Introduction to Sophocles Antigone
Ancient Greek poetry and myth is complex and inherently multiform. Singers who recomposed myths in performance and audience members who interact with singers could draw upon shared traditions, themes, and language that resonated with associations and meanings developed over centuries of performer and group interaction. For ancient Greeks engaging with such a living mytho-poetic system, Antigone would need no introduction.
First-time modern readers, however, may at find it helpful to know just the basic facts about Sophocles’ use of this myth before beginning. In this tragedy, Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus the former king of Thebes who brought about his own destruction by unknowingly killing his father and marrying his mother Jocasta. After Oedipus’ self-blinding, exile, and death, his two sons (and Antigone’s two brothers), Eteokles and Polyneikes, end up quarreling for control over Thebes. War ensues when Polyneikes and six other heroes attack the seven gates of the city (the mythical “Seven Against Thebes”). In a final military confrontation, the brothers kill each other. Antigone’s uncle Creon takes control of the city and decrees that Eteokles should be given the funeral of a hero, while Polyneikes must be left unmourned and unburied. Anyone who defies this edict faces death. The tragedy begins here.
Some brief explanations about other myths cited in this texts will be offered in a forthcoming appendix. Readers seeking additional information about the myth of Antigone will find valuable resources on the Perseus Digital Library and on theoi.com. But overall, we believe that the best introduction to ancient Greek poetry and myth is the poetry itself. For an accessible and general introduction to ancient Greek tragedy and poetics, we refer readers to Gregory Nagy’s introduction in the Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours.
This edition of Sophocles’ Antigone has been prepared by members of the Hour 25 community to match and complement the Sourcebook of Primary Texts in Translation as used in HeroesX. Our base text for this was a Gregory Nagy revision of a Richard Jebb translation that is in the public domain and available on Perseus. To this text, we added tags with transliterations of key Greek terms in context. See the Core Vocbulary and forthcoming Supplementary Vocab lists for additional information about these terms and our approach. We have at times revised the translation slightly to enhance clarity and understanding of the core vocabulary and key passages. This is a work in progress and we share our current progress knowing that this project will continue to evolve over time.
If you are moved, confused, or inspired by what you read here, we invite you to join our ongoing conversations in the Forum.
In the spirit of Nietzsche’s description of philology, may you read slowly, with delicate fingers and eyes, looking cautiously before and aft, and with many doors left open.
-The Antigone Team
To read this play online at the Center for Hellenic Studies website, please visit https://chs.harvard.edu/primary-source/sophocles-antigone/, and to download a PDF, please visit the Kosmos Society Text Library: Antigone.