Skip to Main Content
Skidmore College
First-Year Experience

2005 Summer Reading
Burial At Thebes - Questions

The questions that follow provide potential points of departure for discussions - during Orientation between the incoming students and the faculty, and at various moments during the academic year - in the classroom, the residence and dining halls, or just over a cup of coffee. These questions are not intended as limitations to your thinking about the profound issues raised by The Burial at Thebes, but merely starting points along a journey of discovery. The electronic forum linked above lists the questions that follow; we also welcome suggestions in the forum for additional questions so that others might consider them, and we encourage you to continue to probe the fundamental dilemmas raised by the play during the coming year.
Antigone, Law, Justice and the Human Condition

  • What are the limits of human ability, knowledge, and action? When are challenges to institutionalized authority appropriate? Do human actions ever become so reckless they become unjust themselves?
  • How do we balance social justice with moral authority, or just with unjust laws? What constitutes social responsibility and justice, and what is the relationship between freedom and power? What constitutes leadership and how do leaders confront moral choices?
  • What are the frictions between human law and divine law, and how do we resolve them? Are there times when resolution is not possible? What is the relationship between religious and state doctrine and ideology?

Antigone and the Liberal Arts

  • The Burial at Thebes raises profound questions that cross disciplinary boundaries and force us to reconsider what we think are essential truths about the human condition. What issues, problems or discoveries within [discipline X] have generated similar responses, and with what repercussions?
  • Where in the development of ideas in [discipline X] have there been dramatic challenges to orthodoxy, and with what results? Antigone confronts Creon in a direct assault on traditional, accepted values, threatening to undermine his authority. For example, how did Galileo’s challenge to Aristotelian thought threaten the conventional wisdom and authority of the 17th century? In [discipline X] how is authority established? How is it successfully challenged?
  • Antigone, though a woman, represents the destabilization of civic responsibility. What are the obligations of members of [discipline X] within a larger community? Are there ethical, moral or civic limits imposed on intellectual inquiry in that discipline that should be obeyed or violated, in the pursuit of knowledge?
  • How do we construct the “other,” and how do we construct our own identities? What role does [discipline X] play in the construction of who we are?
  • What other artistic works raise powerful questions about [discipline X], and how does [discipline X] respond to those issues?
  • Greek tragedy was choreographed and set to music. How do the arts evoke the audience’s sympathies towards the characters and plots of tragedy?
  • How have other versions of the Antigone addressed political and social concerns – e.g., Jean Anouilh’s Antigone (1944) and the French resistance, or Berthold Brecht’s Antigone (1948) and the German resistance?

Antigone, the family and the state

  • What are the demands of kinship and family versus obligations to the state? Should the authority of the state ever yield to the needs of the family, or of the individual?
  • How do the representations of gender in the play construct and influence the characters' attitudes toward each other and ours toward them? How do we reconcile the differing values between men and women in the play?
  • When is it appropriate for children to challenge the authority of their parents?

Supplemental Questions

  • Why are we reading this text, and how does it launch your college education?
  • What was your own response to the play? How many times did you read it?
  • What questions did the play raise for you?
  • What are the contexts you provided to make meaning of the play?
  • If you've read the Antigone before, how does it compare to this version?
  • Who is the hero(ine) in this play, and why?
  • Why does this play prompt translators to situate the story of Antigone in a political context? If you were to stage this play, what political context would you use? Does the play resonate with any recent political contexts?
  • With whom did you side, and why?
  • What dies in the play, and what needs to be buried?
  • From these characters' perspectives, what happens after death?
  • What are some of the critical moments in the play, and why?
  • What does this play teach us?
  • Justice plays a significant role in The Burial at Thebes. On what basis is justice determined?
  • Are some things missing - "absent" - from this play?
  • The play is set in a cultural context. How do you process the meaning of this play without knowing the context well?
  • As reader, what do you bring to the interpretation of this or any text? For example, is it appropriate to apply your own cultural lens to this text, or must you read it only in its own context?