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

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.

Creon is as stubborn with the law as Antigone is with morality. He believes that Polyneices was wrong and that he shouldn't be buried because of his actions. He also thinks that anyone who tries to bury him is guilty of the same crime. His son and the famous seer Tiresias can't convince him otherwise. When he finally understands that the gods think he is wrong he does relent, but it doesn't matter. Antigone, his son, and his wife all kill themselves, leaving him alone.

In the case of both heroes, their inability to change is their tragic flaw. The audience is supposed to see Antigone as the hero, though, because she embraced her fate while Creon tried to escape it.

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