Antigone Scene 1 (Lines 164-382): Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:00 The Opening Chorus
  • 0:46 The Unyielding King
  • 1:36 The Fearful Sentry
  • 2:38 The Closing Chorus
  • 3:00 Analysis
  • 4:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Abigail Walker

Abigail has taught writing and literature at various universities. She has an M.A. In literature from American University and an M.F.A. in English from The University of Iowa.

In this scene from Sophocles' 'Antigone,' we meet Creon, who rules Thebes. Even the Theban elders in the Chorus seem afraid of Creon, who quickly becomes infuriated when he learns someone has tried to bury his nephew Polynices.

The Opening Chorus

The Chorus sings about combat so violent it almost destroys Thebes. As spears fly through the air and blood soaks the ground around them, Polynices and Eteocles, the sons of the former Theban king Oedipus, battle and kill one another. Like a 'wild eagle,' Polynices attacks at night, almost destroying Thebes. Then, like a 'dragon,' Eteocoles rises up against Polynices, saving Thebes and ending his brother's life.

Now peaceful again, the city is joyous. All seems to be well. Why then, the leader of the Chorus wonders, has Creon, the new king, requested to meet with the elders?

The Unyielding King

Creon suddenly appears. He recalls the dreadful events of recent days and assures the elders that he trusts them, based on their loyalty to the previous king Oedipus and to Oedipus's children. Nevertheless, Creon wants to make absolutely certain that the elders understand his edict:

'Polynices, I say, is to have no burial: no man is to touch him or say the least prayer for him; he shall lie on the plain, unburied; and the birds and the scavenging dogs can do with him whatever they like.'

The leader of the Chorus assures the king the elders will obey his edict. Creon replies that in addition to their own compliance, they must not support anyone who attempts to bury Polynices. The leader of the Chorus readily agrees, knowing full well that anyone disobeying the edict will be stoned to death.

The Fearful Sentry

No sooner does the leader stop speaking then a sentry arrives. The sentry, whom Creon has appointed to guard Polynices' body, is gasping for breath. He has been running so that he can bring Creon news. The sentry admits, though, that he is afraid that Creon might blame or even punish him for revealing what has happened. Angrily, Creon insists that the sentry tell him the news.

Stammering as he searches for the right words, the sentry manages to explain that someone has partially covered Polynices' body, with 'new dust on the slimy flesh.' Enraged, Creon demands to know who would dare defy his edict, but the sentry has no idea.

When the leader of the Chorus suggests that the gods might be responsible, Creon becomes wild with rage. He bellows that the gods are not his foes. Certain that an enemy, a faction in Thebes who despise Creon has bribed the sentry to disobey him, Creon threatens the sentry with torture and death if he does not bring Creon the man who has defied him.

The Closing Chorus

Hearing the king's words, the Chorus relates that humans exert power over nature and create states. Even though people have no power over death, they do have power in the form of their intelligence, which can be used positively or negatively. When people obey laws, their city is strong. But when they break laws, their city no longer welcomes them.

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