Thursday, January 13, 2011

Remaining Antigone Questions from Brooklyn College

King Lear will be our next book. We are awaiting its arrival.

All of you are already to have read and answered the blog posted questions about the Prelude.

Within a day I will edit these numerous questions and single out the ones I want you to answer in writing. Start thinking about these questions and your answers, okay?

Parodos (100-161)

Although the events described in the parodos are presented rather obscurely in poetic language as is characteristic of choral songs, can you summarize in a general way in one or two sentences what the Chorus is describing? The "man who had come from Argos" refers in a collective sense to the Argive army which supported Polyneices in his attack on Thebes. Which side in the war does the Chorus favor and why?

First Episode - Creon, Chorus and Guard

Creon in his first appearance in the play delivers a long speech outlining the philosophy that guides his actions and his edict  What human institution does Creon believe to be most important in life? Why does he think this? Compare his beliefs with those of Antigone. How does Creon contradict Antigone? Note the language of Creon's edict . How does the Chorus's initially react to Creon's decree? What is the dramatic purpose of the character of the Guard? How is he characterized in this scene? What view of Creon does the Guard present to us? What is Creon's reaction to the Guard's news?

First Stasimon

The first stasimon, often referred to as the "Ode to Man", is one of the most famous choral songs in Attic Tragedy. The Chorus begins by singing: "There are many wondrous things and yet nothing is more wondrous than man". The Greek word for "wondrous" is deinos, which is ambiguous in its meaning. It can also mean "terrible" (i.e., "producing fear"). The Chorus obviously intends the meaning "wondrous" when it praises man for his mastery of nature by the development of civilized skills. This praise of man's achievement of civilization is undoubtedly inspired by Sophistic anthropological accounts of man's cultural development as a result of his own efforts. Like the Sophists, the Chorus views human progress in an optimistic way.
Compose a list of man's civilized skills umerated by the Chorus.4 According to the Chorus is there any limitation to man's mastery of nature? Does it view man's cleverness as unambiguously "wondrous" or is there also something "terrible" about it. Explain your answer briefly. To whom is the Chorus referring in the last stanza of the ode when it sings: "whoever due to daring cherishes evil is without a city"? Who appears on-stage immediately after this ode? Connect the appearance of this character with what the chorus sings in the last stanza of the "Ode to Man".
4Note that Creon consistently uses metaphors (images) which link him with these skills and with civilization in general. On the other hand, Antigone and the resistance to Creon's edict is generally represented by images connected with nature. Why do you think that Sophocles organized his imagery in this way? What meaning does this organization of imagery suggest for the Antigone?

Second Episode - Guard, Antigone, Creon, Chorus and Ismene

The second episode presents the face-to-face confrontation of the two antagonists, Antigone and Creon. What is the attitude of the Chorus and the Guard with regard to the capture of Antigone? How does Antigone defend her defiance of the edict? How does Antigone view the relationship between laws made by man and those created by the gods? What is Creon's view of the relationship between man and woman and the relative importance of blood ties vs. the ties of citizenship? How does this contrast with Antigone's view of the same? What is Antigone's attitude with regard to her deed? And with regard to Ismene's attempt to share responsibility for the deed?

Second Stasimon

After the confrontation between Creon and Antigone, the Chorus sings of the misfortune that has come to Antigone and Ismene, who have been condemned to death. The Chorus puts this tragedy in the context of the calamities suffered by the House of Labdacus, the grandfather of Oedipus who killed his father and married his mother and whose sons, Polyneices and Eteocles, killed each other in a dynastic struggle. Who brought these disasters on the House of Labdacus? Why has this family suffered so much and made such disastrous mistakes? (613-625)?

Third Episode - Creon, Haemon and Chorus

How would the Athenian audience have received Creon's statement to his son Haemon: "It is necessary to obey him whom the city puts in charge even in small matters, whether they are just or unjust"? How does the Chorus view this statement? According to Haemon, what is the reaction of the common people to Creon's decree of death for Antigone? What advice does Haemon give to Creon? What is the point that Haemon is attempting to make to Creon by the analogies of the tree and the ship? What criticisms does Haemon make of Creon? What threat does Haemon make? Why does Creon change Antigone's punishment from public stoning to burial alive in a cave? What is the main theme of this brief ode to Love? Since choral odes generally comment upon the action of the previous episode, explain what connection this song has with the preceding scene. Can you find any lesson for Creon in this ode?

Fourth Episode - Antigone, Chorus and Creon

What new side of Antigone's character do we see in the kommos which begins the fourth episode? Antigone compares herself to Niobe (Tantalus's daughter) who because of her grief turned to stone. What does Antigone say that she and Niobe have in common? What difference and similarity between the two does the Chorus see? Antigone's statement in 905-912 has disturbed many critics of this play. For this reason, this passage has been seen by some as an interpolation made soon after Sophocles's death.5 Other critics defend the authenticity of this passage by saying that these words are not as unfeeling as they seem: Antigone, on one hand, is talking about a real brother, who is now dead, and, on the other, a husband she has not yet married and children who do not yet exist. Which interpretation do you agree with? Why?
5This passage was in the text of the Antigone used by Aristotle in the fourth century.

Fourth Stasimon (944-987)

The fourth stasimon presents three mythical examples which comment upon Antigone's situation. What do the first two mythic personages, Danae and Lycurgus (the son of Dryas), have in common with Antigone? The third example, Cleopatra, may have also shared the same characteristic with Antigone, but it is not mentioned. According to C.M. Bowra (Sophoclean Tragedy, Oxford, 1944, 105), these examples may indicate the doubts the Chorus has about Antigone. The Chorus has been alarmed by her defiant behavior, but it also has been impressed by her heroism. Bowra writes: "The three stories seem to suggest different interpretations of what is happening and to hint that any one of them may be right." Examine each example carefully and determine whether it puts Antigone in a favorable or unfavorable light.

Fifth Episode (988-1114) - Teiresias, Creon and Chorus

The fifth episode brings the appearance of the blind prophet Teiresias. What dramatic purpose does the character of Teiresias serve? What omens does Teiresias report ? What do these omens mean? What is Creon's initial reaction to Teiresias's report? How is this reaction characteristic of Creon? Why does Creon finally change his mind about Teiresias? What course of action does the Chorus recommend to Creon? What is Creon's reaction to this recommendation? What has Creon learned about law?

Hyporchema (1115-1151)

Why in the hyporchema does the Chorus choose to pray to Dionysus at this critical moment rather than to any other god? What request does it make of the god?
6An unusual feature of the structure of the Antigone is the substitution of a lively dance-song called a hyporchema for the more stately rhythms of what would have been the fifth stasimon. The optimistic tone of the hyporchema has been occasioned by Creon's change of heart and is meant to emphasize by contrast the horror of Antigone's death and Creon's misfortune in the next scene.

Exodos (1155 to end) - Messenger, Chorus, Eurydice and Creon

Is the prayer of the Chorus in the hyporchema answered positively or negatively in the exodos? Why do you think that Creon goes to bury Polyneices first rather than to Antigone's cave, as he said he was going to do in the previous scene? What does Creon find when he arrives at the cave? What is the result of Creon's confrontation with Haemon? In his kommos Creon gives voice to one of the traditional themes of tragedy. See if you can identify this theme in the Exodus. Why did Eurydice commit suicide? What moral lesson does the Chorus see in the fate of Creon at the close of the play?


  1. Mr. Balgley, will questions like these appear on the AP English test? And will go into the depth that these questions bring about?

  2. What was the essay we had to write.. this?

  3. Excellent Question:
    Brandon, there is more than one way to skin a cat; likewise there is more than one way to write a valid literary interpretation. The thematic interpretation and the details from a text used to support an interpretation written by one student may wildely vary from that written by another student. Yet both, even though their interpretations of the same text diverge, may receive the same essay score.
    A macroscopic prevailing thought, which runs throughout an essay, must be supported by "microscopic" references, paraphrases, or citations from the text, otherwise it is merely an essay of declarative statements. Mind you, there are some brilliant essays of this nature, but the Education Testing Service advises students against writing them on the AP English Literature and Composition Exam.
    You are expected to have mined the literature you have chosen to write about. You are advised to make references to the text you are writing about to support the ideas you present. You are expected to reveal mastery of the text and to be intimately familiar with the book you discuss. You are expected to be aware of its structure, its narrative voice(s), its settings, its characters, its mood, its tone, its irony, and its use of other literary characteristics and devices.
    So, Brandon, the Brooklyn College professor who posted these questions, did so with one main purpose in mind: to have his of her
    students carefully read and think about the details in ANTIGONE. They are not my questions, but do you think knowing the details is helpful when writing about a play or novel? Some of you will be exposed to this type of "teaching" very shortly. It's not my type of focused questioning, but it exists.
    Now, please do you were instructed: annotate the Xeroxed copy of ANTIGONE I gave to you and your classmates? Please post some questions or comments you write on the margins of the play. Okay?

  4. Ivy,
    You were supposed to have written, and handed in by last Friday, an essay about the relationship between Creon and Tiresias. You may
    decide, as some of your classmates did, to include the Chorus' reaction to the interchange between these characters. Ivy, also check the blog again on Sunday and Monday. Okay?

  5. Do you want us to answer all these questions or are you still going to edit them?

  6. Do you want us to answer all of these questions? Or do you still have to edit them?

  7. In my opinion, I believe knowing the details are helpful when writing about a play or a novel. It will be better to comprehend the novel or play.

  8. I think it's interesting that in Greek, "wondrous" can also mean "terrible."

  9. This is helpful and gives us what to expect and would help us improve on the test.