Sophocles’ biographers connect his writing of Antigone with his term serving as general on campaign against Samos in 440 BC. Indeed, they suggest that it was the success of Antigone, which so endeared him to the Athenians that they appointed him to the post. Although not impossible, this is unlikely. Ancient biographies were notoriously confused, and it has been suggested that the chronology should be reversed, and that it was Sophocles’ experience as general on Samos which inspired him to write Antigone.

For many years, the island of Samos had been a loyal ally of Athens, but in 440 it seceded from her empire. In response, the Athenians sent out their navy, with Pericles in overall command and Sophocles as one of their generals. After a lengthy campaign and siege, the island surrendered, and, while the pro-Periclean Thucydides suggests a relatively peaceful resolution, another historian, Duris (himself from Samos), records that Pericles imposed on the leaders of the revolt the punishment of apotympanismos. This meant that they were crucified until almost dead, before being despatched by being beaten with clubs – after which it was forbidden for their corpses to be buried.

It is possible Pericles’ apotympanismos of the rebel leaders was the catalyst for Sophocles to write Antigone. Lurking behind all Greek popular morality was the idea that one should do as much good as possible to one’s friends, while unleashing the maximum harm against one’s enemies. As several contributors discuss in this collection, this concept lies at the heart of Antigone. But it lay, too, at the heart of Athens’ relationship with Samos. Samos’ oscillation between being a friend and an enemy, and the tensions and ambiguities which that created, are mirrored in both Polyneices’ and Antigone’s relationships with their family and Thebes, especially since the Greek word for friend (philos) also meant family-member. In this dualistic world, Antigone, placed in an impossible situation, and torn between loyalty to her dead brother and her still-living family, must renounce the status of philos in regard to those alive, become their enemy instead, and endure the bitter consequences – while, like the revolutionaries on Samos, Polyneices has not only moved from philos to enemy, but, being refused burial, has suffered the same fate as they did.


Looking at Antigone

Bloomsbury Press 

Antigone is one of the most influential and thought-provoking of all Greek tragedies. Set in a newly victorious society, where possibilities seem boundless and mankind can overcome all boundaries except death, the action is focussed through the prism of Creon, a remarkable anti-hero – a politician who, in crisis, makes a reckless decision, whose pride (or insecurity) prevents him from backing down until it is too late, and who thereby ends up losing everything. Not just the story of a girl who confronts the state, Antigone is an exploration of inherent human conflicts – between men and women, young and old, power and powerlessness, civil law and the ‘unwritten laws’ of nature. Lauded in Antiquity, it has influenced drama and philosophy throughout history into the modern age.

With an introduction discussing the nature of the community for which Antigone was written, this collection of essays by 12 leading academics from across the world draws together many of the themes explored in Antigone, from Sophocles’ use of mythology, his contemporaries’ reactions and later reception, to questions of religion and ritual, family life and incest, ecology and the environment. The essays are accompanied by David Stuttard’s performer-friendly, accurate and easily accessible English translation.

Reviews and Comments include

Stuttard brings together his humane and sensitive translation with a stellar cast of insightful minds who offer new and exciting journeys into the rich texture of the play. Not to be missed!

Michael Scott,

Associate Professor in Classics and Ancient History,

University of Warwick, UK

A rich resource for both readers and performers.

Pat Easterling,

Regius Professor Emeritus of Greek, University of Cambridge, UK

An accessible and informative resource for anyone who reads the Antigone in translation.

Mary Lefkowitz,

Andrew W. Mellon Professor Emerita in the Humanities, Wellesley College, USA

Stuttard’s eminently speakable translation is amply illuminated by varied and thought-provoking essays.

Niall W. Slater,

Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Latin and Greek,

Emory University, USA

This book is a thought-provoking and useful addition to the scholarship on Antigone, the most often performed and re-worked of all the Greek tragedies... It admirably caters for the specialist and non-specialist alike.

Marion Gibbs, Classics for All

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