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. 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. 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.
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.
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 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 relates the story of the deaths of Antigone and Haemon to Eurydice. The words of the messenger in Antigone are designed to provoke catharsis in the audience without directly exposing them to the violence of the events. With Antigone , Sophocles hoped to illustrate to audiences...
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