Catharsis in Antigone

Catharsis in Antigone
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  • 0:02 Catharsis
  • 0:53 The Plot of ''Antigone''
  • 2:15 The Characters
  • 4:00 Analysis
  • 5:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer has a dual master's in English literature/teaching and is currently a high school English teacher. She teaches college classes on the side.

Reality can be stressful, and releasing negativity can be difficult. In ancient Greece, tragic plays were said to aid in this relief process. In this lesson, we'll analyze the concept of this release called catharsis and connect it to the play ''Antigone''.


Stressful day or week? Sometimes we just need a good cry session to let it all out. Aristotle thought so too when it came to the arts. He talked about the concept of catharsis that takes place when an audience watches a tragedy. From the Greek, this word means purging, cleansing, and/or purification. The process occurs when the events of a play provoke emotions such as fear or pity in the audience members. In turn, the audience members releases these negative emotions in connection to their own lives, leaving them feeling revived.

The play Antigone is a perfect example of the tragedies which Aristotle referenced. Let's go on the emotional journey of the characters in the play and explore the concept of catharsis in connection to Sophocles' work.

The Plot of Antigone

Before the play begins, the reader is given background information pertaining to a battle fought between two brothers, Polyneices and Eteocles. Their father exiled himself from Thebes and left the brothers to share the throne. When it was Polyneices' turn to rule, Eteocles refused to relent his power, forcing Polyneices to leave the city. He eventually came back with an army, and both sides were destroyed. Polyneices and Eteocles died in battle, leaving their sisters Antigone and Ismene to carry on their bloodline. Since women were unable to hold power, their uncle Creon took the throne.

Creon sided with Eteocles and felt Polyneices was a traitor since he fought against his city, a big no-no in Greek culture. Creon ordered that Polyneices' body should rot where it lay and not be buried, another big cultural no-no in ancient Greece. Creon declared that if anyone buried the body, that person would be killed. In the Prologue, Antigone is furious with her uncle, feeling she must honor her brother and the gods by burying the body. Not doing so would make Polyneices' soul unable to get to the Underworld. This is where the story begins, and conflict ensues.

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