (477–484)

In this section, the Chorus rhapsodizes about the power of Zeus. No human could possibly best this immortal, who is "young for ever" and controls Olympus and the earth. Man's "arrogance" and "pride" are no match for the gods; if Zeus is angry with a person, that person will suffer no matter who they are and no matter how highly they think of themselves.

Finally, the antistrophe closes the ode by saying: 

The straying dreams of men / May bring them ghosts of joy: / But as they drowse, the waking embers burn them; / Or they walk with fixed eyes, as blind men walk. / But the ancient wisdom speaks for our own time: / Fate works most for woe / With Folly’s fairest show. / Man’s little pleasure is the spring of sorrow. (485–492)

The antistrophe claims that men may think they are happy in their dreams, but these are mere "ghosts of joy." They are "blind" because they do not realize that the gods, or Fate, control their lives. The Chorus even goes so far as to say that "Fate works most for woe," suggesting that when Fate is determing men's lives, the outcome will be tragic. Any "little pleasure" mortals enjoy is only "the spring of sorrow." Joy will always lead to pain. This is a particularly dark sentiment from the Chorus to close out scene ii of the play.

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The Odes in Greek Tragedy are the most ancient of the aspects of the plays.  Before there were plays with individual characters speaking lines to each other and undergoing personal events that lead to tragic outcomes, Greek Theatre was comprised of choral presentations meant to celebrate the gods.  The Odes are moments in the more evolved Tragedies that retain this sense of stepping a bit out of the immediacy of the circumstances of the characters' struggles and having the Chorus relate directly to the audience and the gods.

Here, at line 332, the Chorus has its second Ode of the play, just after a Guard has revealed to Creon that someone (Antigone) has disobeyed his command and buried Polyneices.  This Ode is often referred to as "The Ode to Man" and is all about Man's attempt to dominate the Earth.

The first strophe discusses how man can travel across the oceans and tame the land with his ploughs.  Antistrophe One describes how man tames the beasts and birds.  Strophe Two shows man's own growth and development through his use of language and the creation of homes.

. . .He can always help himself.

He faces no future helpless.  There's only death

that he cannot find an escape from.  He has contrived

refuge from illnesses once beyond all cure.

The final antistrophe elaborates mankind's cleverness, but cautions that this quality may "drive him one time or another to well or ill."  It all depends upon whether man acts in deference to "the laws of the land and the gods' sworn right."  This Chorus of Theban Elders concludes their Ode by cautioning that man must not "dwell with dishonor," and he that does will be shunned by these pious and conservative elders.

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In Antigone, by Sophocles, what is the meaning of the fourth choral Ode?

Both the rewards and the difficulties of interpreting the fourth choral ode of SophoclesAntigone have been dealt with very fully by Reginald Pepys Winnington-Ingram in his book Sophocles: An Interpretation (see link below, especially pp. 98ff.).

Briefly, in this ode the chorus compare the situation of Antigone to that of several other mythical figures: (1) Danae; (2) Lycurgus; and (3) the Phineidae (that is, the sons of Phineus and Cleopatra). As Winnington-Ingram notes, Danae and Lycurgus both suffered by being shut up in darkness and in this way resemble Antigone. Both were royal personages who, like Antigone, suffered misfortune. The Phineidae were figures also shut up in a tomb and blinded.  Thus, in all three cases, the mythological figures have suffered great misfortune.  In this way they all resemble Antigone, despite various differences among themselves and between them and her.

The eNotes annotations (see link below) explain the three situations in this way:

  • Danae A mortal woman beloved of Zeus; her father locked her in a room, which Zeus entered by assuming the form of a golden shower. The result of their union was the hero Perseus.
  • Lycurgus A Thracian king who denied the godhood of Dionysus as that god made his triumphal entry into Greece from the East. Dionysus responded by driving Lycurgus mad: After Lycurgus committed many crimes, he was arrested by his people and shut up in a cave, where he was killed by wild animals.
  • Idaia The second wife of King Phineus of Thrace; she wanted to secure the kingdom for her own sons, so she blinded the sons of Phineus by his first wife, Cleopatra, who was the daughter of Boreas, the West Wind, and an Athenian princess. It is Cleopatra who is the analogy to Antigone, as Danae was.

Interpreting the fourth ode has proven difficult even for learned classical scholars.  Here, perhaps, is what can be said at a bare minimum:

  • Danae is said by the chorus to have “lost the light of heaven” and to have been enclosed in a “tomblike chamber” (see translation linked below). Her fate shows the “great and dread might of Destiny.”
  • Lycurgus was also “shut in prison cave,” condemned to waste “slowly evermore.”
  • The sons of Phineus also suffered a “miserable fate,” and suffering was also endured by their mother Cleopatra (not the famous Cleopatra of Egypt).
  • If nothing else, then, the parallels seem designed to emphasize Antigone’s suffering.
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