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The plot of Antigone by Sophocles begins with all the characters onstage, with the Prologue narrator walking amongst them, describing each of them in detail. He first walks up to Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus and niece of Creon, a girl who was never regarded as a valuable member of her family. He then goes to Haemon, Creon’s son and Antigone’s fiancé. He is talking with Ismene, Antigone’s more beautiful sister. The prologue tells a brief story about how Haemon had been smitten with Ismene, and all had expected they would get married, but one day he had surprised everyone by revealing that it was Antigone he wanted. He then describes Creon as a former courtier who enjoys pleasures more than power and avoids conflict when possible.
The narrator of the prologue says that sometimes, “he wonders whether it’s not pointless, being a leader of men. Whether it’s not a sordid business that ought to be left to others less… sensitive than himself” (Sophocles, 80). The Nurse is briefly introduced, as is the page, with little background. Eurydice, Creon’s wife, is shown as passive, calm, and dignified. The Messenger is introduced as an agent of foreshadowing. He already knows that Antigone and Haemon are going to die, and starts off the play looking rather sullen. The guards are shown as amoral agents of the plot, with no specific agenda for the fate of the other characters.
The prologue of Antigone then begins to tell the story that led up to the beginning of the play. After Oedipus died, his two sons, Antigone’s brothers, fought in a war to control Thebes. They ended up both dying in the war, so Oedipus’ brother Creon ended up King. Creon had been on the side of Eteocles during the war and thus gave him a proper burial. But the other brother, Polynices, was characterized by Creon as a traitor, and therefore was left out in the dirt to rot and be eaten by animals- a fate the Greeks regarded with the same dread that modern Christians regard damnation in Hell. In order to make an example of Polynices to any would-be traitors, Creon decreed that anyone who tried to give Polynices proper burial rites would be put to death.