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Study Questions for Sophocles' Antigonê

Vocabulary: Moira, Protagonist, Hamartia, anagnorisis, peripeteia, catharsis, catastrophe, chorus, choragos, korthorni, strophe, antistrophe, omen, tragedy.

Introduction: What is moira? What happened to Antigonê's father, Oedipus?

Lecture or Handouts: When did Sophocles live? Antigonê is the third play in a three-part series or trilogy. What are the other two plays that precede it? Although Antigonê takes place after the other two plays, in what order were the plays written? In early Greek belief, what would commonly happen to unburied corpses? Who got to be the choragos in a Greek stage production? How did Greek drama originate? Hint: It wasn't for entertainment!

Identify the following characters:

Teiresias, Eurydicê, Creon, Haimon, Antigonê, Ismenê, Polyneices, Eteoclês, and in brief allusions, Bachos (Bacchus), Aphrodite, and Danaê. Look up the last three in mythology guides online, so you can understand what the allusions refer to.

Reading Questions:

  • What royal decree does Antigonê reveal to Ismenê in the opening scene of the play?
  • What happened to Antigonê's two brothers? How did they die?
  • Why has Creon decided to handle the funeral arrangements for each brother so differently?
  • What penalty has Creon proclaimed as punishment for anyone who defies his commands?
  • How does Antigone plan to break the law? (i.e., what law is she going to break?)
  • Why does Ismenê refuse to help Antigonê? List at least two of the three of the reasons she presents at various times during the play.
  • Why does Antigonê think that the dead, not the living, make the longest demands?
  • Why does Antigonê respond with scorn to Ismenê's helpful suggestions about how to go about burying the body on page 63?
  • In scene one, Creon is speaking to the chorus. What does he compare the state to? What obligations does he say a person has when that person sees the government "headed for ruin"? Why does that become ironic given his later actions in the play?
  • Characterize the way the sentry talks when he first appears to bring Creon the news about the body. What do his hesitations and ramblings suggest about his emotional state?
  • How did this particular sentry get stuck with the job of delivering this news to Creon? Why do you suppose the sentries chose to make the selection this way? What does this suggest about Creon's characteristics? What does that in turn suggest about how a director might cast this part?
  • What does Creon think must have happened to cause the sentries to neglect their duty and let the body be buried?
  • Who does the sentry drag in as the culprit before Creon's throne? Why is this shocking?
  • Why is Ismenê arrested after they have the culprit? What does Creon think the two girls have been up to? What do his suspicions reveal about Creon's motivations?
  • Why does Antigonê refuse to let Ismenê be executed with her?
  • What is Haimon's relationship to Antigoné?
  • What is the general public's reaction to Antigonê's arrest?
  • How does Haimon respond to his father's argument that "the state is king"?
  • Note the line where Haimon says, "Then she must die.--But her death causes another." What is he actually talking about or predicting? What does Creon mistakenly think Haimon's talking about or predicting?
  • When Creon calls Haimon a "girlstruck fool," what does he mean? How do you know the word "girlstruck" meant that even though you won't find it in a dictionary? (from Lecture: what is the technical term for a made-up word like this?)
  • Ode III contains a hymn sung to a deity. What deity does the chorus sing to?
  • When Antigonê is locked away in the vault, she speaks of the deity Persephone. Who is Persephone and why is she an appropriate mythlogical allusion for this situation? (You might want to look in a mythological guide on-line to find this out).
  • In Ode IV, the Chorus sings about Danaê. Who was Danaê and why is she an appropriate mythological allusion? (You might want to look in a mythological guide on-line to find this out).
  • What horrible omens does Teiresias point to in scene 5 that indicate the gods are upset?
  • What motivates Teiresias's prophecies, according to Creon's cynical view?
  • What does Antigonê do in her cell at the end of the play? How does she manage to do this when she has no rope?
  • What does Haimon do when he discovers what Antigonê did?
  • What does Eurydicê do when she finds out about Haimon's actions?
  • When Creon finds out about his wife's death, what does he ask for from the choragos and the messenger? Do either the choragos or the messenger grant him his request?

Food for thought: What does this play suggest about the Greek attitude toward the state? Toward the divine? Toward tragedy?

Sample Identification Passages: Be able to identify who wrote the following passages, what literary work they come from, who is talking or described, and what the context or importance of each passage is.

A."You would think that we had already suffered enough
for the curse on Oedipus.
I cannot imagine any grief
That you an dI have not gone through. And now--
Have they told you of the new decree of our King Creon?"

B. "Creon buried our brother Eteoclês
With military honors, gave him a soldier's funeral,
And it was right that he should; but Polyneicês,
Who fought as bravely and died as miserably,--
They say, that Creon has sworn
No one shall bury him, no one mourn for him,
But his body must lie in the fields, a sweet treasure
For carrion birds to find as they search for food."

C. Think how much more terrible than these
Our own death would be if we should go against [the king]
And do what he has forbidden! We are only women,
We cannot fight with men. . . !
The law is strong, we must give in to the law
In this thing, and in worse. I beg the Dead
To forgive me, but I am helpless. I must yield
To those in authority. And I think it is dangerous business
To always be meddling.

D. ". . . I will bury him; and if I must die,
I say that this crime is holy. It is the dead,
Not the living, who make the longest demands:
We die for ever . . . "

E. "I say to you at the very outset that I have nothing but contempt for the kind of Governor who is afraid, for whatever reason, to follow the course that he knows is best for the State; andd as for the man who sets private friendship above public welfare--I have no use for him, either. I call God to witness, that if I saw my country headed for ruin, I should not be afraid to speak out plainly."

F. "No, from the very beginning
There have been those who have whispered together,
Stiff-necked anarchists, putting their heads together,
Scheming against me in alleys. These are the men,
And they have bribed my own guards to do this thing."

G. "Here is the woman. She is the guilty one:
We found her trying to bury him.
Take her, then; question her; judge her as you will.
I am through with the whole thing now, and glad of it."

H. But I, at any rate, can listen; and I have heard them / Muttering and whispering in the dark about this girl. They say no woman has ever, so unreasonably, / Died so shameful a death for a generous act: "She covered her brother's body. Is this indecent? / She kept him from dogs and vultures. Is this a crime? / Death? -- She should have all the honor that we can give her!" This is the way they talk out there in the city.

I. The time is not far off when you shall pay back
Corpse for corpse, flesh of your own flesh.
You have thrust the child of this world into living night,
You have kept from the gods below the child that is theirs:
The one in a grave before her death, the other,
Dead, denied the grave. This is your crime:
And the Furies and the dark gods of Hell
Are swift with terrible punishment for you.
Do you want to buy me now. . . .?

J. "Her death shall cause another."

K. "O God, I am sick with fear.
Are there no swords here? Has no one a blow for me?"


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