• Greek playwright Sophocles wrote the last
play in the Theban Trilogy, Antigone,
around 442 B.C. The Theban Trilogy
consists of Oedipus Rex (Oedipus the
King), Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone,
but the play considered the last of the
three was, ironically, written first.
• Only seven of Sophocles's one hundred-
twenty-three tragedies have survived to
the modern era—with the trilogy surviving
the ages intact. These three plays are
perhaps the most famous of the seven,
with Antigone performed most often.
• Antigone tells the story of the title
character, daughter of Oedipus (the former
king of Thebes, who unknowingly killed his
father and married his mother, and who
renounced his kingdom upon discovering
his actions), and her fight to bury her
brother Polyneices against the edict of her
uncle, Creon, the new king of Thebes.
• It is a story that pits the law of the gods—
"unwritten law"—against the laws of
humankind, family ties against civic duty,
and man against woman.
• Many playwrights in Ancient Greece used
mythological stories to comment on social
and political concerns of their time. This is
what Sophocles may have intended when
he wrote Antigone.
• Based on the legends of Oedipus,
Sophocles may have been trying to send a
message to the Athenian general,
Pericles, about the dangers of
• These tragedies were written to be
performed at the Great Dionysia (a festival
in honor of the god Dionysus, the god of
fertility, theater, and wine) in Athens.
Attending these plays was considered a
civic duty, and even criminals were let out
of jail to attend.
• Antigone won Sophocles first prize at the
festival and was an enormous success. It
is still performed today, and has been
adapted by French playwright Jean
Anouilh, who set the play during World
• The play takes up the story of the Seven
Against Thebes, by Aeschylus, but with
some changes in the situation. Two
brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, have
fallen, as will be remembered, at one of
the gates of Thebes.
• King Creon allows Eteocles to be buried at
once, that he might receive due honor
among the shades; but he orders a herald
to forbid any funeral rites or burial to the
corpse of Polynices. "Let him lie unwept,
unburied, a toothsome morsel for the birds
of heaven, and whoso touches him shall
perish by the cruel death of stoning."
• Antigone tells these gloomy tidings to her
sister Ismene, and informs her of what she
has resolved to do:
• "In spite of the orders, I shall give my
brother burial, whether thou, Ismene, wilt
join with me or not."
• In vain her sister bids her keep in mind the ruin
of their house:
• "We twain are left alone, and if we brave the
king's decree, an unhappy death awaits us.
Weak women such as we cannot strive with
men; rather were it seemly to bow to those that
are stronger than ourselves. The dead, who lie
below, will deal leniently with us, as forced to
• Pathetically noble is the response of
• "Gladly will I meet death in my sacred duty
to the dead. Longer time have I to spend
with them than with those who live upon
the earth. Seek not to argue with me;
nothing so terrible can come to me but that
an honored death remains."