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Allusions in Antigone

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Instructor: Amanda Wiesner-Groff

Amanda has created and taught English/ESL curricula worldwide, has an M.Ed, and is the current ESOL Coordinator for the Saint Louis Public School District.

In this lesson, we will explore allusions used in Sophocles' Antigone. We will focus mainly on allusions to Greek mythology and why those allusions have such significance in events of the play. Updated: 05/23/2021

Literary Allusions in Antigone

In this lesson, we will be focusing on allusions as they're used in Sophocles' Greek tragedy, Antigone. However, first thing's first, what is an allusion? An allusion is a literary device used when a writer references a historical event, person, place, piece of literature, or event. This is usually a brief description and is in no way a detailed account of the person or literary work to which it is referring.

So why does a writer even use allusions? To confuse you? To make you do more research? The answer is writers use allusions as a sort of short cut. When making references, writers are able to call upon emotions or understandings readers may have already established to the works being alluded to. This is faster, and oftentimes more effective, than recreating long descriptions or extensive backstory.

Within Antigone, allusions are mainly made to Greek mythology because, you've guessed it, we are dealing with the gods! Many of the characters in Antigone make reference to, or ask for help from, the gods throughout the play. This is where many of the allusions come in! Allusions bring in emotion and understanding, where there otherwise may not be any. Knowing why a character calls upon a particular god or goddess in desperation, or alludes to a particular god or goddess who has been wronged, can help you better understand the depth of the situation at hand. Let's now take a closer look at some of the allusions found in the play.

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  • 0:04 Literary Allusions in Antigone
  • 1:34 Allusions to Power &…
  • 2:22 Allusions to Captivity
  • 3:12 Allusions to Death & Conflict
  • 5:02 Lesson Summary
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Allusions to Power & Punishment

There is a great deal of power struggle going on in Antigone. The characters and Chorus frequently discuss honoring the will and power of Zeus, the ruler of the Olympian gods, the skies, Earth, and father of all men. He represents all laws and maintains order that governs both natural and spiritual worlds. In Greek mythology he is seen as the presiding deity of the universe and is a symbol of power.

At the end of the play when Creon is unable to save his son and his wife, allusion is made to the goddess Nemesis, an incarnation that can come as a challenge, which someone is unable to defeat, as a form of punishment for his violation of the laws of the gods. When all is lost, Creon finally laments his errors, and acknowledges his faults.

Allusions to Captivity

As Antigone makes her way to the cave where she is being sent to captivity, allusions are made to other gods and goddesses who have suffered the same fate. Antigone references Niobe, a former Queen of Thebes that turned her into a tear-shedding, stone column because of her ego. Antigone feels she will die in isolation, like Niobe, without anyone to mourn her. However, the chorus tries to tell her she should feel powerful, like a goddess, not weak.

The chorus alludes to another goddess, Danae, when they speak of how Antigone will be locked away in a cell where sunlight cannot touch her. Danae, was the daughter of King Acrisius, who was locked away in a tower when prophecy stated her son would kill her father. The chorus is saddened to see what will become of Antigone, even though they agree she has gone too far.

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