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Antigone by Sophocles: Summary, Characters & Analysis

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  • 0:03 Introduction to Antigone
  • 0:30 Summary of Antigone
  • 1:23 Theme of Civil Disobedience
  • 1:56 Theme of Moral Inflexibility
  • 3:01 Political Themes
  • 3:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor
Flint Johnson

Flint has tutored mathematics through precalculus, science, and English and has taught college history. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Glasgow

Expert Contributor
Sasha Blakeley

Sasha Blakeley has a Bachelor's in English Literature from McGill University and a TEFL certification. She has been teaching English in Canada and Taiwan for seven years.

Learn about Sophocles' 'Antigone' and how it explored the topics of civil disobedience, fidelity, and citizenship. When you are finished, take the quiz and see what you learned.

Introduction to Antigone

In the 1960s, Rosa Parks refused to give her seat up to a white person and started one of the biggest legal fights of the era. Granted, while that was a premeditated act of civil disobedience, in Antigone, a tragedy written by Sophocles around 441 BCE, the heroine has a similar choice. She chooses to disobey the law and bury her brother not because she wants to make any big political statement but because he has every right to it.

Summary of Antigone

Antigone begins with The two sons of Oedipus, Eteocles and Polyneices, who are fighting for the kingship of Thebes. Both men die in the battle. Their successor, Creon, decides that King Eteocles will be buried, but Polyneices, because he was leading a foreign army, will be left on the field of battle. Antigone, his sister, buries him anyway.

Antigone is caught burying Polyneices and is condemned to death. Her fiance and Creon's son, Haemon, learns about this and tries to convince Creon to change his mind. It's only then that the seer Tiresias appears. After a long discussion, he finally persuades Creon that the gods want Polyneices buried. By then it's too late -- Antigone has hung herself, Haemon kills himself when he finds her, and Creon's wife kills herself when she learns about her son.

Theme of Civil Disobedience

One of the major themes in the story is civil disobedience - Creon has said that no one can bury Polyneices, and Antigone buries him anyway. She feels it is a bad law because Polyneices was her brother and he deserved his final rights.

Greek custom dictated that a city was responsible for burying its own citizens. But Creon believes Polyneices forfeited that right when he led a foreign army against its rightful king. Antigone doesn't care about that; she believes it doesn't matter what her brother did, he still died a citizen of Thebes.

Theme of Moral Inflexibility

Antigone is incapable of bending where her morals are involved. She believes that her brother should be buried, so she does it at the cost of her own life. During her interview with Creon she doesn't apologize for her actions, but argues against his law. When her sentence is decreed, she hangs herself rather than allowing an unjust king's unjust law to decide where and how she will die.

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Additional Activities

Exploring Antigone

This lesson explained some of the major themes and events of Sophocles' Antigone. Now it's time to explore further and learn more about this famous and timeless story. Use one or both of the prompts below, depending on what aspects of this lesson interest you the most.

Sophocles and Aristotle

Aristotle, a Greek playwright who lived in the century after Sophocles, developed a theory of tragedy that divided tragic plays into four main components. These were hamartia, meaning a character's fatal mistake; peripeteia, a swift reversal of fortune; anagnorisis, a moment of realization where characters understand what is really going on; and catharsis, a moment of emotional release or purgation that concludes the play. Analyze Antigone through the lens of Aristotle's four elements of tragedy. Do the four elements exist in the play? Do any of them? Write a journal entry explaining your thoughts or create an altered outline for Antigone that does follow all four elements.

Adaptation

There have been dozens of adaptations of Antigone over the years, including film, stage, and musical compositions. Do some research on these adaptations and see what artists have changed about the story and what they have kept the same. Think about how the themes of Antigone are relevant to the world today or to another historical period. Using the medium of your choice, describe how you would create your own adaptation. Consider why your chosen setting and medium help contribute to the story. As well as an outline of your idea, write a sample scene or compose a short piece of music that would be part of your own adaptation.

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