The Oedipus Tyrannus is concerned with the fall of the Theban king; the Coloneus, with the close of his life; and the Antigone, with a later episode in the fortunes of his children. But the order of composition was, Antigone, Tyrannus, Coloneus; and the first was separated from the last by perhaps more than thirty years of the poet's life. The priority of the Antigone admits of a probable explanation, which is not without interest. There is some ground for thinking that the subject—though not the treatment—was suggested by Aeschylus. The sisters Antigone and Ismene are not mentioned by
Earliest trace of the story.
The Aeschylean situation—contrast with the Sophoclean.
Let us first trace the outline of the action.
Analysis of the play. I. Prologue: 1-99.
II. First episode: 162-331.
First stasimon: 332-375. Anapaests, 376-383.
III. Second episode: 384-581.
Second stasimon: 582-625. Anapaests, 626-630.
IV. Third episode: 631-780.
Third stasimon: 781-800. Anapaests 801-805.
V. Fourth episode: 806-943.
Fourth stasimon: 944-987.
VI. Fifth episode: 988-1114.
Hyporcheme (taking the place of the fifth stasimon): 1115-1154.
VII. Exodos: 1155-1352.
This sketch may serve to illustrate the powerful unity
Unity of motive.
The mode of the catastrophe.
The dramatic blemish.
With regard to Creon's delay in the Antigone, I venture
A suggested explanation.
The simplicity of the plot
The question raised by the play.
But how did Sophocles intend us to view the result?
What is the moral intended?
In the first place it is necessary to appreciate the nature of Creon's edict
The character of Creon's edict.
The next point to be considered is, In what sense,
The edict in its political aspect.
Antigone, on the other hand, is fulfilling one of the most
One of the main arguments
The attitude of the Chorus.
After thus tracing the mind of the Chorus, we can see
Why the Chorus is so constituted.
The character of Antigone is a separate question from
Character of Antigone.
Her relation to Ismene.
Her relation to Haemon.
The reaction in Antigone's mind.
Men near to Zeus; for whom on Ida burns,
High in clear air, the altar of their Sire,
Nor hath their race yet lost the blood divine18.
Few things in tragedy are more pathetic than this yearning of hers, on the brink of death, for some human kindness of farewell, thus ‘mocked’19, as she feels it to be, by a cold assurance of renown. She turns from men to invoke ‘the fount of Dircè and the holy ground of Thebes’; these, at least, will be her witnesses. In her last words, she is thinking of the dead, and of the gods; she feels sure of love in the world of the dead; but she cannot lift her face to the gods, and feel sure that they are with her. If they are so, why have they allowed her to perish for obeying them? Yet, again, they may be with her; she will know beyond the grave. If she has sinned, she will learn it there; but if she is innocent, the gods will vindicate when she is gone. How infinitely touching is this supreme trouble which clouds her soul at the last,—this doubt and perplexity concerning the gods! For it is not a misgiving as to the paramount obligation of the ‘unwritten laws’ which she has obeyed: it is only an anguish of wonder and uncertainty as to the mysterious ways of the powers which have laid this obligation on mortals,—a surmise that, as gods and men seem alike without pity for her, there has perhaps been something wrong in her way of doing the duty which was so clear and so binding.
The psychology of Sophocles
Distinctive merit of the portraiture.
Ill becomes her who has at length just reach'd
The goal so long desired... Perhaps ye, O guards,
May feel compassion for my fate?... Proceed.
Oh terrible Death, I look thee in the face,
And yet I tremble not20.
” In Massinger's Virgin Martyr, again, consider the strain in which Dorothea addresses Theophilus, the persecutor of the Christians, who has doomed her to torture and death:— “Thou fool!
That gloriest in having power to ravish
A trifle from me I am weary of,
What is this life to me? Not worth a thought;
Or, if it be esteem'd, 'tis that I lose it
To win a better: even thy malice serves
To me but as a ladder to mount up
To such a height of happiness, where I shall
Look down with scorn on thee and on the world.
” The dramatic effect of such a tone, both in Alfieri's Antigone and in Massinger's Dorothea, is to make their fate not more, but less, pathetic; we should feel for them more if they, on their part, seemed to feel a little ‘what 'tis to die, and to die young,’— as Theophilus says to Dorothea. On the other hand, M. Casimir Delavigne, in his Messéniennes, is Sophoclean where he describes the last moments of Joan of Arc: “Du Christ, avec l'ardeur, Jeanne baisait l'image;
Ses longs cheveux épars flottaient au gré des vents:
Au pied de l'échafaud, sans changer de visage,
Elle s'avançait à pas lents.
Tranquille elle y monta; quand, debout sur le faîte,
Elle vit ce bûcher, qui l'allait dévorer,
Les bourreaux en suspens, la flamme déja prête,
Sentant son cœur faillir, elle baissa la tête,
Et se prit à pleurer21.
” So it is that the Antigone of Sophocles, in the last scene of her life, feels her heart fail, bows her head, and weeps; but the first verse of the passage just quoted suggests a difference which makes the Greek maiden the more tragic figure of the two: when Antigone looked to heaven, she could find no certain comfort. Thus has Sophocles created a true heroine; no fanatic enamoured of martyrdom, no virago, but a true woman, most tender-hearted, most courageous and steadfast; whose sense of duty sustains her in doing a deed for which she knows that she must die;—when it has been done, and death is at hand, then, indeed, there is a brief cry of anguish from that brave and loving spirit; it is bitter to die thus: but human sympathy is denied to her, and even the gods seem to have hidden their faces. Nowhere else has the poetry of the ancient world embodied so lofty or so beautiful an ideal of woman's love and devotion. The Macaria of Euripides resigns her life to save the race of the Heracleidae; his Iphigeneia, to prosper the course of the Greek fleet; his Alcestis, to save the life of her husband. In each of these cases, a divine voice had declared that some one must die; in each, the heroism required was purely passive; and in each a definite gain was promised,—for it was at least a pious opinion in the wife of Admetus (when all his other friends had declined his request that some of them would oblige him by dying for him)22 to think that his survival would be a gain. Not one of these Euripidean heroines, pathetic though they be, can for a moment be ranked with Fedalma in George Eliot's Spanish Gypsy, when she accepts what seems worse than death for the sake of benefits to her race which are altogether doubtful;— “‘my soul is faint—
Will these sharp pains buy any certain good?’
” But Antigone is greater than Fedalma. There was no father, no Zarca, at Antigone's side, urgently claiming the sacrifice,— on the contrary, there was a sister protesting against it; Antigone's choice was wholly free; the heroism which it imposed was one of doing as well as suffering; and the sole reward was to be in the action itself.
The character of Creon, as Sophocles draws it in this
Comparison with Plato's Crito.
Creon's attitude towards Antigone
Such, then, are the general characteristics which mark the treatment of this subject by Sophocles. In a drama of rare poetical beauty, and of especially fine psychology, he has raised the question as to the limit of the State's authority over the individual conscience. It belongs to the essence of the tragic pathos that this question is one which can never be answered by a set formula. Enough for Antigone that she finds herself in a situation where conscience leaves her no choice but to break one of two laws, and to die. These distinctive qualities of the play may be illustrated by a glance at the work of some other poets. The Antigone of Euripides is now represented only by a few small fragments,
A word may be added regarding treatments of the
It is not however, in the form of painting or of sculpture that Art has furnished the Antigone with its most famous and most delightful illustration. Two generations have now been so accustomed to associate this play with the music of Mendelssohn that at least a passing notice is due to
The question as to the date
Date of the play.
The strategia of Sophocles.
We have next to ask,—What ground is there for connecting
Had the play any bearing upon the poet's appointment?
The internal evidence of the Antigone confirms the
Internal evidence for an early date.
The first Argument
Place of the play in the series of the poet's works.
Nothing is known as to the plays which Sophocles
The Theban plays—not a connected trilogy.