Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*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.