Objective for this Page: To summarize the prologue, highlighting the characterization of Antigone in contrast to Ismene.
Antigone reveals to her sister, Ismene, Creon's decree that Eteocles will have a state funeral for defending Thebes with his life, but Polynices will remain unburied because he was a traitor. Creon, Antigone reports to her sister, has said the punishment for burying Polynices is to be stoned to death within the walls of Thebes. Antigone tries to recruit her sister's aid in their familial duty, but her younger sister is afraid of further shame. The consequences of not obeying laws of the living are more important than not betraying the dead to Ismene.
This scene, which the chorus does not overhear, sets up the whole play. The audience finds out about the two brothers, sons of Oedipus, who have just fought against each other over who should rule Thebes. Antigone suggests that Creon's decree is aimed directly at her (line 38: "yes, me, I tell you"), since it is her duty to bury the dead in her family. Antigone's act of civil disobedience in burying her brother pits divine law against Creon's civil decree, but it is also an act of direct defiance against her uncle who raised her. Ismene demurs to help Antigone partly because of the life of shame she and her sister have already endured as the incestuous daughters of Oedipus and Jocasta. Also the Prologue sets up the idea that Antigone is the stronger of the two sisters and that Antigone could care less what others want or think is right . Lastly her loyalty is shown to for the dead, regardless of her brother's attack on Thebes.
Translator Charles Segal notes in his "Introduction" that "Antigone not only sets out the main issues but also displays all of the contradictions and dangers that define her character: her intensity of feeling, the single-mindedness of her devotion to family, her unbending will, her readiness to defy the entire city in the name of what she believes, her involvement with the dead, and ther willingness to face death if necessary" (7).
Thanks to Joy Myers and Shelley Rowe for contributing to the top half of this page.
For analysis of Antigone's opening speech, see your reference librarian about getting a photocopy of this critical essay from a learned journal--
C.W. Willink, "The Opening Speech of Sophocles' Antigone. Mnemosyne, Dec 2000 v53 i6 p662(10).
Assessment: Choose a study question and respond in a paragraph, citing evidence from the prologue to support your point(s).
This instructional web was made in July, 2002, by Prof. Eric Hibbison, who is solely responsible for its content.