Antigone Summary

  • Creon and Antigone represent the opposing sides of the conflicts between male and female, loyalty and rebellion, and one's civic duty vs. one's family obligations. In each case, neither side wins, and both characters wind up losing their families.
  • Antigone is a classic example of Greek tragedy. Traditionally, a tragedy follows a hero who is ruined by their tragic flaw, such as Creon's arrogance. Both Antigone and Creon are considered tragic heroes, with Antigone's tragic flaw being her disobedience.
  • Sophocles uses the traditional Greek chorus to comment on and interpret the events of the play. In Antigone, the leader of the chorus is a character, rather than a background figure, and the chorus' primary function is to express loyalty to either Antigone or Creon.

Analysis

Ancient Greek playwrights in Athens wrote plays for the Great Dionysia festival that was held every Spring. It was a civic duty to attend these plays, as they dealt with moral and social issues important to the community. Sophocles based Antigone on the Theban myths of the legendary rulers of Thebes, using what was, even in his time, an old story to comment on such issues as the absolute rule of kings and the status of women in society.

Tragedy
Antigone is a traditional Greek tragedy. A tragedy is defined as a drama about a noble, courageous hero or heroine of excellent character who because of some tragic character flaw brings ruin upon himself or herself. Tragedy treats its subjects in a dignified and serious manner, using poetic language to help evoke pity and fear and bring about catharsis, a purging of these emotions. In the case of Antigone we have two characters at the center of the conflict—Antigone and Creon—who are both tragic figures. Antigone defies a royal edict to bury her brother and pays with her life, while Creon ignores the gods and loses his wife and son to suicide. Both characters evoke pity, and each meets a tragic end.

Catharsis
Catharsis is the release or purging of emotions of fear and/or pity, brought on by art, usually tragedy. It is an act that brings spiritual renewal. One of the conventions of Greek drama was to have all violence occur offstage and then conveyed verbally to the audience. This occurs in Antigone, as the messenger...

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Places Discussed

*Thebes

*Thebes (theebz). Ancient Greek city located in Boeotia, a district northwest of Athens, Thebes was famous in the ancient world for its tragic royal family and the seven-gated wall surrounding the city. The long-standing enemy of Athens, Thebes was the setting of several Greek tragedies. Despotic Thebes seems to have served Athenian playwrights of the fifth century b.c.e. as a kind of inverted mirror image of democratic Athens, providing them with a context within which to discuss social and political issues that might prove too disturbing if dramatized within a contemporary Athenian setting. By setting Antigone in Thebes, in the remote, mythical past, Sophocles freed himself to explore the tensions between personal freedom and legal restraint, household and city, male and female—all tensions of keen interest to contemporary Athenians, whose radically democratic system of government involved a constant program of public discussion and debate.

Royal palace

Royal palace. Represented, probably with no attempt at physical “realism,” by a two-story wooden building at the rear of the stage. Athenian audiences would have been well versed in the tragic history of the royal house of Thebes, a history of internecine conflict, incest, and treachery, and may well have recognized the palace as a place where the two meanings of the word “house” mingle in interesting and problematic ways. The palace, as the royal residence, is Antigone’s home.

Cave

Cave. Place in which Creon entombs Antigone. It is an axiom of the Greek tragic theater that particularly unpleasant events, especially those involving violence and death, occur offstage but are described on stage, after the fact, by various characters. In Antigone, the most interesting offstage place is the cave in which Creon entombs Antigone. This “bridal-cave of Hades,” where Antigone hangs herself, is one of the play’s more important symbols, representing death but also, in its symbol of the womb and thus the female, ironically commenting on Creon’s stridently masculine rhetoric and political stance.

Historical Context

Fifth Century Greece and Its Influence
The fifth century B.C. in Greece was a time of great advancement in philosophy, art, and...

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Compare and Contrast

1200s B.C.: The states in Greece are run by dictators who are members of the royal family. Power is transferred from father to son,...

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Topics for Further Study

Research the ways in which arguments over such topics as abortion (both pro-choice and anti-abortion movements) or anti-government militia...

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Media Adaptations

Antigone was adapted for a film directed by Dinos Katsourides. Starring Irene Papas and Manos Katrakis, the production is in Greek...

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What Do I Read Next?

Oedipus Rex, Sophocles's play written c. 430 B.C., years after Antigone, concerns the downfall of Oedipus, Antigone's father....

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Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Beacham, Richard C. "Antigone by Sophocles." The International Dictionary of Theatre, Vol. 1: Plays....

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Bibliography

Kitto, H. D. F. Greek Tragedy: A Literary Study. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1954. Addresses types and elements of Greek tragedies, and compares Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Discusses problems with the early exit of Antigone and argues that she is more than “mere antithesis to Creon” who is “more than the stubborn fool who kills her.”

Melchinger, Siegfried. Sophocles. Translated by David A. Scrase. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1974. Provides a biography of Sophocles and explains Greek theater, chorus, staff, and actors, as well as each scene of Antigone.

Oudemans, Th. C. W., and A. P. M. H. Lardinois. Tragic Ambiguity: Anthropology, Philosophy, and Sophocles’ “Antigone.” New York: E. J. Brill, 1987. Applies Greek theology to Antigone and explains separative and harmonizing interpretations. One chapter explicates each episode of the play, another, the Greek tragic elements. A thorough study.

Segal, Charles Paul. “Sophocles’ Praise of Man and the Conflicts of the Antigone.” In Sophocles: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Thomas Woodward. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966. Focuses on the individuality of Creon and Antigone instead of, as many other studies do, on their contrasts and conflicts. Identifies aspects of Athenian democracy in the play.

Winnington-Ingram, R. P. Sophocles: An Interpretation. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980. Compares the common religious and political themes and plots of Sophocles’ extant plays. Compares Antigone and Creon, assuming that all of Sophocles’ plays focus on a hero who “suffers a wrong.” Sees Antigone as “no reasoner.”