Notes and Questions for Antigone
[Fagles translation; read introduction (35-53).]
The Story of Antigone

Notes: Antigone's name may have reminded the Greek audience of the word antignwmon (antignomon) or antignwnoj (antignonos), which means "of a different opinion."
(60, line 32) Polynices = "much quarreling."
(66, line 160) those blood brothers = Eteocles and Polynices.
(76, lines 376-416) A famous chorus--see the note on pp. 397-98.
(100, line 874) city free of defilement --Creon avoids pollution or miasma. How? (See note on p. 400 and lines 971-75.)
(101, line 879) Love = the god Eros. As usual in Greek literature, he is depicted as causing an inescapable madness. See the note on p. 400.
(102, line 905) Acheron = a river in the underworld.
(102, lines 915-30) Niobe married Amphion, an early ruler of Thebes. She boasted that she had borne many beautiful children, but that Leto, mother of Apollo and Artemis, had borne only two. For this hubristic comment, Apollo and Artemis killed all her children, while Niobe herself was turned to stone on Mount Sipylus, back in her homeland Phrygia. The streams running down the mountain are said to be Niobe's perpetual tears. Niobe was not a goddess, but of divine descent. See the two notes at the top of p. 401.
(104, line 977) stranger's rights = metoikias in Greek. Creon says that she won't even have the rights of a resident alien. In lines 940 and 956, when Antigone said she was a stranger, she used the word metoikos, meaning "alien" or "resident foreigner."
(108, lines 1035-90) Danae --Danae's father, King Acrisius, was told by the oracle at Delphi that he would be killed by one of her sons. To prevent her from conceiving, he imprisoned her in a bronze tower. Zeus visited her in the form of a shower of gold, and she became the mother of the hero Perseus, famous for slaying the Medusa, and, yes, killing (by accident) his grandfather. See the note on this ode, pp. 403-403.
(line 1052) young Lycurgas rejected the worship of Dionysus and as a result was driven mad and committed several crimes.
(line 1076) cursed, blinding wounds--Cleopatra (no relation to the famous one) married Phineus, but he divorced her for a younger wife. Cleopatra's sons were then blinded by the second wife. Notice the chorus emphasizes that Cleopatra was "a daughter of the gods," and yet she suffered, too. Knox is certainly right when he says that the chorus is looking for "satisfactory parallels" (402) to Antigone's situation. But do you think the chorus is saying to Antigone, "Don't take it too hard, poor girl," OR "Do you think that you're the first and only person in the world who has ever suffered?"
(112, line 1132) mistakes = hamartia.
(118, line 1250) twin peaks = Delphi.
(119, line 1263) healing stride --The word "healing" translates the Greek katharsios.
(126, line 1428) Megareus = Haemon's elder brother, who died before the action of the play began. His death was alluded to in line 1311, when Eurydice observed that "sorrow and I are hardly strangers" (121). The note says that Megareus died in the battle between Thebes and Argos. My guess is that he died trying to answer the Sphinx's riddle.

1. Do you agree with Bernard Knox when he says in the introduction that Creon is presented in the opening scenes "in a light that the original audience was certain to regard as favorable" (37)? Why or why not?

2. What do you think of Antigone as a person? In trying to bury her brother, is she "doing the right thing for the wrong reason" (53) as T. S. Eliot claimed?

3. What do you think are Antigone's motives for her actions? Which of her motives seems most important to you and why? (See the introduction, pp. 43-50 and pp. 63-4, 82, 84.) In what ways is Antigone like / unlike Achilles?

4. What do you think Creon's motives are? (See Knox's introduction, pp. 41-43 and pp. 67-68, 73, 83, 86, 90, 94.)

5. Name some of the conflicts in the play.

6. Compare and contrast the chorus on the wonders of man (76-77) with statement from Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus: "Not to be born is best / when all is reckoned in" (358). Do you think that these two ideas are contradictory? Why or why not?

7. Why do you think the chorus is singing about how wonderful "man" is at this point in the play? Who do you think the chorus is referring to when they speak of the person "who weds himself to inhumanity / thanks to reckless daring" (77)?

8. In the light of the sentry's speech on pp. 80-1, do you think Antigone wants to get caught? (See the introduction, pp. 44-5. and pp. 63-4.)

9. Why do you think Ismene tries to "share the guilt" (86)? Why do you think Antigone denies her?

10. Haemon accuses his father Creon of lacking judgement and reason (95-6). What quality do you think Creon lacks? (See also lines 194-203, 366-7.) Why do you think he kills Antigone as he does (100)? (See note on p. 400 and lines 971-75.) In what ways could Antigone also be said to lack judgement?

11. Read carefully Antigone's speeches on pp. 105-106. Do you think that she has changed her motives for burying her brother? Why or why not? What do you think this speech says about her character and state of mind at that moment? See pp. 44-50.

12. What do you think is the chorus' attitude towards Antigone on pp. 101-109? Do you think their attitude changes in any way? If so, why, and if not, why not? Try to figure out whose side the chorus is on throughout the play. See the notes above and on pp. 400-03.

13. Who do you think are the tragic figures in this play? Why?

14. If Antigone is right, why do you suppose the gods don't save her? (Note precisely how she dies [122].) See Knox's introduction, p. 53.

15. What "wisdom" (128) do you think Creon learns? (See pp. 123-27.)

The Story of Antigone [from Apollodorus’ Library 6.8, 7.1 and other sources]

[6.8] After Oedipus was disgraced and revealed as unclean, his sons Polynices and Eteocles fought for control of the kingdom. After being thrown out of Thebes by his brother Eteocles, Polynices went to Argos and raised an army to attack Thebes. The attack failed, and Eteocles and Polynices fought a single combat for the kingdom, and killed each other.

[7.1] Having succeeded to the kingdom of Thebes, Creon cast out the Argive dead unburied, issued a proclamation that none should bury them, and set watchmen to make sure that no one would disturb the rotting corpses. But Antigone, one of the daughters of Oedipus, stole the body of Polynices, and secretly buried it, and having been detected by Creon himself, she was interred alive in the grave. [Apollodorus says nothing of the romance between Haemon and Antigone; in fact, he says that Haemon was killed earlier when he unsuccessfully tried to answer the riddle of the Sphinx. Sophocles may have invented the romance to make Antigone’s and Creon’s tragedy more moving.]

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