Antigone by Sophocles


Antigone by Sophocles


Like Hamlet, Joan of Arc, Galileo and Sir Thomas More, Antigone inspires us with her courage, fortitude and impenetrable strength of conscience. She stands against the monolith and brings her society to a reckoning it sorely needs.

Antigone. Pepsi and Pizza after the show. Bebsi nathnem Marenda dennam

Antigone. 17th April 2015 Bebsi & Bizza after the show. Bebsi nathnem Marenda dennam.

What’s Antigone
Antigone [c. 429 B.C], the most celebrated drama in Greek literature  & one of the most consistently popular plays in the history is composed by the Athenian tragedian, the supreme Greek dramatist Sophocles, in the dramatic traditions laid out by his most illustrious predessor Aeschylus. Antigone is generally considered as being cocooned in a trilogy called “The Theban Plays” with “Oedipius Tyrannos[Oedipus Rex] & “Oedipus at Colonus“,  though they weren’t originally meant to be staged in succession. Then again, “The Theban Plays“, taken collectively, unravel the story of King Oedipus [a brilliant mind-solved the Riddle of the Sphinx *1;  a caring, benevolent ruler] & his royal family from the days of his glory to a sequence of tragedies sinking to the unfathomable depth of total tragedy. The begining of the end is King Oedipus. And then no other than his brother: acting upon the prevailing law of the land, he orders Antigone, his niece executed, for the so called crime of paying the last respect, to his nephew, Polynices, even though it was merely a symbolic act of sprinkling a layer of dust.

The first time I read Antigone in my pre-teens, I was having goosebumps all alone; my throat and mouth remained parched: the ancient Greek drama ends with death of whole god condemned royal family except two. Goddamit man. Following a glorius history of 2500+ years of vibrant civilization that provides the lifeline to the nation to date by means of the Water World [vast, ancient network of hundreds of vast man-made rainwater reservoirs and thousands of man-made village rainwater reservoirs], where are we today? Following a decade long reign of the king with balls and guts, dash and daring that vanquished all the enemies of motherland and traitors of the nation, where are we today? What a blunder have you goddamn plain stupid, simply silly & all muddled morons committed? Once again I am having goosebumps; and I am parched. This time not for having read Antigone again. But by witnessing the betrayal of the nation by the ignorant and a plague of rogues on rampage over our motherland. bunpeiris


Athenian tragedian, the supremest Greek dramatist Sophocles [c. 497/6 – winter 406/5 BC]

Q.: Which is paramount, Law or Morality? Constitution or Custom? Love of Country or Brotherly Love?

Possible inspiration for Sophocles
Antigone was first performed in the spring of 434 B.C. at the festival Dionysus Eluthereus, following General Pericles’s barbaric execution of Samian rebels over the marketplace in Miletus  in early summer of 439 B.C. The commanders and marines of Samian rebels ships, members of the island’s elite were bound to  boards, exposed until they were nearly dead and clubbed to death. The deceased were cast away sans last rites. Plutarch, the pre-eminent Greek historian in his “Life of Pericles” refuses to give credence to the narrator of Pericles‘s alleged brutality. Samina historian and sensationalist Duris has found no support from any other source. Then again the atrocious execution resemble apotympanismos, crucifixtion on a plank, which Athenians inflicted upon the citizens guilty of heinous crmes.


Do you see anything wrong in the family tree of Antigone?

Laius, Jocasta & Oedipus
What is the relationship between Oedipus and Jocasta?
How could have this happened?
Have you heard of Oedipus Complex? [2] Never mind, if you haven’t: all of that could be nonsense.

Background to Antigone
When Oedipus, King of Thebes, realized he had killed his own father, married his own mother and had two sons and two daughters with her, he gouged out his own eyes so that he wouldn’t see his mother again, exiled himself with his two daughters Antigone and Ismene and cursed his sons to divide their the kingdom by sword and fire. The “Oedipus at Colonus“, the second play of Oedipus Trilogy  ends with the death and burial of Oedipus in Athens.



The two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, in order to avoid bloodshed, agrees to rule Thebes in turns.

The cause of the conflict of Antigone
It all begins with King Etrocles‘s refusal to step down from the throne at the end of his term. Polynices raises an army of Argives (captained by the eponymous Seven) to take Thebes by force. This is in reminiscence of greatest work of literature ever, Maharishi Vyasa’s Sanskrit epic poemThe Mahabharata” : Duryodhana, the eldest of Kaurava brothers, refuses to return to his cousin brothers Pancha Pandavas, upon their return from exile, their share of the kingdom, leading to the catastrophic Kurukshetra war.

Antigone's brothers Eteocles & Polynices

Antigone’s brothers, Eteocles & Polynices kill eacher other in the battle for the kingdom of Thebes

Divine will versus Human Law
The war between the two brothers ends with death of both of them and accession of their paternal uncle Creon to the throne. While state funeral is given to then king Eteocles, Polynices is denied even the ordinary last respects due to a deceased. Those who wage war against the reigning king will not be forgiven: Creon fails to identify the mitigating circumstances.[*3] King Creon would let him rot in the sun as a deterrent to the sympathisers of Polynices. Antigone, adorned with her undying courage of conviction that the divine law overrides the enthorned law, in stealth, gives a symbolic last respect to her brother fallen in battle at the risk of her being condemened to death by the king. Her stealth is not good enough.Tragically, King Creon too refuses to budge from his concept that civil law of the land supercedes the will of an individual. Tragically Creon ovelooks the divine decree with respect of the deceased.

Antigone and Polynice

Grieving Antigone, against the decree of King Creon, sprinkles dust upon the dead body of her brother Polynices symbolising the last rites due to a deceased so that he would be accepted in the next world.

[Image above is reproduced herein by the kind courtesy of]

 Creon and Antigone  Creon and Antigone


Q. King Creon could not bear the thought of a woman defying him. Discuss.
Make use of the essay writing technique PEEL [Point, Evidence, explanation & Link] to answer the question.

The Sin upon Antigone and Her Curse
Ismene, sister of Antigone demands she be held a partner in Antigone‘s disobedience. King Creon offers Antigone life and permission to marry his son Haemon in exchange for her renouncing her act of paying last respect to her brother. Antigone refuses. Creon orders Antigone to be entombed alive. Her lover Haemon threatens to commit suicide. Antigone mourns her fate, curses on her family and asks the gods to punish Creon.

Who is right?
King Creon: And you had the audacity to break the law?
Antogone defends herself:
Yes, because this was not a law decreed by Zeus, nor by Zeus’ daughter, Justice, who rules with the gods of the Underworld. Nor do I beleive that your decrees have the power to override those unwritten and immutable laws decreed by the gods.
These are laws which were decreed neither yesterday nor today but from a time when no man saw their birth, they are eternal! How could I be afraid to disobey laws decreed the laws written by the gods, after I died?
I knew my death is imminent, of course I did not and even if it came sooner, I would still think it a good thing because when one lives in such a dreadful misery why should he not think death to be a good thing?
There is no pain in this death but the sight of the body of my mother’s son, dead and unburied would be a painful thing for me to endure.
Nothing else hurts me and if you think I’m a mindless woman then perhaps it’s a mindless man who recognises a mindless woman
The chorus [*4] of the drama Antigone, in their dramatic character is expected to tow the line of the King Creon. Confined within this straightjacket, the chorus named “Theban Elders” is heard to rebuke Antigone:
“But Antigone! You’ve rushed too far, too fast to the edge of daring
And there, Antigone, you hit upon the Throne of Justice!
You have stumbled too heavily”

Creon angers the seer Teirsias provoking into a prophesy
King Creon is visited by the seer Teirsias [*5] who has helped him rule the land. He has known to have never made a mistake in his prophesies. Neither is he known ever to lie. However the destiny takes over.
Teirsias advises the King Creon to forgive Antigone and bury her brother with due last rites. But the king would have none of that and insults the seer.

Teirsias: You are the one who’s sick, Creon, sick to death
Creon: I am in no mood to trade insults with a seer.
Teiresias: You have already, calling my prophesies a lie
Creon:The whole race of prophets loves money.
Teirsias: And the kings love their shameful profits.
Creon: Do you realise all these things you’re saying, the things you are saying to your king?
Teiresias: Of course, I do, and, and you should thank me for having saved the city!
Creon: You’re a good seer but you’re wrong, Teiresias

Creon:You can be sure. You won’t change my mind to make yourself more rich.
Teiresias: Then understand this well—you will not see the sun race through its cycle many times before you lose a child of your own loins, a corpse in payment for these corpses.
You’ve thrown down to those below someone from up above—in your arrogance you’ve moved a living soul into a grave,leaving here a body owned by gods below—unburied, dispossessed, unsanctified.
That’s no concern of yours or gods above. In this you violate the ones below. And so destroying avengers wait for you,
Furies of Hades and the gods, who’ll see you caught up in this very wickedness.
Now see if I speak as someone who’s been bribed.
It won’t be long before in your own house the men and women all cry out in sorrow, and cities rise in hate against you—all those whose mangled soldiers have had burial rites from dogs, wild animals, or flying birds who carry the unholy stench back home, to every city hearth.
Like an archer, 
I shoot these arrows now into your heart
because you have provoked me. I’m angry— so my aim is good. You’ll not escape their pain.

Tragic elements of above dialogue
[1] Creon’s hubris: “You can be sure. You won’t change my mind to make yourself more rich.”
[2] Tiresias’ description of Polynices dead body being given inhuman treatment:in your arrogance you’ve moved a living soul into a grave,leaving here a body owned by gods below—unburied, dispossessed, unsanctified”.
[3] Tiresias’ s description of the tragedy that would fall upon him: It won’t be long before in your own house the men and women all cry out in sorrow, and cities rise in hate against you—all those whose mangled soldiers have had burial rites from dogs, wild animals, or flying birds who carry the unholy stench back home, to every city hearth.

Creon’s hubris 
During this confrontation with the seer, Creon’s has elevated the law of the country above the decrees of the gods. If Creon is taken as the protagonist of this scene, he evoke sympathy in the hearts of the audience: Tiresias warns him that the wrath of the God will soon be upon him.

Following Teiresias’s departure in fury, Creon begins fearing divine retribution for neglecting the gods’ laws. Creon buries Polynices in great haste and strides off on the double to free Antigone. Haemon, who has just entered tomb finds Antigone has committed suicide by hanging herself. Just then, Creon arrives at the tomb. His enraged son first swipes his sword at his father, then turns it upon himself, ending his own life. Creon‘s wife Queen Eurydice in her grief at the death of her son commits suicide. Creon prays for death. The chorus delivers the moral lesson of the tragedy: no man-made law supersedes the commandments of the god.

 Antigone at the Barbican,  Antigone at the Barbican, with Juliette Binoche

Team Juliette Binoche with Ivo van Hove, director of A View from the Bridge, in Greek tragedy and the result is bound to be a prestige show: one that will tour Europe, including the Edinburgh festival, and the United States. But the result, in Anne Carson’s fine new translation, is much more than a snob hit: it’s a production that combines a sombre aesthetic beauty with a sense of the ambivalence at the heart of Sophocles’s play. Michael Billington

Key Features of Greek Tragedies
[1] Imitation of an action that is serious and complete. The critical actions will have irreversible results or the actions that wouldn’t be renounced by the protagonists under any circumstances.
In the drama, Antigone makes a symbolic gesture of burial by sprinkling dust over the deceased so that he would be accepted into the other world. She wouldn’t accept the offer of Creon to save her life by renouncing her so called crime.
We come across this concept of death ritual in Odyssey too. Elpenor, the youngest in the ranks, who was sodden with wine and slept on the roof, at dawn, aroused by the shouts and tread of the marching men getting ready to sail, still dazed with wine, fell headfirst off the roof to his death. In their haste to get away from Calypso, Odysseus and his warriors lapsed into the error of overlooking the last rites to the deceased. At Hadis, Elpenor requests a burial from Odysseus, who visits the dead to consult Tiresias on his journey home to Ithaca.

[2] Incidents arousing pity and terror
The audience get overwhlemed by the sequence of tragedies of the drama: catharsis [*7] by viewing these elements.
When we meet Antigone in the drama both of her royal parents have met with tragic ends and two brothers have died at the hands of each other. Could things get any worse? Yes, her very life is threatened by her own uncle. As the destiny has it, she will have a tragic death. Then the son of the king and the queen too join their kith and kin, who passed away in quick succession, in no time.

[3] Protagonist’s error leads to her ruin
In the drama Antigone, the protagonists Antigone wouldn’t budge from her conviction that divine law supersedes human law. She resolved to offend Creon rather than offending the God. Is her very strength, a weakness of hers? I wouldn’t say so. Name is immortal.

[4] Protagonist has admirable qualities which are wasted.
Antigone is steadfast in her actions and reactions. And she has no fear in the face of death. Her virtues are of course of higher order. But her death is premature.

[5]Deal with the fortunes of royal families or prominent leaders of the land.
All the characters who ends with tragic deaths belongs to the royal family: The king who gouged his own eyes and abdicated his throne, his two sons, a daughter, sister-in-law and nephew.

[6] Dramatic form of Antigone
[a] The dramatic form is not isolable aesthetic or technical achievement: it is deeply rooted in a precise structure of feeling.
[2] The dramatic form embodies, in a unique way, both history and the presence, the myth and response to the myth

In Greek dramas, a Chorus 15-20 masked men sing & comment on the action of the play, interpreting its events from the standpoint of traditional wisdom.
[1] Chorus takes predominance
[2] Drama is created from the the interpaly of the chorus and actors
[3] Chorus is vital in portarying changes in the play
[4] Kommos *8]: final appearance of Antigone in Sophocles’ Antigone: intense emotional weight in her speech.
[5] Pathos [*9] that isn’t overly senimental and carries with its social, cultural, and human value.

Except in opera, the group chorus is used rarely in modern European drama: examples are T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral [1935] and Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle [1948].


[*1] Riddle of the Sphinx 
“A thing there is whose voice is one;
Whose feet are four and two and three.
So mutable a thing is none
That moves in earth or sky or sea.
When on most feet this thing doth go,
Its strength is weakest and its pace most slow.”

A man is a baby in the morning of his life and he crawls on four feet.
He is an adult in the noon of his life and he walks on two feet.
But when he is old, in the evening of his life, he walks with a cane, on three feet.

[*2] Oedipus Complex
In psychoanalytic theory, Oedipus Complex is a desire for sexual involvement with the parent of the opposite sex and a concomitant sense of rivalry with the parent of the same sex; a crucial stage in the normal developmental process. That is according to Freud’s nonsense and nuisance. The term derives from Oedipus, who unknowingly slew his father and married his mother; its female analogue, the Electra complex, is named for another mythological figure, who helped slay her mother.

But Freud must have misread Oedipus Rex. It does not illustrate the Oedipus complex at all. Sophocles wished to state fate cannot be avoided: destiny takes over. And perhaps, all of Freud’s theories could be nonsense. To learn of human desire, read Abhidharma [Philosophical and psychological discourse and interpretation of Buddhist doctrine] of tripitaka of Buddhism. But that’s an astounding task.

[*3] Mitigating circumstances 
Lord Yoshi Toranaga: There are no ‘mitigating circumstances when it comes to rebellion against a liege lord.
Dutch Pilot [of trans-oceanic vessels] John Blackthorne: Unless you win.
Toranaga looked at him intently. Then laughed uproariously. “Yes, Mister Foreigner…you have named the one mitigating factor.
James Clavell: SHOGUN

[*4] Chorus
In Greek drama and music, those who perform vocally in a group as opposed to those who perform singly. The chorus in Classical Greek drama was a group of actors who described and commented upon the main action of a play with song, dance, and recitation.
Greek tragedy had its beginnings in choral performances, in which a group of 50 men danced and sang dithyrambs—lyric hymns in praise of the god Dionysus. In the middle of the 6th century bc, the poet Thespis reputedly became the first true actor when he engaged in dialogue with the chorus leader.

[*5] Teirsias
We meet this blind soothsayer of Thebes in Homer‘s Odyssey too. In Homer, he carries a golden scepter of prophecy even in Hades. Of All the ghosts, he alone is allowed by Persephone [Queen of the underworld] to keep his wisdom and memory intact. On the advice of Circe, Odysseus meets him at Hades to learn of a  possible journey home to Ithaca.

[*6] Hubris
Greek: ‘insolence’ or ‘affront’, applied to the arrogance or pride of the protagonist in a tragedy in which he or she defies moral laws or the decrees of the gods.
The protagonist’s tragression or *hamartia leads eventually to his or her downfall, which may be understood as divine retribution or *nemesis.
Hubris is commonly translated as ‘overweening (i.e. excessively presumptuous) pride‘.
In proverbial terms, hubris is thus the pride that comes before a fall.

[*7] catharsis
The effect of ‘purgation’ or ‘purification’ achieved by tragic drama, according to Aristotle’s argument in his poetics [4th century BCE]. Aristotle wrote that a  tragedy should succeed ‘in arousing pity and fear in such a way to accomplish a catharsis of such emotions’. 

[*8] kommos
A kommos [Greek: literally “striking”, especially “beating of the head and breast in mourning” is a lyrical song of lamentation in an Athenian tragedy that the chorus and a dramatic character sing together]
Kommos occurs “when the tension of the play rises to a climax of grief or horror or joy”.
[a] The final section (lines 908-1077) of Aeschylus’ The Persians (472 BCE) in which Xerxes laments the defeat of his Persian army
[b] The interaction between the chorus and Oedipus when he returns having blinded himself in Sophocles ‘Oedipus the King’ (c.429 BCE)
[c] The exchange between Orestes, Electra and the chorus immediately after Clytemnestra’s murder in Euripides’ Electra (c.410 BCE).

[*9] Pathos [pay thoss]
The emotionally moving quality or power of a literary work or of a particular passages within it, appealing espeically to our feelings of sorrow, pity, and compassionate sympathy

The Greek Antigone prompts female Syrian refugees to tell their story

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