Antigone picks up where Oedipus at Colonus leaves off. Oedipus has just passed away in Colonus, and Antigone and her sister decide to return to Thebes with the intention of helping their brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, avoid a prophecy that predicts they will kill each other in a battle for the throne of Thebes.
Upon her arrival in Thebes, Antigone learns that both of her brothers are dead. Eteocles has been given a proper burial, but Creon, Antigone's uncle who has inherited the throne, has issued a royal edict banning the burial of Polyneices, who he believes was a traitor. Antigone defies the law, buries her brother, and is caught. When Creon locks her away in prison, she kills herself.
Meanwhile, not realizing Antigone has taken her own life, the blind prophet Teiresias, Creon's son and Antigone's fiancé Haemon, and the Chorus plead with Creon to release her. Creon finally relents, but in an instance of too-late-timing, finds her dead in her jail cell. Out of despair, Haemon and Creon’s wife have by now also killed themselves, and Creon is left in distress and sorrow.
- At the end of Oedipus at Colonus, Oedipus has passed away. Antigone, knowing that her brothers are waging war against each other in a battle for the throne of Thebes, decides to return to Thebes in order to prevent them from killing each other.
- When Antigone arrives in Thebes, she and her sister Ismene talk outside the palace gate, where we learn that their brothers, Polyneices and Eteocles, have indeed killed each other.
- Antigone is disturbed because Creon, who is now ruling, has ordered that Eteocles be buried with the formal rites, but that Polyneices be left unburied and unmourned.
- Anyone who buries Polyneices will be punished by death. That’s what we call a "deterrent."
- Antigone intends to defy the law to bury her brother according to the wishes of the gods. She asks if Ismene will help her.
- Ismene says she can’t bring herself to do it. She feels that her family’s consistently terrible luck and the fact that she’s a woman are quite inhibiting.
- Antigone says she’s willing to do it alone, and wouldn’t mind dying in order to secure Polyneices's rightful burial.
- Ismene warns Antigone against fighting The Man. She thinks it’s a losing battle.
- The Chorus explains the battle that transpired between Polyneices and Eteocles, with lots of useless details like who stuck whose sword where.
- Creon arrives and announces to a gathering that, whereas Eteocles behaved honorably in defending the city, Polyneices was a dishonorable exile. He offers this as an explanation for why Eteocles gets buried but Polyneices is left out for the birds.
- A sentry arrives. He’s scared out of his mind at being the messenger of bad news, because sometimes these royal types can get quite aggressive.
- He still does his job and reveals to Creon that Polyneices’s body has been ritually prepared.
- The Chorus chimes in that perhaps the burial was the will of the gods.
- Creon angrily responds that Polyneices spited the gods with his actions. Creon suspects that someone got paid off to break the law this way.
- Creon demands that the sentry discover who did it. He then threatens the poor sentry with death if he can’t figure it out. Now we understand why the messenger was so scared about five minutes ago.
- The Chorus remarks on the strength and resilience of mankind. Really? Because we were remarking on how unfair the sentry’s lot in life is.
- The sentry returns with Antigone in tow and announces that she was discovered burying Polyneices.
- Antigone does not deny that she committed the crime. (Go principles!) She explains that while she knew it was against Creon’s edict, her actions were in line with her obligations to justice and the gods.
- The Chorus accuses Antigone of being inclined to trouble – just like her father.
- Creon says that he resents Antigone’s moralizing and then vows to execute her. He summons Ismene, who he assumes is also involved.
- Creon attempts to shame Antigone for what he sees as her radical views. However, she remains determined and unshaken (also like her father).
- Antigone’s general stubbornness forces Creon into an argument over whether Polyneices deserved the same burial as his brother.
- Ismene enters the room. She is questioned and says that she is guilty of having aided Antigone in the burial. (Go principles, again. Well, maybe.)
- Antigone insists that her sister not confess to a crime she didn’t do. Ismene counters that she could not go on living without Antigone. (Go sisters.)
- It is revealed that Antigone is engaged to marry Creon’s son, Haemon. Haemon apparently has some back up future wives in the wings or, as Creon says, he has "other fields to plow" (!). In short, his bed won’t be lonely if Antigone dies.
- The Chorus laments life’s sufferings. OK, NOW we’re on the same page.
- Haemon arrives. He informs his father Creon that he will honor and obey whatever Creon decides about Antigone, which is either honorable (for respecting his father) or despicable (for letting his fiancée die).
- Creon lectures Haemon about the critical importance of the law and obedience. Haemon is like, "Come on, Dad."
- Creon feels it’s particularly important not to be beaten by a person of the female persuasion.
- Haemon responds that while he does not question his father’s wisdom, he sees the city mourning Antigone’s suffering, not to mention living in terror of Creon’s wrath (think about the sentry). Haemon advises Creon to pay attention to popular sentiment and to be open to the advice of others.
- As the argument escalates, Haemon tells Creon he’s insane and Creon tells Haemon he’s a woman’s slave. Ouch.
- Since there’s no one around to put them in the time-out corner, they end things themselves.
- Haemon storms out, and Creon goes back to thinking about how to punish Antigone.
- The Chorus, apparently having given up on Antigone, tries to dissuade Creon from punishing Ismene, who clearly did not participate in Polyneices's burial.
- Antigone utters a cryptic line about marrying death. Yikes.
- As the Chorus muses, Teiresias (the blind prophet) arrives to speak with Creon.
- Teiresias advises Creon not to leave Polyneices unburied or to kill Antigone. Good old Teiresias.
- Creon scoffs at his advice and accuses Teiresias of seeking personal profit. This is sounding mighty familiar.
- Teiresias remarks that no one seems able to listen and hear good advice.
- Teiresias warns that Creon’s unwillingness to bury Polyneices and permit Antigone to live will anger the gods and be reciprocated by his own death. Uh-oh.
- Teiresias leaves and the Chorus reminds Creon that he is never wrong. That is, Teiresias is never wrong. Please, Creon is wrong all the time.
- Creon grapples with his choices. At the Chorus’s urging, he decides to release Antigone (yay) and see to Polyneices’s burial (yay again).
- A messenger arrives and announces that Haemon has killed himself out of anger and despair at his father.
- Creon’s wife, Eurydice, arrives and asks what’s going on.
- The messenger recounts the series of events. Antigone hanged herself, and finding her there dead, Haemon attempted to strike his father with his sword. He missed, and then took his own life.
- Creon arrives, desperately regretting his mistake.
- A second messenger enters and informs the royal gang that more tragedy has struck.
- Eurydice, in despair over her lost son and enraged with Creon, took her own life.
- In despair and fear of his own death, Creon asks…to be killed? No. For pins to gouge out his eyes? No, not that either. He asks to be led off stage. Not really what we were expecting, but OK.
Fate and free will
A central theme of Antigone is the tension between individual action and fate. While free choices, such as Antigone’s decision to defy Creon’s edict, are significant, fate is responsible for many of the most critical and devastating events of the trilogy. By elevating the importance of fate, Sophocles suggests that characters cannot be fully responsible for their actions. It becomes difficult, for example, to blame Oedipus for marrying mother given his ignorance.
I know it too, and it perplexes me.
To yield is grievous, but the obstinate soul
That fights with Fate, is smitten grievously. (1095-1099)
Although Creon wants to resist, he knows better than to fight fate. He has learned from Oedipus’s mistakes.
Rules and order
Antigonecontrasts two types of law and justice: divine or religious law on one hand, and the law of men and states on the other. Because of the centrality of fate and the rule of the gods in the lives of the main characters of the play, religious rites and traditions are elevated to the status of law. While questions of law and justice play a role in all three plays of theOedipustrilogy, they are most prominent inAntigone, in which Antigone’s standards of divine justice clash with Creon’s will as the head of state.
If he honors the laws of the land, and reveres the Gods of the State
Proudly his city shall stand; but a cityless outcast I rate
The Chorus explains that it is essential to honor both the laws of the land and of the gods.
Determination is a nearly universal character trait amongst the cast ofAntigone. Despite the important role of fate in the lives of the characters, Creon, Antigone, Ismene, and Polyneices are all driven, at times stubbornly, to pursue their goals. Determination in the play is linked to hubris and proves less an asset than a flaw to the characters that possess it.
But by the dead commended; and with them
I shall abide for ever. As for thee,
Scorn, if thou wilt, the eternal laws of Heaven. (69-76)
Antigone’s enthusiastic determination to risk her life in order to bury her brother is suicidal in nature.
Power both corrupts and metaphorically blinds characters in Antigone. The clearest example of power is King Creon of Thebes, who is arrogant, unperceptive, and downright mean to people around him.
Not even death can make a foe a friend.
My nature is for mutual love, not hate.
Die then, and love the dead if thou must;
No woman shall be the master while I live. (522-524)
Creon’s power has made him arrogant and cold.
Women and society
Antigone explores a contrast between the behavior expected of women and the reality of their role in society. Creon expects men to be the primary actors in society and women to take a secondary and subservient role. Opinionated Antigone challenges these notions as she takes center stage and presents formidable challenges to the men around her.
Die then, and love the dead if thou must;
No woman shall be the master while I live. (522-524)
Creon reveals that his reasoning is based on sexism, not on rationality.
Self-injury and suicide are almost universally prevalent among the main characters in the Oedipus trilogy, and particularly in Antigone. Antigone, Haemon, and Eurydice each commit suicide; Polyneices and Eteocles willingly take actions that result in their deaths. The frequency of suicide and death more broadly suggest that in the context of the plays, life is tenuous, and that taking one’s own life is an acceptable, if tragic, way of dying. Furthermore, self-injury and suicide seem to be the only ways in which characters in Antigone are able to influence their destinies.
Hearing the loud lament above her son
With her own hand she stabbed herself to the heart. (1316-1317)
Eurydice’s death strangely parallels Jocasta’s suicide, which was in response to the metaphorical death of her perception of Oedipus.
Antigone is a no-nonsense kind of woman. She first appears at the end of Oedipus the King as a little girl. Sophocles doesn't give her any lines, but her presence seems to be symbolic of the legacy of shame caused by Oedipus's horrific mistakes. Oedipus laments the life of humiliation that his daughters will have to lead. Ironically, he also gets Creon to promise to take care of his daughters. (So much for promises.)
Oedipus at Colonus is also graced with Antigone's presence. In this play, we see that she's become her father’s devoted companion in exile. Once Oedipus dies, Antigone has to find someone else to be blindly loyal to (pun intended). So, she heads back to Thebes where she can support her brothers, Polyneices and Eteocles.
In Antigone Antigone gets promoted to protagonist. It's not a job we would want; Sophocles' protagonists always fall and fall hard. They don't call them tragic heroines for nothing. Antigone's fate seems to be sealed even from the prologue. We learn that her brothers have killed each other in a war over their father's throne. Creon, the new king, declares that the body of Eteocles will be honored, but that Polyneices's corpse will be left to rot. Anyone who attempts to bury Polyneices will be executed.
Antigone's fierce devotion is once more on full display when she declares that she'll bury Polyneices despite Creon's law. It is this rebellious act and Antigone's determined loyalty to the memory of her brother that forms the spine of the play. Her stubborn loyalty becomes her hamartia, her tragic error, and ultimately causes her downfall. Antigone is a great example of how a hamartia doesn't necessarily have to be a character "flaw" as it is often described. Most people would call loyalty an admirable trait. Antigone's devotion is so extreme, however, that it brings tragedy once more to Thebes.
You probably noticed that "loyalty" is a big word when it comes to Antigone. Family devotion especially is a big thing. She sacrifices her own life in the name of it. Her determination is so strong that her character becomes symbolic of family loyalty or blood ties. When we see her clash with King Creon, it's almost as if Sophocles is asking: "Who do we owe more loyalty to? The government or our families?" It's not a hard question for Antigone to answer, but it might not be as clear cut as you think.
Imagine if you will: a top American general has allied himself with terrorists and attacked the U.S., killing millions. The general died in the battle and the U.S. government has declared that anyone attempting to bury him will be put to death. What would you do if this general was one of your family members? Risk life and limb just because you were related? Even if you were really close to the person, would you go against the government's wishes?
Loyalty to the Gods
Antigone's other big thing is her fierce loyalty to the gods. Their divine laws are what she holds most sacred. She couldn't give a flip about laws of man, as represented by Creon. When these two willful characters collide, the clash isn't just symbolic of government vs. family; it's also symbolic of man vs. the gods.
Throughout the play there are signs in the natural world that the gods are on the side of Antigone. For one, there are no footprints left beside the body when Antigone first puts dust on Polyneices. It's as if the earth itself is attempting to aid Antigone in her "crime." When the Sentry reports this strange phenomenon, the Chorus asks Creon if it might be the gods' work. The King dismisses the idea, saying the gods wouldn't want to help out somebody as terrible as Polyneices. (Boy, is Creon wrong.)
We also see divine support for Antigone, when the storm rages outside of Thebes. The Sentry and friends go back to Polyneices's body and wipe away the soil that Antigone sprinkled there. No sooner do they do this than the dust erupts from the earth and blots out the sky. In the center of the storm stands Antigone, wailing for the gods to destroy whoever has re-desecrated Polyneices's body. Seems like a pretty clear sign that Creon had better watch his back.
Antigone's divine symbolism is also seen when she is dragged before Creon just after the Chorus's famous "Ode to Man." There's more on this in the Chorus's "Character Analysis," but basically the Chorus has just gotten done singing a song about how awesome man is for conquering nature and how no one should step to our mighty laws. As soon as they're done singing, Antigone is hauled in. It's almost as if Antigone is the gods' answer to the Chorus's overweening pride. She is like a Fury, the gods' tool for revenge.
Antigone is also a symbol of feminine revolt. She's nowhere near as radical as Euripides' Medea, who assassinates the royal family and murders her own children in the name of women. However, Antigone sacrifices her own life, trying to stand up to the patriarchal society in which she's imprisoned. You can look at Antigone's clash with Creon as symbolic of the larger struggle of man vs. woman.
Ismene warns Antigone in the prologue that they are just weak women and can't stand up to the men-folk. Antigone proceeds anyway. When Antigone argues that her actions were justified by her loyalty to her family and to the gods, Creon dismisses her as an overemotional woman. Antigone barely gives this notion the time of day, and stands before her accuser unrepentant.
It's interesting that though Antigone is definitely a feminist symbol, she's spent her life being dutiful to men. Her childhood was spent following Oedipus around. Now she's giving her life for her fallen brother. We wonder if, even though she's a strong independent woman, she needs these male presences for emotional sustenance. We also notice how cold she is with her sister Ismene. Could it be that Antigone is a woman-hating woman? Maybe, maybe not. What's your take?
Why is Antigone so fearless? Interestingly, she seems empowered by her feeling that she’ll be cursed no matter what. Basically, Antigone has nothing to lose. This ship is going down. At times, she even expresses a seeming fervor to die. As she's led to her tomb, she characterizes Death, not Haemon, as her future husband. She describes her tomb as a bridal chamber. Though she also expresses fear, she definitely seems to be a little in love with death. Perhaps, it's because she's been around such tragedy all her life. Maybe, she's weary of her cursed, obligation-ridden life and just wants to return to her father and brothers. What do you think?
Antagonist Not Villain
Creon shows up in all three of Sophocles' Theban plays. He goes through quite a transformation over the course of the story. In Oedipus the King, he seems like a totally rational guy. His cool reason highlights Oedipus's hot temper. In Oedipus at Colonus he becomes the full-fledged smooth-talker he had in him all along. He attempts to sugarcoat his plea for Oedipus to return to Thebes, and could be seen as cowardly and weak when he kidnaps Oedipus’s daughters.
By the time Antigone rolls around, Creon, the play's antagonist, has become an absolute tyrant. His hyper-logical mind refuses to recognize the bonds of familial love that tie Antigone to her brother Polyneices. He rejects the irrational laws of the gods in favor the rational laws of man. It's interesting that the cool reason that seemed like such a good thing in Oedipus the King now causes his downfall. Hmm, we detect the distinct scent of Sophocles' favorite dish: tragic irony.
One of the things that sets great tragedy apart from mere melodrama is that all the characters ultimately have good intentions. The plays become tragically ironic when these good intentions bring misery and horror for all. Though, it's easy to pigeon-hole Creon as a big mean man, persecuting his brave, innocent niece, it's just not that simple. In great tragedy, there are antagonists (like Creon) but there are rarely villains.
The first thing Creon does in Antigone is declare a harsh but understandable law. He proclaims that while the body of Eteocles will be buried with dignity, the corpse of Polyneices will be left to rot on the field of battle. Anyone who attempts to honor Polyneices's body with burial will be sentenced to death. Sure, it's not the nicest law, but think about this: Polyneices is a traitor. He allied with other city-states and attacked his hometown. He nearly brought on the whole sale destruction of Thebes.
Of course, Polyneices only led this attack because his brother Eteocles refused to share the throne as they had agreed. Still, many Thebans have lost fathers, brothers, and sons, because of Polyneices's assault. In the paradosthe Chorus expresses anger at Polyneices and joy over his defeat, showing that the people of Thebes are none too pleased with his actions. The people, represented by the Chorus, seem to support Creon's decree.
Here's a hypothetical, similar to the one we pose in Antigone's "Character Analysis": what would happen today if one of America's top generals allied himself with terrorists and led an attack on the U.S.? If such a person died in the battle would they be buried with full honors in Arlington? The president would have a really hard time justifying such an action. Sure the body would be allowed burial somewhere, but still (just as in ancient Thebes) the traitorous soldier's remains would most likely be in some way symbolically dishonored.
Obstinate or Steadfast?
Though Creon's first law as king isn't totally unreasonable, it does turn out to be a really, REALLY bad idea. Creon makes matters worse by refusing to relent in the face of mounting opposition. His tenacious allegiance to the laws of state turns out to be his hamartia, a word commonly referred to as tragic flaw, but more accurately translated as tragic error.
It's interesting that we see him behaving much the way Oedipus does in Oedipus the King. Ironically, Creon starts accusing everybody of conspiracy, just the way Oedipus accused him. Also like Oedipus, he disbelieves the words of the blind prophet Teiresias. When the seer predicts that Creon's course of action will result in the death of Creon's whole family, the paranoid king accuses the seer of having been bribed.
Once again, though, what seems to be a flaw is also in some ways a virtue. Creon's fierce dedication to law and order seems to be exactly what Thebes needs. The city is just coming back together from a state of total anarchy. The people need a strong and steadfast leader to bring them together. How's it going to look if Creon goes against the very first law he makes? Creon's concern for his public image is certainly in some ways self-motivated. He doesn't want to get punked down, especially by a woman. However, this seemingly selfish worry also comes out of a concern for his people. A wishy-washy leader can be a very dangerous thing in a time of crisis. If Creon appears to be weak the whole city could descend back into chaos.
Also notice that Creon isn't totally dogmatic about his decree. Slowly, over the course of the play he becomes less and less extreme. First he relents on having Ismene executed along with her sister. Next he has Antigone entombed instead of outright executed. In the end, he is ultimately convinced by Teiresias's prediction and goes to release Antigone. Unfortunately, he's a little too late. Before he can stop it, his niece, his son, and his wife have all committed suicide. At the play's conclusion, Creon's downfall becomes symbolic of the tragedies that occur when the laws of man attempt to compete with the ancient laws of the gods.
Though he's blind, he can see better than any of those around him. He's in tune with the mind of Apollo and receives visions of the future. Teiresias is also gifted in the magic art of augury, or telling the future from the behavior of birds In Oedipus the King, Jocasta and Oedipus are both skeptical of his prophecies.
Oedipus even goes so far as to accuse Teiresias of conspiring against him with Creon. When Teiresias shambles on stage in Antigone, he once again gets accused of being a traitor. Ironically this time it's Creon that accuses the prophet, saying that Teiresias must have been bribed.
Creon just can't accept it when Teiresias tells him that nature itself is rebelling against Creon's double sacrilege. The gods of the heavens and the earth are angered by the fact that he has kept a dead man from being rightfully buried and has entombed a living girl.
Creon's obstinately rational mind can't accept Teiresias's irrational argument. The conflict between the king and the prophet echoes the conflict between Creon and Antigone. Once again we see the laws of man butting heads with the ancient laws of the gods.
When Creon refuses to give in, Teiresias drops the knowledge that Creon's own family will die as a result of his blasphemous actions. Before Creon can reply to news of this dark prophecy, Teiresias exits the stage.
If the seer had stuck around he would've seen that his words do in fact move Creon. Along with the urging of the Chorus, Creon quickly runs off to try and avert oncoming tragedy.
Ismene is Antigone Lite. She first puts in an appearance along with her sister at the end of Oedipus the King. Both girls seem to be symbolic of the legacy of shame left by Oedipus's mistakes. InOedipus at Colonus, Ismene shows great loyalty to her father when she alerts him to the situation with Creon. She shows devotion once more when she returns with Antigone to Thebes. In Antigone, however, we see that Ismene's loyalty only extends so far. Though she agrees morally with Antigone’s decision to bury Polyneices, she is afraid to risk her own life.
Like her sister, Ismene seems to value family ties and the laws of the gods over the laws of man. However, she's just not gutsy enough to stand up for her beliefs. The courage to stand beside her sister does eventually come to Ismene. When Creon arrests both daughters of Oedipus, Ismene asks that she be executed alongside Antigone. Antigone, however, scorns Ismene's belated attempt at righteousness. At the urging of the Chorus, Creon eventually relents on executing Ismene. The girl ends the play with her life intact, but her self-worth in shreds.
Before we close the book on Ismene, we'd just like to recognize that the strong will that her sister is often praised for is also the thing that causes three suicides. If Antigone were a bit more like her sister, this wouldn't be a tragedy at all.
Ismene's argument at the beginning of the play is that their family has suffered enough. What's the point of bringing more sorrow? Antigone and Ismene have had to live with the stigma Oedipus's horrific mistakes their whole lives.
To top it all off, their two beloved brothers have just murdered each other. We can see Ismene's point. Is Ismene really that bad for just wanting to finally live in peace?
The Function of the Chorus
The Chorus is roughly like the peanut-gallery. In Antigone the Chorus is made up of a group of old Theban men. They're probably old men because most of the young ones have just died in battle. Also, they represent in some way the deeply embedded patriarchal (male dominated) society that Antigone defies.
In Antigone the Chorus at times directly affects the action of the play. Though they at first seem to be totally on the side of their new king Creon, they begin to urge him to be more moderate. It's at their pleading that Creon decides not to sentence Ismene to death along with her sister. The old men of Thebes also practically insist that Creon take Teiresias's advice and free Antigone. Creon, of course, finally agrees to do this, but unfortunately it's far too late.
The chorus (2)
The main functions of the Chorus are to comment on the action of the play, give back story, and to connect the play to other myths. Sophocles also uses the Chorus to expound upon the play's central themes. In Antigone we get choral odes on everything from the triumph of man over nature, to the dangers of pride, to the hazards of love.
As in every ancient Greek tragedy, the first time we hear the Chorus is when they sing their parados or entry song. Parados looks a little bit like the modern word "parade," right? This is probably no accident. When the Chorus performed the parados they would "parade" in, singing and dancing with much fanfare. The actual word "parados" comes from the name of the corridor or archway through which the Chorus first entered.
The chorus (3)
In Antigone, Sophocles uses the parados to give back-story. The Chorus sings all about the terrible battle that has just been fought. We also get the sense that the people of Thebes are furious at Polyneices for betraying and attacking them. This helps to strengthen Creon's position about the traitor's burial.
Overall, the parados in Antigone is a joyful celebration of victory. This is, of course, highly ironic. The audience has just watched the prologue, in which Antigone declares her intentions to defy the state. Though Thebes has just defeated an external enemy, the new order represented by Creon will be challenged almost immediately by an enemy from within.
The Chorus (4)
"Ode to Man"
The next time we hear the Chorus is the First Ode. This little ditty just happens to be the most famous choral ode in all of Greek tragedy. It is popularly referred to as the "Ode to Man." In this celebrated ode the Chorus sings about all the wonderful accomplishments of man. The word "wonderful" in Greek is deinon. It can also describe something that is terrible. In a way, the word means both wonderful and terrible at the same time. But how could all of man's accomplishments be both of those things at once?
Let's take a look at the achievements that the Chorus lists. Humanity has: built ships to conquer the seas, crafted plows to tame the earth, bent animals to his will, raised houses to defeat the rain and the snow. Do you notice a common thread here? Nearly everything is about humanity asserting its will over nature. This echoes the basic conflict of the play.
The chorus (5)
Creon represents the state or man-made civilization. Antigone represents the primal will of the gods, a.k.a. nature. The storm outside of Thebes and the auguries of Teiresias hint that nature is offended by Creon's actions and stands on the side of Antigone. When all of Creon's family members kill themselves by the end of the play, it's as if nature itself is taking payment for his sacrilege. In a way, all of man's accomplishments could be seen as being just as terrible as they are wonderful. Each time we take a step forward, we separate ourselves father from the place that we began.
The Chorus ends the "Ode to Man" by praising the laws of the city. They disdain anybody who would want to bring anarchy back to Thebes. After the ode concludes, it takes Sophocles about two seconds to lather on the irony. Who should show up in chains just as soon as Chorus gets done talking junk about anarchists? Why it's Antigone – everyone's favorite protagonist and anarchist extraordinaire. When Antigone appears just as the "Ode to Man" concludes it's almost as if she's the god's answer to the great hubris (pride) shown in the Chorus's song.
Sophocles uses the second choral ode to relate the tragic history of Oedipus's family. This ode complements the scene before in which Ismene attempts to go to her death along with her sister Antigone. In the third choral ode the Chorus sings of the hazards of love. This is a comment on the previous scene where Haimon begs for the life of his beloved Antigone. The fourth ode gives the audience some trivia about other mythic figures who've been entombed. The tone of the terrible tales in this ode seem to show that Chorus is beginning to really pity Antigone. By the end of the play the Chorus has totally changed their tune. These same old men who were previously celebrating man's mastery over nature are humbled in the face of the gods.
Like most all ancient Greek tragedians, Sophocles divides his choral odes into strophe and antistrophe. Both sections had the same number of lines and metrical pattern. In Greek, strophe means "turn," and antistrophe means "turn back." This makes sense when you consider the fact that, during the strophe choruses danced from right to left and during the antistrophe they did the opposite. Sophocles may have split them into two groups, so that it was as if one part of the Chorus was conversing with the other. Perhaps the dualities created by strophe and antistrophe, represent the endless irresolvable debates for which Greek tragedy is famous.
Much of the symbolism in Antigone lies in the characters themselves. Antigone and Creon represent a number of opposing forces: male vs. female, family ties vs. civic duty, man vs. nature, and man's laws vs. the laws of the gods. Also, there's the blind prophet Teiresias who could be seen as representing the will of the gods
The symbolic paradox of Creon's double blasphemy, shows just how far from sensible Creon's hubris has taken him.
Also, Antigone's fearless march to her own entombment and talk of being a bride to death suggests that she feels closer to her dead family members than to the living. She seems to have no problem at all leaving behind her sister Ismene and her fiancé Haemon, but talks of how swell it will be to reunite with Oedipus and her brothers in death. When Antigone takes her own life inside her tomb, it could be seen as symbolic of the fact that she's found the tragic fate she always knew awaited her.
For one, there's lots of talk of carrion birds making a buffet of Polyneices. The Chorus also describes Polyneices himself as a bird, a big mean eagle wreaking havoc on Thebes. This description seems to heighten the idea of Polyneices as fearful aggressor against his home town. The Chorus even goes so far as to describe Polyneices the eagle as feasting on their blood. This becomes pretty ironic when the birds are feasting on him.
Another instance of avian imagery is when the Sentry describes Antigone as hovering over Poyneices's body like a mother bird. Here the bird reference seems to strengthen Antigone's symbolism as both a maternal figure as well as representative of the ancient force of nature.
The biggest bit of bird symbolism comes from Teiresias. This is not a surprise, since the prophet is skilled in the magic art of augury or telling the future from the behavior of birds. The seer tells King Creon all about how the birds are fighting each other, which symbolizes the horrible imbalance the King has created in nature. All this foul bird imagery (pun intended!) seems to symbolize the corruption that Creon has caused by not burying Polyneices.