Scene summary

At the beginning of the play Antigone by Sophocles, the main character Antigone has a conversation with her sister Ismene about their terrible family fate. Their father Oedipus, king of the city of Thebes, unknowingly killed his father, married his own mother Jocasta, and had four children with her: Antigone, Ismene, Eteocles, and Polynices.

After realizing this, Oedipus gouged his own eyes out and fled into exile. His wife and mother Jocasta, meanwhile, hanged herself. Creon, Jocasta’s brother, took over the reign of the city of Thebes as the last male relative after the death of his two nephews, Eteocles and Polynices. This is the situation at the beginning of the play, which is full of unexpected and tragic twists and turns.

Our carefully formulated summaries of the individual scenes provide the foundation for more detailed studies of the play, both regarding its structure and its content. Furthermore, they provide an overview of the context and the developments of the plot and contribute to the understanding of the play. In addition to the line references for the scenes, you will also find a timeline. The thoroughly compiled summaries provide the ideal foundation for a more detailed examination of Sophocles’ play.

Prologue

Scene 1

Lines: 1-161

Setting: in front of the royal palace in Thebes (city in Greece)

Time: Mythical Past

Characters: Antigone, Ismene, Chorus

Background

Antigone, the main character of the play, and her sister Ismene make their appearance. They are the daughters of Oedipus, the former king of Thebes, who unknowingly killed his father and married his own mother. As a result, he gouged his own eyes out and fled into exile.

The reader learns that Eteocles and Polynices, Antigone’s brothers and Oedipus’ sons, have killed each other. Antigone tells Ismene about Creon’s order to give Eteocles a burial, but to leave Polynices’ body unburied. She wants to defy Creon’s order and bury Polynices anyway.

Ismene advises against this, pointing out the duty of the people to obey the rulers and the punishment that follows disobedience. Antigone is not afraid of death and places the law of the gods above that of the kings on earth. The gods demand the burial of every human being.

The Chorus sings about the attack of Polynices and his allies on the city of Thebes and the victory of the Thebans with the help of the gods Zeus and Ares.

Act 1

Scene 2

Lines: 162-222

Setting: in front of the royal palace in Thebes (city in Greece)

Time: Mythical Past

Characters: Creon, Chorus

Creon’s decree

Creon, Antigone’s and Ismene’s uncle and Jocasta’s brother (Oedipus’ wife and mother), assumed the throne as the new king of Thebes after the death of the two brothers, Eteocles and Polynices. According to him, loyalty to the fatherland has the highest value, so he grants an honorable burial to Eteocles, who has fought for Thebes.

In his opinion, Polynices, who is also from Thebes, should not be granted the honor of his own grave, because he turned against his homeland. Polynices had denied himself any right to honorable treatment by attacking his brother in order to gain control over the city.

The Chorus confirms that Creon, as king, can issue such an order.

Scene 3

Lines: 223-331

Setting: in front of the royal palace in Thebes (city in Greece)

Time: Mythical Past

Characters: Creon, watchman, Chorus

Polynices covered with dust

A watchman appears before Creon, terrified of being executed because of the terrible news he must deliver. He reports that the body of Polynices has been given burial rites and covered with dust. Since they have not yet been able to identify the offender, Creon orders that they find them as soon as possible. Otherwise, the watchmen would face death.

The Chorus raises the question of whether the burial is not in accordance with the will of the gods. Creon, however, does not budge from his order and believes that the guilty person has been bribed.

Scene 4

Lines: 332-375

Setting: not specified (probably in front of the palace)

Time: Mythical Past

Characters: Chorus

Man as ruler and subject

The Chorus sings about the great achievements of man: sailing, agriculture, hunting and fishing, cattle breeding, but also language, thought, and forming towns and countries. The only thing humans cannot escape from is death, but they can cure many diseases. Humans make laws to...

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