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Antigone (The Oedipus Plays) | Study Guide


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Professor Bradley Greenburg of Northeastern Illinois University explains the symbols in Sophocles's play Antigone.

Antigone (The Oedipus Plays) | Symbols



Teiresias points out the situational irony to Creon that he has chosen to bury Antigone alive, underground, while he allows her brother's corpse to remain unburied above ground. Teiresias highlights the unexpected juxtaposition in Creon's decision to flout the law of the gods, which decrees that bodies are to be given proper burials and funeral rites. Not only does Creon refuse to honor the gods' decree, but he has also buried a living person alive—a person whose disobedience comes from following the gods' will. So he is quite wrong when he states that "no man has the power to pollute the gods." On the contrary, by insisting on strict adherence to his laws Creon brings pollution on Thebes—both literally by allowing a corpse to rot and metaphorically by incurring the wrath of the gods, who punish not only Creon but also Thebes as a whole. In this way burials become symbols of the play's central conflict between religious devotion and civic duty.


Birds appear in the play symbolically as fierce scavengers, protectors, and agents of prophecy. The Chorus mentions that since Polyneices's body is left in the open, his corpse will be torn apart by birds. The guard also paints a vivid picture of Antigone as looking like a bird when she hovers over the corpse of her brother, trying to protect his body. Lastly Teiresias tells a vivid tale about Creon's future when he hears two birds fighting, one killing the other. He mentions that these are the very same birds that are feasting on Polyneices's corpse.

Questions for Symbols

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