To

Antigone

by

Sophocles

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You are about to read the story of Antigone, a young girl who loved her family more than her life. This play is part of a trilogy about the family of Oedipus, its origination, its rise to fame, and its downfall. Remember as you read that the Greeks believe in the Gods and their dictates governed the peoples' lives.

DIRECTORY

btn10118.gif (2076 bytes) History btn10118.gif (2076 bytes) Literary Style btn10118.gif (2076 bytes) Sophocles
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History

Antigone is part of the trilogy of Theban plays centering on the king of Thebes and his family.
Theban plays: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone
Oedipus is the son of the Theban King Laios and his wife Iocaste. Laios has been told by an oracle that his son would kill him and marry his own mother. To prevent this, when Oedipus is born, Laios has a servant take the baby to a mountainside to be abandoned to die. The servant feels sorry for the baby and gives him to another family in a neighboring village to raise, never telling the king his son is still alive. The king continues to rule Thebes and Oedipus grows up not knowing he is adopted.

When Oedipus is a young man, he strikes out on his own. In his travels, he is walking down a road when a man on a cart wants to pass. In the process the man runs over Oedipus's foot causing him great pain. Oedipus then fights with and kills the man, not knowing the man is his true father, the king of Thebes, Laios. Oedipus continues on his journeys and comes to Thebes. The city is plagued by a Sphinx, a monster who kills anyone unable to answer its riddle: "What creature walks on four legs at dawn, two legs at noon, and three legs in the evening?" Oedipus answers the Sphinx that the creature is man, who crawls as a baby, walks upright as a man, and uses a cane in old age. The Sphinx is so upset it jumps into the sea and Oedipus becomes the hero of Thebes.

Iocaste, the widow of Laios and queen of Thebes, marries Oedipus, not knowing that she is his mother. The couple live happily and have four children, two girls and two boys. Then a plague strikes the city and Oedipus goes to the oracle to find out how to end the plague. The oracle tells him the truth of his birth and that he has killed his father. Oedipus is so upset by what he has done that he blinds himself, and his mother/wife, Iocaste, commits suicide. One of Oedipus's daughters, Antigone leads her father in exile from the city to another city called Colonus where he eventually dies. In the meantime Creon, Iocaste's brother, takes over rule of the city while the two boys and one sister remain.

The two brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, agree to share the throne, but when the time to switch comes, Eteocles, backed by Creon, refuses to give over the rule to Polyneices. A vicious war breaks out which is eventually settled when the two brothers plus six others on each side agree to fight for the seven gates to Thebes, one pair of combatants in front of each gate. Eteocles and Polyneices, fulfilling the curse on the house of Oedipus, fight and kill each other. Because Eteocles was supported by Creon, who now rules the city, he is buried with honors, but Polyneices is declared a traitor, and his body is left to rot on the battlefield. Creon has just started to establish order in the city when Antigone returns following her father's death.

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Tragedy

Definition In Greek tragedy, a significant figure in a play or story is brought down, or experiences disaster, as a result of a flaw in his/her own character.
Characteristics highly developed set dramatic form
linked with religious ritual/reverence for the gods
centered on suffering of major character
exposed arrogance
Characters defined by Aristotle
not purely innocent or evil
high rank in society
possess tragic flaw in character

shows in poor judgement and/or arrogance dooms character/brought down

represent powerful forces - human and divine
Plot involves fierce conflict
ends with resolution of trouble after suffering/disaster
based on stories about interaction between gods and humans
based on stories about conflict between humans
from myths
familiar to audience

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Literary Style/Plan

Set up prologue: introduces conflict
parados: entrance of chorus (example of choral ode)
scenes alternate with odes
exodos: final scene
Chorus interacts with principle characters/dialogue
Choragos: chorus leader - speaks for entire chorus
Chorus functions comments on previous action
fills in events that don't happen on stage
generalizes a specific problem presented in the play - philosophical comments
suggests passage of time
contributes to the development of the theme

Figures of speech

Aphorism: short statement of a general truth/truism

True in the past, in present, and probably future

Metaphor: comparison between two unlike objects for clarification
Irony: dramatic, situational, verbal

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Staging

no scene changes

masks, elaborate costumes

no violence on stage

offstage action - events told by messenger (traditional figure)

Sophocles
one of world's greatest playwrights
introduced 3rd actor/reduced role of chorus
wrote over 100 plays/ seven survive intact
won numerous contests

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Antigone

Characters
Antigone daughter of Oedipus (young maybe 14-15)
Ismene daughter of Oedipus (young)
Polyneices brother of Antigone and Ismene - lost war
Eteocles brother of Antigone and Ismene - killed in war/favored by Creon
Creon King of Thebes - uncle of girls and boys
Haimon Creon's son - engaged to Antigone
Eurydice Creon's wife
Teiresias blind prophet
Setting
religious beliefs reflect those of audience and characters
religion part of daily life
gods' good will determined city's welfare
reverence for the gods and patriotism - synonymous
unburied body meant soul would be eternally tormented/could not rest
location City of Thebes
time current time for audience/441 BC
Plot (conflict)
religion vs. state divine tradition vs. need to preserve order and defend values
man vs. man woman vs. man
Theme (topics)
state vs. individual Question: Is one right to disobey civil law when one's conscience dictates?
church vs. state Question: Which comes first?

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Classroom Reading and Assignments

Reading Parts will be assigned and students will read the play in class. Any student assigned a part should read through his/her part ahead of time and get assistance for any unfamiliar words.
Prediction activity At one point we will stop our reading and predict what will happen next.
Handouts There may/may not be periodic handouts for vocabulary and reading checks.
Tests When we have finished our reading a final test will be given.
Writing Following the completion of the play and final, students will write a full, well thought out five paragraph essay examining a character as the tragic figure in the play.
Project Following the completion of the play, students will select three aphorisms and construct a poster showing how those aphorisms are relevant to society today.

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