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Antigone (The Oedipus Plays) | Discussion Questions 1 - 10

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In Antigone what does Ismene mean when she tells Antigone in the Prologos, "Your heart is hot to do cold deeds"?

Ismene is Antigone's last remaining family member now that their brothers and parents are dead. As such she knows Antigone better than anyone else does. In this scene Antigone reveals that she is planning to bury their brother Polyneices's body, which has been strictly forbidden by Creon and is punishable by death. Antigone's plan seems rash to Ismene—her accusation that Antigone has a "hot heart" speaks to her passion and stubbornness, yet Ismene sees her act as a "cold deed" that will land her in deep trouble if she is caught. Ismene worries for Antigone since so much tragedy has already befallen their family. Her "hot heart" is the same attribute that led their father Oedipus to his death. Ismene wants to believe that Antigone cares more about the fact that they are each others' only remaining family members rather than she does about risking her own life out of a sense of justice.

In Antigone what does Creon's treatment of the guard in Episode 1 reveal about his temperament?

Creon, the newly appointed king of Thebes, is a stubborn and arrogant ruler. Thebes has just recovered from an invasion, and he feels that in order to quell any potential uprising among the citizens he must rule with a stern fist. Creon's encounter with the guard in Episode 1 reveals him to be suspicious and contemptuous of even those who are attempting to obey him and be transparent. The guard is clearly nervous to convey the news about Polyneices's body to Creon, who immediately accuses him of hedging and hiding something "ominous." Creon also accuses him of taking bribes and dismisses him contemptuously rather than thanking him for the information.

In Antigone how do the ideas of lawfulness and justness clash in Episode 2?

Creon and Antigone represent the opposing ideals of lawfulness and justness. Creon believes that his laws are just and that to disobey them is unjust—it's as simple as that. He cannot understand why Antigone views his law as unjust, and he offers her no mercy even though she is a member of his family and his daughter-in-law to be. When Creon asks her, "And yet you dared to break those very laws?" Antigone responds, "Yes. Zeus did not announce those laws to me." Antigone finds Creon's law regarding her brother unjust, and she believes that the laws of the gods trump the laws of mortals. She's not afraid of death and not afraid to stand up to Creon for what she believes in. She would rather be rewarded in the afterlife by the gods for honoring them.

In Antigone what evidence explains the causes of Antigone's determination to give Polyneices a burial?

It's important to Antigone that she give her brother a proper funeral for a few reasons. She believes that it is dishonorable to both her brother and the gods to leave his body unburied. In the Prologos she tells Ismene, "I'll do my duty to my brother" and says that she "won't be caught betraying him." These lines convey that she sees burying his body and giving him funeral rights as a familial duty that conveys respect to both his life and the gods. She also says, "My honours for the dead must last much longer than for those up here," meaning that it is more important for her to do right by her deceased family member than to worry about Creon's possible punishment. This notion reveals Antigone's belief that she will be reunited with her loved ones in the Underworld, and so she must do her best in this life to honor their deaths. Later in the play Antigone also mentions that this is an act she would only carry out for her brother, not her children nor her husband, since they are replaceable but a brother is not. What she means by this is that she can get married again or have more children—but she only has two brothers, who are irreplaceable. Duty, respect, and honor are all important reasons for Antigone to give Polyneices a proper burial.

In Antigone what does Creon's attitude toward Antigone in Episodes 2 and 3 reveal about his views of women?

Creon doesn't try to hide his belief that women are inferior to men—a belief that demonstrates another of his tragic flaws since he underestimates Antigone's strength and stubbornness. He would rather crush Antigone than debate the ethics of law with her in Episode 2, even though he knows that she is right about the laws of the gods taking precedence over the laws of men. In Episode 5 he tells Teiresias, "Even if Zeus' eagles should choose to seize his festering body and take it up, right to the throne of Zeus, not even then would I, in trembling fear of some defilement, permit that corpse a burial." Creon reveals here that he knows he is defying the gods but that he believes his laws are more important—and he certainly doesn't like a woman reminding him of this. After it is revealed that Antigone is his future daughter-in-law in Episode 3, he tries to convince Haemon to "spit this girl out" since she is now their enemy. In response to Ismene's persuasion not to punish his future daughter-in-law, he tells her it will be no problem to find Haemon a different wife. Creon's attitude reveals that he finds women to be disposable and stupid.

What influence does the god Dionysus have on the Chorus in Antigone?

In the Parados the Chorus notes that Dionysus (also known as Bacchus) is the protector of Thebes, and throughout the play they call upon him to keep its citizens safe. After the battle of Thebes is over they call upon him in order to "strive now to forget with songs and dancing all night long, with Bacchus leading us to make Thebes shake," which demonstrates their reverence for the influence he has in their city. Later in Stasimon 5—once they believe the worst is over—they begin to rejoice in Dionysus's name, and their excitement also reflects the way that worshipers of Dionysus would work themselves into a state of frenzy. Their relationship with Dionysus stands in contrast to Creon's relationships with the gods—whereas the Chorus are thankful and reverent of Dionysus's impact, Creon cares less and less about impressing the gods as the play wears on. This contrast shows the audience the ways in which Creon can be seen as disrespectful of the gods by holding his laws above theirs.

In Antigone to what degree is Antigone doomed by her fate?

Fate plays a large role in the play, though the characters are presented at various points with the options to exercise free will. The Chorus applauds Antigone for exercising her free will to bury her brother, but they also note that her tragic fate may have been sealed by the actions of her father, Oedipus. Fate is handed down from generation to generation in Antigone. Many references are made to Oedipus's fate throughout the play, suggesting that Antigone's fate is connected to his and dooming her even before birth. In Episode 4 the Chorus tells her that "perhaps your agonies are paying back some compensation for your father." This notion brings up the question of how much free will Antigone has, or if all her choices, regardless of what they are, will lead her to the same doomed outcome.

In Antigone how do Ismene and Antigone differ in their beliefs about what is lawful and just?

Ismene is more hesitant and reluctant than Antigone. She believes that men are stronger than women and therefore women should not disobey them. Her fear of Antigone's actions is also rooted in the knowledge that tragedy has already deeply struck their family, and it may be the case that she is trying to defend them from their fate while Antigone openly challenges their fate. Ismene feels that they have everything to lose while Antigone feels they have nothing to lose other than respect from the gods. Even though Ismene would rather Antigone obey Creon's decree, she still comes to Antigone's defense when she is caught, demonstrating that she is willing to be loyal and sacrifice her life if necessary. Antigone is set on her course from the beginning and is disdainful of Ismene for disagreeing with her and refusing to help her.

In Antigone how does the Chorus's extended use of nature metaphors reflect the struggles of the characters?

Throughout most of the stasima the Chorus connects the actions of the characters to larger themes: fate, free will, love, and knowledge. They use nature metaphors to develop these themes. In Stasimon 1 for example, the Chorus uses the metaphor of men traversing stormy seas, struggling to gain knowledge and power that can be used for good or evil—the choice is their own free will. This metaphor is mirrored in the internal and external struggle Creon faces in governing Thebes and making the right decision about Antigone's punishment. In Stasimon 2 the Chorus again uses the metaphor of a "surging ocean swell" "falling upon whole families" to convey the struggle that mortals face when they commit actions that the gods disapprove of. This nature metaphor refers both to Creon's disobedience of the gods in leaving Polyneices unburied and to Antigone's fate as determined by the actions of her father, Oedipus.

In Episode 3 of Antigone in what ways does Haemon in discussion with Creon about Antigone make the better argument?

Haemon emerges as a surprisingly deft arguer in his conversation with Creon. Even though he is much younger he approaches Creon with compassion and sincerity, telling him that for as much as he loves and honors his father he disagrees with his decision. Haemon is careful never to bring his feelings for Antigone into the discussion, but rather he tries to advise his father from a logical or political standpoint: the citizens of Thebes do not support his decision so the decision may be unwise. Since this isn't what Creon wants to hear he takes on the role of the whiny child in their discussion, becoming enraged and insulting his son's wife-to-be.

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