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Summary of Sophocles' Antigone

Summary:

Antigone by Sophocles is a tragedy that explores themes of state versus individual rights, divine law versus human law, and the consequences of pride. Antigone defies King Creon's decree by burying her brother Polynices, who was deemed a traitor. Her act of civil disobedience leads to her arrest and eventual death, triggering a series of tragic events that result in the downfall of Creon's family.

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What is the basic summary of Sophocles' Antigone?

There is a good summary here at enotes, which gives a paragraph or two for each of the eight scenes.  The play is primarily concerned with a family dispute over an issue that is personal, religious, and political all at once: the burial of Antigone's brother Polyneices, who fought against their city of Thebes in the war.  The uncle of Antigone, Creon, is now king of Thebes.  Politically, he shows loyalty to his city by refusing to bury his own nephew's body, since the nephew is considered a traitor.  The Greeks believed that an unburied body's soul roamed the world in sadness for a hundred years, so Antigone is very motivated to bury her brother.  In addition, this family is already so torn apart by incest and murder that such things as burials assume an even greater importance.  Here, in capsule form, are the main events of the play:

Antigone begs Creon to allow her brother, Polynieces, to be buried.  He refuses, and Antigone surreptitiously sprinkles dust on the body; but she is caught.  Creon decides to trap her in a cave with limited food and water until she dies; when she is interred she hangs herself.  Creon finally relents and goes to free Antigone, but finds her dead.  Haemon, Creon’s son and Antigone’s betrothed, tries to kill his father, but fails and kills himself.  Eurydice, Haemon’s mother, kills herself.  Creon mourns his stubbornness and folly. 

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What is a brief summary of Sophocles' Antigone?

Antigone, by Sophocles, is one of three plays in the Oedipus Trilogy.  Chronologically, the story of Antigone takes place after Oedipus' banishment from Thebes.  While Oedipus is wandering in the wilderness looking for a place to die, his daughter Ismene finds him with the news that his sons (her brothers) Polynices and Eteocles have quarreled over who is to rule Thebes.  Polynices has left home to find help and support for his claim to the throne.  He eventually comes to Oedipus for support, and in one final moment of impatient rage, Oedipus curses his two sons, announcing that they will kill one another.

This is exactly what happens.  Eteocles and Creon (Oedipus' brother in law) defend Thebes against Polynices and Adrastus (king of a neighboring city).  The brothers eventually kill one another in battle.

As a result, Creon is made king.  He issues a decree that Eteocles shall have a hero's funeral with full burial rites, because he died fighting for Thebes.  Polynices' body, he declares, is not to be touched, because he was a traitor.  Meanwhile, Ismene and Antigone (sisters and Oedipus' only remaining children) are left helpless to bury their brother Polynices, whose soul they believe will never enter the afterlife if his body is not properly buried (it was the women's job in this culture to take care of the dead).

Antigone, more courageous than her sister, defies Creon's decree and buries her brother.  Creon, without knowing who did it, announces that the person guilty of the act will be punished by death.  The rest of the drama basically shows how Antigone stands up for what she believes in, even though it means fighting her own family and risking her life.

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Summarize the Prologue of Antigone by Sophocles.

The prologue is essential to the play because it establishes the context and conflict of the play. It gives us three pieces of information. First, there was a battle among the brothers. Etocles defended Thebes, and Polynices attacked it. Both are now dead. Second, Creon has given military honors and a distinguished burial to Etocles, but he has forbidden anyone to bury Polynices. This act is especially heinous and cruel in the Greek context because one who is not buried will never finds rest. Recalling Hector’s dead body and Achilles unwillingness to allow the body to be buried is another example. Third, the sisters of Etocles and Polynices, Antigone and Ismene are now in a dilemma. What should they do? Do they follow the law or show piety to their brothers.

Antigone knows exactly what she is going to do. She is going to defy the commands of Creon and bury her brother no matter what. When Antigone approaches Ismene to ask for help, Ismene fears the repercussions. She speaks these words:

And now we in turn-we two left all alone think how we shall perish, more miserably than all the rest, if, in defiance of the law, we brave a king's decree or his powers. Nay, we must remember, first, that we were born women, as who should not strive with men; next, that we are ruled of the stronger, so that we must obey in these things, and in things yet sorer.

The prologue ends, when the sisters part ways with different convictions.

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Summarize the Prologue of Antigone by Sophocles.

In the Prologue of Antigone by Sophocles, Antigone calls her sister, Ismene, out of the palace to speak to her. She wants to tell Ismene privately about Creon's edict that Polyneices, their brother, who died the day before, may not be buried, but Eteocles, their other brother, shall receive a proper interment. The two brothers both died in battle, with Eteocles defending Thebes and Polyneices trying to conquer it from without. With the male heirs of Oedipus both dead, Creon finds himself the new ruler, and one of his first laws regards the burial or non-burial of the two brothers and the death sentence upon anyone who would violate his order. Antigone asks Ismene to help her bury Polyneices; Ismene will not, citing the fact that she is just a woman and is destined to obey "the stronger." Antigone lets her know that she will bury her brother, and Ismene assures her that, even though she disagrees with Antigone's errand, she still loves her.

The Prologue performs several important tasks for the drama. First, it gives critical backstory about the battle that killed Antigone's brothers. Second, it introduces the conflict, with Antigone stating that she must honor the gods' will above Creon's law. Third, it establishes Antigone's character as a strong, brave woman, especially compared to Ismene, who believes "we must remember, first, that we were born women, as who should not strive with men." Thus the feminist theme, another important part of the conflict, is introduced as well. 

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