"Antigone," Vocabulary from the play

"Antigone" by Sophocles concerns the quest to reestablish humane society after the horrors of war. It is an ancient play which asks questions still relevant today about the behavior of those in power and simple acts of decency in the face of unspeakable cruelty.

As you read the Theban plays of Sophocles (etext found here), learn these word lists for the plays: Oedipus the King and Antigone.

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. grievous
    causing or marked by grief or anguish
    To me, Antigone, no word of friends
    Has come, or glad or grievous, since we twain
    Were reft of our two brethren in one day
    By double fratricide;
  2. lament
    a cry of sorrow and grief
    No man may bury him or make lament
  3. promulgate
    put a law into effect by formal declaration
    Such is the edict (if report speak true)
    Of Creon, our most noble Creon, aimed
    At thee and me, aye me too; and anon
    He will be here to promulgate, for such
    As have not heard, his mandate;
    "Mandate" and "edict" are synonyms for a law that King Creon is soon arriving to promulgate. This formal declaration of a law emphasizes the power of a king's speech, which will be challenged later by the speech of a young girl. Keep in mind that this is a play where all the conflicts and power shifts are developed through dialogue rather than action.
  4. transgress
    act in disregard of laws, rules, contracts, or promises
    'tis in sooth
    No passing humor, for the edict says
    Whoe'er transgresses shall be stoned to death.
  5. abet
    assist or encourage, usually in some wrongdoing
    Say, wilt thou aid me and abet?
  6. abhor
    find repugnant
    Bethink thee, sister, of our father's fate,
    Abhorred, dishonored, self-convinced of sin,
    Blinded, himself his executioner.
    Ismene reminds Antigone of their father's fate, because she does not want that to happen to them. But as the daughters/sisters of a man who'd killed his father and married his mother, they already carry some of the abhorred dishonor of Oedipus's life and death.
  7. abide
    How sweet to die in such employ, to rest,—
    Sister and brother linked in love's embrace—
    A sinless sinner, banned awhile on earth,
    But by the dead commended; and with them
    I shall abide for ever.
    Although Antigone starts her speech by saying she will not try to urge Ismene anymore, these lines about sweetly abiding with brothers who will love and praise her forever are meant to both shame Ismene and let her know what she'd be missing out on.
  8. vindicate
    maintain, uphold, or defend
    Against our land the proud invader came
    To vindicate fell Polyneices' claim.
  9. discern
    detect with the senses
    Yet 'tis no easy matter to discern
    The temper of a man, his mind and will,
    Till he be proved by exercise of power;
  10. miscreant
    a person without moral scruples
    But for the miscreant exile who returned
    Minded in flames and ashes to blot out
    His father's city and his father's gods,
    And glut his vengeance with his kinsmen's blood,
    Or drag them captive at his chariot wheels—
    For Polyneices 'tis ordained that none
    Shall give him burial or make mourn for him,
  11. precedence
    the act of coming before in time or order or rank
    never by my will
    Shall miscreants take precedence of true men,
    But all good patriots, alive or dead,
    Shall be by me preferred and honored.
  12. prevail
    prove superior
    But in the end the forward voice prevailed,
    To face thee. I will speak though I say nothing.
    For plucking courage from despair methought,
    'Let the worst hap, thou canst but meet thy fate.'
    Another definition of "prevail" is "use persuasion successfully"--on the surface, the guard is simply saying that his forward voice prevailed over his cowardly silence, but throughout his speech, he is hoping that he could persuade Creon not to kill him for bringing him bad news.
  13. inter
    place in a grave or tomb
    The corpse had vanished, not interred in earth,
    But strewn with dust, as if by one who sought
    To avert the curse that haunts the unburied dead:
    Of hound or ravening jackal, not a sign.
    Antigone could not physically inter her brother's body, but she did so symbolically by sprinkling dust, and somehow, the dust was enough to turn away the hungry hounds and jackals.
  14. perdition
    the place or state in which one suffers eternal punishment
    Our quest was at a standstill, when one spake
    And bowed us all to earth like quivering reeds,
    For there was no gainsaying him nor way
    To escape perdition:
    For fifth century BC Greeks, Satan did not exist. The force of evil suggested in the word "perdition" seems to lie more within Creon and the use of his power to sentence people to death.
  15. bestow
    give as a gift
    Is it not arrant folly to pretend
    That gods would have a thought for this dead man?
    Did they forsooth award him special grace,
    And as some benefactor bury him,
    Who came to fire their hallowed sanctuaries,
    To sack their shrines, to desolate their land,
    And scout their ordinances? Or perchance
    The gods bestow their favors on the bad.
  16. inveterate
    in a habitual and longstanding manner
    What an inveterate babbler! get thee gone!
  17. perilous
    fraught with danger
    Many wonders there be, but naught more wondrous than man;
    Over the surging sea, with a whitening south wind wan,
    Through the foam of the firth, man makes his perilous way;
  18. brazen
    made of or resembling brass, as in color or hardness
    Anon she gathered handfuls of dry dust,
    Then, holding high a well-wrought brazen urn,
    Thrice on the dead she poured a lustral stream.
    Another definition of "brazen" is "face with defiance or impudence"--while the example sentence is using "brazen" as an adjective to describe the urn, the verb "brazen" could be used to describe how Antigone is deliberately and openly disobeying Creon's mandate.
  19. deem
    judge or regard in a particular way
    Take it all in all, I deem
    A man's first duty is to serve himself.
    This is an odd view to declare to one's king. But the guard, in presenting Antigone as a law breaker, is both serving the king and saving himself from being accused. In risking her own life to serve her brother, Antigone is showing that she deems the guard's view to be wrong.
  20. immutable
    not subject or susceptible to change or variation
    Nor did I deem that thou, a mortal man,
    Could'st by a breath annul and override
    The immutable unwritten laws of Heaven.
  21. insolence
    an offensive disrespectful impudent act
    But this proud girl, in insolence well-schooled,
    First overstepped the established law, and then—
    A second and worse act of insolence
    She boasts and glories in her wickedness.
    Now if she thus can flout authority
    Unpunished, I am woman, she the man.
  22. distraught
    deeply agitated especially from emotion
    Bring forth the older; even now I saw her
    Within the palace, frenzied and distraught.
  23. abjure
    formally reject or disavow a formerly held belief
    Say, didst thou too abet
    This crime, or dost abjure all privity?
  24. piety
    righteousness by virtue of being pious
    O sister, scorn me not, let me but share
    Thy work of piety, and with thee die.
  25. bereft
    sorrowful through loss or deprivation
    What would life profit me bereft of thee?
  26. quell
    overcome or allay
    Thy might, O Zeus, what mortal power can quell?
    Not sleep that lays all else beneath its spell,
    Nor moons that never tire:
  27. sublime
    worthy of adoration or reverence
    untouched by Time,
    Throned in the dazzling light
    That crowns Olympus' height,
    Thou reignest King, omnipotent, sublime.
  28. submissive
    inclined or willing to give in to orders or wishes of others
    For 'tis the hope of parents they may rear
    A brood of sons submissive, keen to avenge
    Their father's wrongs, and count his friends their own.
  29. dissipate
    cause to separate and go in different directions
    What evils are not wrought by Anarchy!
    She ruins States, and overthrows the home,
    She dissipates and routs the embattled host;
    While discipline preserves the ordered ranks.
    Notice how Creon is personifying Anarchy with the feminine pronoun "She"--he is trying to equate Antigone's one act of disobedience with the verbs "dissipate," "ruin," and "overthrow". This logic does not work because the kingdom actually sides with Antigone and because Creon himself is creating anarchy by going against the laws of the gods.
  30. covet
    wish, long, or crave for
    O father, nothing is by me more prized
    Than thy well-being, for what higher good
    Can children covet than their sire's fair fame,
    As fathers too take pride in glorious sons?
  31. prudence
    discretion in practical affairs
    What, would you have us at our age be schooled,
    Lessoned in prudence by a beardless boy?
  32. consort
    keep company with; hang out with
    Think not that in my sight the maid shall die,
    Or by my side; never shalt thou again
    Behold my face hereafter. Go, consort
    With friends who like a madman for their mate.
  33. bane
    something causing misery or death
    Mark ye the cruel laws that now have wrought my bane,
  34. heinous
    extremely wicked, deeply criminal
    Thus by the law of conscience I was led
    To honor thee, dear brother, and was judged
    By Creon guilty of a heinous crime.
  35. succor
    assistance in time of difficulty
    What ordinance of heaven have I transgressed?
    Hereafter can I look to any god
    For succor, call on any man for help?
    Although Haemon arrives too late to succor Antigone, her questions suggest that she did not really believe that she would die for her act. In addition to having divine law on her side, she is the niece of Creon and the intended bride of Creon's son. Antigone's royal background enabled her to argue with Creon, which threatened Creon's sense of self and power, and leads to her needing succor.
  36. presentiment
    a feeling of evil to come
    Thy words inspire a dread presentiment.
  37. abominate
    find repugnant
    Therefore the angry gods abominate
    Our litanies and our burnt offerings;
  38. obstinate
    stubbornly persistent in wrongdoing
    To err is common
    To all men, but the man who having erred
    Hugs not his errors, but repents and seeks
    The cure, is not a wastrel nor unwise.
    No fool, the saw goes, like the obstinate fool.
  39. inclined
    having a preference, disposition, or tendency
    Skilled prophet art thou, but to wrong inclined.
  40. usurp
    seize and take control without authority
    For that thou hast entombed a living soul,
    And sent below a denizen of earth,
    And wronged the nether gods by leaving here
    A corpse unlaved, unwept, unsepulchered.
    Herein thou hast no part, nor e'en the gods
    In heaven; and thou usurp'st a power not thine.
  41. impenitent
    impervious to moral persuasion
    Vengeance of the gods
    Is swift to overtake the impenitent.
  42. attain
    gain with effort
    He had saved this land
    Of Cadmus from our enemies and attained
    A monarch's powers and ruled the state supreme,
    While a right noble issue crowned his bliss.
    Now all is gone and wasted, for a life
    Without life's joys I count a living death.
  43. omit
    leave undone or leave out
    Dear mistress, I was there and will relate
    The perfect truth, omitting not one word.
    Why should we gloze and flatter, to be proved
    Liars hereafter?
  44. contrite
    feeling or expressing pain or sorrow for sins or offenses
    We offered first a prayer
    To Pluto and the goddess of cross-ways,
    With contrite hearts, to deprecate their ire.
  45. supplicate
    ask for humbly or earnestly, as in prayer
    When the King saw him, with a terrible groan
    He moved towards him, crying, "O my son
    What hast thou done? What ailed thee? What mischance
    Has reft thee of thy reason? O come forth,
    Come forth, my son; thy father supplicates."
  46. consummate
    fulfill sexually
    So there they lay
    Two corpses, one in death. His marriage rites
    Are consummated in the halls of Death:
  47. discreet
    marked by prudence or modesty and wise self-restraint
    'Tis that she shrinks in public to lament
    Her son's sad ending, and in privacy
    Would with her maidens mourn a private loss.
    Trust me, she is discreet and will not err.
  48. tumult
    violent agitation
    Well, let us to the house and solve our doubts,
    Whether the tumult of her heart conceals
    Some fell design.
    The tumult of the Queen's heart does lead to her fall. "Fell" is actually used as an adjective here that means "disposed to inflict pain or suffering"--to ease the tumult of her heart from the loss of her son, the Queen chooses to kill herself. This design is fell because she inflicts pain on herself and causes the King and the rest of the kingdom to suffer another loss.
  49. inflict
    impose something unpleasant
    Thy wife, the mother of thy dead son here,
    Lies stricken by a fresh inflicted blow.
  50. chastisement
    a rebuke for making a mistake
    Swelling words of high-flown might
    Mightily the gods do smite.
    Chastisement for errors past
    Wisdom brings to age at last.
    Chastisement often takes the form of a verbal punishment, but that was not enough for Creon to see the error of his ways. Although chastised by Antigone, Haemon, and Tiresias, Creon did not recognize that he was just a "worthless wretch"--not until the gods smacked him down by taking away his son and wife.

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