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The First Kommos of Sophocles' Antigone (806-882)

  • A. S. McDevitt (a1)


One of the most valuable keys to an interpretation of the Antigone lies in a proper understanding of the role of the Chorus, and this in turn depends on a close attention to its characterization, its personality, attitudes and feelings, its relationship to the principal characters, the way in which it is involved in and affected by the actions of those characters, and how it responds to their actions. Any overall view of the play must take account of these matters, not only in order to appreciate the many dramatic effects which are created by, for example, the ironic tension between what the Chorus believes and the words in which it expresses that belief, but also hecause the handling of the Chorus and its responses to the action may direct our attention to a more adequate and satisfactory interpretation of the play.



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1. The Dramatic Integration of the Chorus in Oedipus Tyrannus’, CM 30 (1969), 78–101; see esp. 98f.

2. The idea was initiated in modern scholarship by I. Errandonea. See El coro como elemento integrante en la tragedia de Sofocles’, Emerita 10 (1942), 28–65; La constancia personal del coro sofocleo en sus siete tragedias’, Helmantica 7 (1956), 401–425, and his many articles on individual plays. (Although his approach was sound, many of Errandonea’s conclusions unfortunately seem to me perverse.) See also G. M.|Kirkwood, ‘The Dramatic Role of the Chorus in Sophocles’, Phoenix 8 (1954), 1–22, and A Study of Sophoclean Drama (Ithaca, N.Y. 1958), ch. 4; also McDevitt, A., ‘Sophocles’ Praise of Man in the Antigone’, Ramus I (1972), 152–164, and, most recently, Burton, R. W. B., ‘The Chorus in Sophocles’ Tragedies’ (Oxford 1980). The idea is implicit also in the approach of many other recent editors and commentators, e.g. Müller, G., Sophokles’ Antigone (Heidelberg 1967); id. ‘Chor und Handlung bei den gr. Tragikern’, in Sophokles (WdF 95), 212f., and Kamerbeek, J. C., The Plays of Sophocles, Pt. 3, Antigone (Leiden 1978).

3. The Parodos celebrated the divine protection of Thebes, while the first Stasimon virtually equated divine and human (i.e. Creon’s) laws. (Cf. the key phrase: nomous chthonos theōn t’ enorkon dikan, ‘the laws of the land and the justice of the gods sworn to on oath’, 368f.). Thus any assault upon the sovereignty of Thebes or Creon’s laws is tantamount to a hybristic attack on divinely sanctioned authority. For fuller argument on this point, see my article in Ramus (note 2, above); also Ronnet, G., Sophocle, Poete Tragique (Paris 1969), 147f. Cf. also Stasimon 2, where the Choruṡ speaks of the power of Zeus and huperbasia (‘transgression’) in oblique allusion to Antigone.

4. E.g. Müller, Ronnet, and Burton (notes 2 and 3 above).

5. Schwinge, So, ‘Die Rolle des Chors in Antigone’, Gymnasium 78 (1971), 294–321; Kamerbeek (n. 2 above), esp. pp. 24 and 168.

6. Coleman, R., ‘The Role of the Chorus in Sophocles’ Antigone’, PCPS n.s. 18 (1972), 4–27.

7. Cf. also korēs numpheion Haidou (‘the maiden’s bridal-chamber in Hades’, 1204f.).

8. Knox, B. M. W., The Heroic Temper (Berkeley and Los Angeles 1964), 176–77, n. 8, and Kamerbeek (n. 2 above), ad 817–22, believe that, given the tenor of Antigone’s previous lament, an offer of praise introduced by ‘therefore’ is inappropriate. Knox argues also, pointing to the present tense echousa that Antigone cannot rightly be described as ‘having glory and praise’, since at that present moment she clearly does not have these things. He would therefore emend the text, changing oukoûn to oúkoun which of course imposes a negative meaning on the sentence, i.e.: ‘without glory and praise you go to your death’. But this interpretation provides only the most tenuous connection between this response of the Chorus and Antigone’s preceding lament; besides, the passage loses impact, since the ‘living death’ to which the Chorus refers here in 821f. ceases to be climactic and becomes rather merely an unfortunate circumstance which has prevented Antigone from having a proper burial and the eulogy which goes with it. Finally, Knox is surely wrong in emphasizing the present tense meaning of echousa (‘having’, 817), since the future sense of katabēsēi(‘you will go down’, 822) allows the sense of the whole passage to be extended into the future. See also Linforth, I. M.: ‘Antigone and Creon’, UCPCP 15 (1961), 183–259, esp. 222; Winnington-lngram, R. P., Sophocles; An Interpretation (Cambridge 1980), 139, n. 63, and Burton (n. 2 above), 118f.

9. So Burton (n. 2 above), 119: Knox (n. 8 above), 66–67; Kamerbeek (n. 2 above), ad 821 f.

10. Cf. note 3 above.

11. The text is uncertain, but a reference to Antigone’s ambiguous status, neither properly alive nor properly dead, is clearly intended.

12. As marriage is an affirmation of life, Antigone’s words Acheronti numpheusō (‘I shall be the bride of Acheron’, 816) belong here also. It may be noted in passing that the significance of the living death motif extends beyond the Niobe parallel discussed here; it becomes part of the total ironic inversion which overtakes Creon. Having made Antigone the bride of Hades, and consigned her to a living death, Creon himself becomes empsuchos nekros (‘a living corpse’, 1167).

13. For sources for the Niobe story see Roscher, Lexicon der Mythologie, s.v. Niobe u. die Niobiden. The point of departure for the comparison is of course the similarity between the petrifaction of Niobe and the rock-cut tomb in which Antigone will be immured. Perhaps also the story came the more readily to mind because Niobe, married to Amphion, was queen of Thebes, but the symbolic value of the story is what is important.

14. I follow Pearson (OCT) in reading ombroi in 828, chiēn t’ in 830, and teggei d’ in 831. Cf. Jebb on 828f. Kamerbeek (n. 2 above), however, ad loc. argues reasonably for ombrōi and teggei th’.

15. Ophrus and deiras may be used either of mountains or of the human body, as Jebb points out in his note on 831, so that the sense ‘it (i.e. the rain and snow) wets the ridges below the streaming crags’, may be included.

16. For this use of the Niobe-exemplum, cf. Electro 150–52.’ See also Whitman, C. H., Sophocles (Cambridge, Mass. 1951), 94, and Kamerbeek (n. 2 above), p. 150.

17. So Knox (n. 8 above), 66, and Burton (n. 2 above), 119.

18. The text I have used here is that of Pearson (OCT), who follows Seyffert.

19. There are other implications in Antigone’s use of the exemplum besides these. Thus she is laying claim to a kind of immortality analogous to Niobe’s; she also identifies herself with the realm of wild nature as opposed to civilization, thus calling attention to one of the major polarities in which the conflicts of this play are expressed. For further discussion of these points, see Segal, C. P.: ‘Sophocles’ Praise of Man and the Conflicts of the Antigone’, Arion 3.2 (1964), 46–66, and the same author’s Sophocles’ Antigone, The House and the Cave’, Riv. di Cultura Class. e Med. (1978), 1171–1188; also Knox (n. 8 above), 66.

20. Cf. note 3, above.

21. The ancient sources disagree as to the number of her children, but they agree that there were many. Homer speaks of 12 (Iliad 24.603), Hesiod 20 (Apoll. 3,5,6) or 19 (Ael. 12,36); Sappho and Alcman are alleged to have mentioned 18 and 10 respectively.

22. Young, David C., Pindar, Isthmian 7, Myth and Exempla (Leiden 1971) Mnem. Suppl. 15; see esp. 20ff. and 40ff. I have replaced Young’s references to Tyrtaeus and Callinus with the numeration of West’s, M. L. more recent edition. Iambi et Elegi Graeci, (Oxford 1972) Vol. II. West (171ff.) has a useful comparatio numerorum with previous editions.

23. For further examples of the topoi see Young (n. 22 above), he. cit., and his appendix.

24. On the equation of martial and athletic endeavour, see Young (n. 22 above), 39f. and 41.

25. That there is this value in the words should finally lay to rest objections to the text, particularly those of earlier editors who felt obliged to emend or even omit 838. See Jebb’s Appendix, on 836–38.

26. Cf. note 11, above.

27. Lesley’s, interpretation, ‘supplex procubuisti’ (‘you fell down in supplication before …’), Hermes 80 (1952), 92–94, should be rejected, largely because it is inappropriate to the sense of 853. See Burton (n. 2 above), 121 f.; also Linforth (n. 8 above), 223, n. 32, and Goheen, R. F., The Imagery of Sophocles’ Antigone (Princeton 1951), 73f.

28. Tina, ‘an ordeal’, is a feeble attempt to soften the harshness of this judgement.

29. Phrenōn Erinus here describes the blinding which leads to sin — the infatuation, or clouding of the mind, by a spirit charged with the working out of the curse.

30. The expression probably includes allusion to the power of Creon, for at this stage the Chorus still identifies divine and temporal kratos. For Creon’s rule as kratos (rather than archē) see Goheen (n. 27 above), 73, and 147f., note 45.

The First Kommos of Sophocles' Antigone (806-882)

  • A. S. McDevitt (a1)


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