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Written by Sophocles around 440 B.C., the title character in Antigone represents one of the most powerful female protagonists in theatrical history. Her conflict is a simple yet poignant one. She gives her dead brother a proper burial against the wishes of her uncle, Creon, the newly crowned King of Thebes. Antigone willingly defies the law for she devoutly believes that she is doing the will of the gods.
A Summary of Antigone
In this monologue, the protagonist is about to be entombed in a cavern. Although she believes she goes to her death, she contends that she was justified in offering her brother his funeral rites. Yet, because of her punishment, she is uncertain about the ultimate goal of the gods above. Still, she trusts that in the afterlife, if she is at fault, she will learn of her sins. However, if Creon is at fault, the fates will surely inflict revenge upon him.
Antigone is the heroine of the play. Stubborn and persistent, Antigone's strong and feminine character supports her family duty and allows her to fight for her beliefs. The story of Antigone surrounds the dangers of tyranny as well as loyalty to family.
Who Sophocles Was and What He Did
Sophocles was born in Colonus, Greece in 496 bc and is considered one of the three great playwrights in classical Athens amongst Aeschylus and Euripides. Famous for the evolution of drama in theater, Sophocles added a third actor and reduced the importance of the Chorus in the execution of the plot. He also focused on character development, unlike other playwrights at the time. Sophocles died around 406 BC.
The Oedipus Trilogy by Sophocles includes three plays: Antigone, Oedipus the King, and Oedipus at Colonus. While they are not considered a true trilogy, the three plays are all based on Theban myths and often published together. It is understood that Sophocles has written over 100 dramas, though only seven full plays are known to have survived today.
An Excerpt of Antigone
The following excerpt from Antigone is reprinted from Greek Dramas.
Tomb, bridal chamber, eternal prison in the caverned rock, whither I go to find mine own, those many who have perished, and whom Persephone hath received among the dead! Last of all shall I pass thither, and far most miserably of all, before the term of my life is spent. But I cherish good hope that my coming will be welcome to my father, and pleasant to thee, my mother, and welcome, brother, to thee; for, when you died, with mine own hands I washed and dressed you, and poured drink-offerings at your graves; and now, Polyneices, 'tis for tending thy corpse that I win such recompense as this. And yet I honored thee, as the wise will deem, rightly. Never had I been a mother of children, or if a husband had been moldering in death, would I have taken this task upon me in the city's despite.
What law, ye ask, is my warrant for that word? The husband lost, another might have been found, and child from another, to replace the first-born; but, father and mother hidden with Hades, no brother's life could ever bloom for me again. Such was the law whereby I held thee first in honor; but Creon deemed me guilty of error therein, and of outrage, ah brother mine! And now he leads me thus, a captive in his hands; no bridal bed, no bridal song hath been mine, no joy of marriage, no portion in the nurture of children; but thus, forlorn of friends, unhappy one, I go living to the vaults of death. And what law of Heaven have I transgressed?
Why, hapless one, should I look to the gods anymore--what ally should I invoke--when by piety I have earned the name of impious? Nay, then, if these things are pleasing to the gods, when I have suffered my doom, I shall come to know my sin; but if the sin is with my judges, I could wish them no fuller measure of evil than they, on their part, mete wrongfully to me.
Source: Green Dramas. Ed. Bernadotte Perrin. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1904