Meaning And Symbolism Of Odes In Sophocles Play Antigone

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

Antigone is a tragic play written by Greek playwright Sophocles in the year 441 BCE. Following the first of three Theban plays, conflict begins as Oedipus’ sons Eteocles and Polyneices die fighting for kingship of Thebes. Their successor Creon is angry at Polyneices for being on the opposing side and forbids the burial of him. However, his sister Antigone buries him anyways and is condemned to death.

In between these eventful scenes, there are Odes which are lyric poems that mostly encompass a person, place, thing, or idea. Through Sophocles’ advanced word choice and phrasing of the odes, or in other words, diction and syntax, readers are able to get a deeper understanding of what is happening in the play. In doing so, Ode 2 perfectly reflects on the previous play and transitions into the story of Antigone, foreshadowing that joy and hubris can lead to a tragic end.

The first part of the Ode summarizes the previous events, giving background to the conflicts that are about to arise. Referring to the previous play of Oedipus, Antigone’s father, the Chorus mentions that “Fortunate is the man who has never tasted God’s vengeance”, proving that the Gods were still angry (Sophocles Ode 2.1). This hints that conflict is bound to happen sooner rather than later if it has not happened already. Because of this line, readers can then predict that this anger directed towards the family is going to be passed down to the descendants of Oedipus, hence, Antigone.

On top of that, the Chorus further hints at the curse on the family when it mentions metaphorically that “damnation rises behind each child/Like a wave cresting out of the black northeast… And bursts drumming death upon the wind-whipped sand” (Sophocles Ode 2.3-6). In this simile, the wave symbolizes the build up of anger that the Gods still have and the burst represents the crash of the waves meaning that something bad is going to happen. Sophocles’ choice of words also adds creativity to his writing, making it a much more interesting and intriguing story for both readers and viewers of the play. Through the way these sentences are phrased and the word choice within them, readers are able to foreshadow the coming events as well as reflect upon what has already happened.

The Ode now begins to overview the characters actions, allowing for readers to develop an emotional connection and opinion of the characters in the play. The chorus asks “What mortal arrogance/Transcends the wrath of Zeus?” clearly addressing the prideful Creon and his actions that he wants to take against Antigone (Sophocles Ode 2.13-14). In these lines, the Chorus mentions God, Zeus, which could also refer to the Gods in general. This line hints at the fact that the Gods are angry with his attitude and that excessive pride will not get him anywhere. Pride and arrogance is put in a negative light as the story continues to reveal the awful fate of Creon.

This is further proven when the Chorus reiterates that “No pride on earth is free of the curse of heaven” again referring to Creon’s intentions on killing Antigone and foreshadowing what is to happen next (Sophocles Ode 2.20). By using the terms heaven and earth, readers can infer that the Chorus is referring to the people of Thebes with the word earth, and the Gods above with the word heaven. By Sophocles’ strategical diction and syntax, readers are able to break down each line and develop their opinions on Creon’s previous actions and understand the hardships he will later have to face.

After Creon continuously disregards everyone’s advice, including that of his son, Haemon, the Ode entertains the idea that his unlucky fate is beginning to take over in response to his behavior. This ode foreshadows his eventual realization mentioning that “The straying dreams of men/May bring them ghosts of joy”. The phrase “ghosts of joy” symbolizes the false reality of joy and superiority that Creon has with his “straying dreams” ultimately leading to the death of the people dearest to him (Sophocles Ode 2.21-22). Here, the phrasing of these lines helps to overview what has already happened in the story and show the reader that the play is beginning to come full circle. Finally, readers are able to connect the moral of the Ode to the actual play itself with the last line concluding that “Man’s little pleasure is the spring of sorrow” (Sophocles Ode 2.28). The creative word choice in this line represents what is exemplified earlier, basically stating that all good things must come to an end. The conclusion of the Ode perfectly ties into the overall theme or moral lesson of the play, bringing the story full circle.

With this Ode, Sophocles was able to summarize what has previously happened, what was currently happening in the play, as well as foreshadow what was bound to happen. This allows for readers to grasp a better understanding of the story and provides a smooth transition from one scene to the next. Readers are able to interpret the unique diction and syntax of the Odes so that they can break it down and understand what ideas the Ode is trying to introduce or overview.

The Ode included symbolism, metaphors, similes, and more to create a perfect addition in between each scene of the play. As the ode is broken apart and analyzed, it works as a tool to better understand the play and connect to the moral of the story. In the end, Ode 2 proves through analyzation of syntax and diction that when fate lies in the hands of a higher power, happiness is not guaranteed.


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