Nexus: Antigone and the Greek World


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In Antigone and the Greek World students explore the play and the period together, each shedding light on the other. For example, students investigate and answer challenging questions such as: how does Antigone’s behavior reflect the struggle between autocracy and democracy in 5th-century Greece and in similar political tug-of-wars today? How do Antigone’s attitudes and actions differ from traditional women of the period and from contemporary women? What are the similarities and differences between Ancient Greek governments and modern governments?


Students also explore the birth of democracy and the causes of the Peloponnesian War; they learn how Greek theater evolved and served as an arena in which political ideas competed (Creon’s politics vs. Antigone’s, submissive Ismene vs. strong Antigone, etc.). They read Greek vase art that employs visual metaphor and mirrors Greek drama, transcribe Ancient Greek music, choreograph a scene in the play (see Supplements menu), and emulate Archimedes’ discovery process.

CURRENT STUDIES are revealing that adolescents undergo major developmental changes in their BRAIN NETWORKSthat is, in how the different regions of their brains “talk” to one another, co-regulate, and coordinate….It is the networks’ interdependence that strengthens the rationale for a whole learner approach to education, and likely explains why, when done well, such an approach is so powerful.  – EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP, May 2020

The Educational Leadership article goes on to state that the brain has three interdependent networks, one of which is driven by emotions. When this emotional network is NOT stimulated, which is often the case in academic learning environments with traditional textbooks, the other brain networks do not function as well. “One can think of the kids’ emotional engagement…as fueling motivated thinking, either concrete or abstract, like the outboard motor that both pushes the boat and steers it.” Part of the reason the NEXUS approach is so effective is because it not only connects disciplines, it also connects learning to students’ emotional and experiential brain networks (see The Harlem Renaissance text samples in green, the Julius Caesar text sample under “Lesson on Shakespeare’s Language and the Writings of Julius Caesar,” Antigone text samples:  “Antigone’s Challenge: Democracy or Dictatorship” and ”A Recipe for Tragedy: Aristotle and Oedipus Rex” (SEE BELOW), and the Macbeth sample text under “Lesson on Macbeth Themes: Fatal Passion and the War Within.”)

Aligned with Common Core Standards. For secondary students.


Cover Image of Greek Vase Courtesy of  Toledo Museum of Art

Antigone Lessons Part I – Literature Infused
with History and Art

Antigone’s Challenge: Democracy or Dictatorship

In this volume of NEXUS, students explore Sophocles’ tug-of-war between opposing forces and points of view: individualism vs. authoritarianism, democracy vs. dictatorship, the laws of heaven vs. the laws of the state, youth vs. age, man vs. woman. This chapter investigates these conflicts and Sophocles’ use of contrast in his characterization and language. The lessons in this chapter align with Common Core Standards CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL1, RL.2, RL.4, RL.6 9 (for 9-10 and 11-12)


“If we could eavesdrop on supper tables around the world, a typical scene in some households might look like this: A teenager, who has disobeyed his father, argues with his dad over his rights as an individual. But the father refuses to listen. Perhaps because he sees his son’s argument as a threat, not so much to his own point of view, but to his authority. 2,500 years ago, the same scene was undoubtedly played out around supper tables in Greece, Egypt, Persia, and China. In Antigone…King Creon interprets Antigone and his son’s disobedience as…”

Antithesis and Parallelism in Antigone
Contrasting Characters Lesson
Independent Antigone vs. authoritarian Creon, and Antigone’s courage and strength compared to her sister Ismene’s submissiveness.
Lessons in Democracy
The theater offered lessons in politics and in the complexities of administering justice and behaving justly in society.

A Recipe for Tragedy: Aristotle & Oedipus Rex

Students analyze plot structure and characterization in Antigone and Oedipus Rex by applying key, accessible sections of Aristotle’s Poetics to the plays. This lesson aligns with Common Core Standards CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.2; RL.3, and RL.5 (for 9-10 and 11-12)


What is it that goes on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening? – Riddle of the Sphinx

“Oedipus solved the riddle of the Sphinx and saved Thebes. The fact that he walked with a cane helped him see the answer. He knew what it meant to get around on three legs; he’d been doing it since he learned to walk. (In Greek, ‘Oedi-pus’ means swollen foot.) But Oedipus couldn’t figure out the riddle of his own identity and save himself. He failed to recognize that the solution to Thebes’ newest trouble and the answer to the riddle of his origin were the same. By cursing the man responsible for the plague in Thebes, he unwittingly condemned himself.”

“Much of our suffering is self-inflicted. One way or another we are the cause. As the messenger in Oedipus observes: ‘Of all our sufferings/Those hurt the most that we ourselves inflict.’ Sometimes we don’t realize that we are the source of our own pain until it’s too late to remedy the problem. For example…”

“The Greek philosopher Aristotle figured out that recognition of a problem – when it’s too late to correct it – is a key ingredient of tragedy. He observed…”

Plot in Greek Drama
Aristotle’s Law of Necessity
Character: Antigone and Creon’s Choices

Lesson on Visual Storytelling & Visual Figurative Language on Ancient Greek Vases

Students learn to read Greek art that mirrors Greek drama and uses visual metaphors, symbols and contrasts. This lesson satisfies Common Core Standards CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 (Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words) and CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.7 (Analyze the representation of a subject or a key scene in two different artistic mediums, including what is emphasized or absent in each treatment).


“Ancient art is an eye into the past. It shows us how early civilizations viewed the world. By exploring Greek art we learn to see through Greek eyes. We can almost step across the ages to attend ancient Olympic games and festivals, sit in on an Athenian play, or tour an ancient pottery factory. Scenes like these are depicted on ancient Greek vases and sculptural works. In his poem ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ (quoted above), the 19th-century poet John Keats walks into the life depicted on a Greek vase, resurrecting the past as if it were a sleeping world waiting for someone to appreciate it to awaken…”

Black Figure and Red Figure Vases
The evolving techniques of Greek vase painting
Types and Functions of Greek Vases
Greek Sculpture and Symmetry
From Kouros to Polykleitos

Roots of Drama, Rites of Dionysus

In this lesson tudents investigate the evolution of drama from Dionysian rituals to the trilogies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. All NEXUS chapter-lessons are embroidered with colorful period anecdotes and resonant links to students’ interests. We believe that if students’ emotions are not engaged in the learning process, they will distract them from it. NEXUS motivates students to make an emotional investment in their own education. This chapter is aligned with Common Core Standards CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1 and RL.2 (for 9-10 and 11-12).

(Image of the Theater of Epidauros and Dionysus and Satyrs)

Festivals – from Anthesteria to the Great Dionysia
From Goat Songs to Greek Tragedy
Elements of Greek Tragedy

Ancient Greek Olympics

Olympic Odyssey and the Poets Who Lit the Torch

Do some of your athletes thumb their noses at poetry? In this NEXUS lesson students meet the sports writers of the ancient Olympic games – poets – and interpret some of their challenging, OLYMPIAN LYRICS. The content satisfies Common Core Standard CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.4

Women in the Ancient Olympics

Antigone Lessons Part II – History, Legend, and Mythology

Persian and Peloponnesian Wars and the Birth of Democracy

This chapter brings history to life with a dramatic narrative of the battle at Thermopylae in which 300 Spartans held off the million-man army of Xerxes for two days. Our account, with compelling excerpts from Herodotus’ History, reads like a war novel. Then we explore the rise of Athens (comparing the Delian League to NATO), the birth of Democracy (from Solon to Pericles , with comparisons to our times), and the beginning of the Peloponnesian War. The two-part NEXUS supplement “Athens’ Hubris, the War’s Turning Point” further explores the Peloponnesian War. This captivating lesson meets the following Common Core Standards : CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.1, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.3, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.4, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.8, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.9


“When the Persian forces arrived in Greece in 480 B.C., the Spartans voted to fight – but not until the Olympic games were over. In Greece, wars were postponed during the games. But the Persians weren’t about to wait. So Sparta sent a detachment of 300 infantrymen to stop Xerxes’ million-man army at the mountain pass of Thermopylae in central Greece. The Spartan contingent was led by King Leonidas, who was said to be a descendant of Herakles (Hercules)…”

Solon the Lawgiver
From Cleisthenes to Pericles

When the Gods Ruled

Students investigate the evolution of the Greek gods, from Homer’s pantheon to Sophocles’. As the Greeks matured, so did their view of their gods. In this overview lesson students also learn why oracles, prophets and bird signs were so much a part of the Greek world and their plays.

The Old Gods
Classical Greek Gods

Greek Mythology & Modern Man

Modern takes on Greek myths from Freud, Lord Tennyson  (his poem Ulysses), and Keats (Ode to Psyche). This lesson is aligned with Common Core Standards CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1, RL.6, and RL.7 (for 9-10 and 11-12) and CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.1, .RH.6, RH.9 (9-10; 11-12).

Antigone Lessons Part III – Greco Music and Science

Archimedes – the Wizard of Syracuse: Antigone Science Lesson

“Pi in the Eye” – Students Rediscover Pi from Scratch in Our Antigone Math Lesson

In these interdisciplinary Antigone lessons students retrace the steps of Archimedes’discovery process, including how he discovered pi. Aligned with Common Core Standards CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.2, RST.3, RST.4, RST.8, RST.9 [for  9-10 and 11-12] and with the Common Core goal of exercising literacy across the curriculum.

The Art of the Muses, Ancient Greek Music Lesson

In this interdisciplinary Antigone lesson students transcribe ancient Greek music into modern notation, and learn the role of music and rhythm in Greek drama, as well as the role of Greek instruments in poetry, plays, and athletic events.


Making a Pan Pipe

Antigone Supplements with Lesson Plans

NEXUS SUPPLEMENTS can be accessed under the SUPPLEMENTS menu. NOTE: NEXUS supplements, lesson plans, and booklets are protected by U.S. Copyright and cannot be photocopied, photographed, or downloaded.

  • Antigone Activities

  • Antigone Project Ideas

  • Antigone History

Antigone Supplement and Lesson 1 - The Three Kings of Tragedy

This supplementary interdisciplinary Antigone lesson investigates the different styles and preoccupations of Athens’ three greatest tragedians, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Each playwright viewed man’s relationship with the gods and state differently. Providing students with a brief but global perspective of the evolution of Greek drama enables them to fully grasp Antigone’s place in Greek theater. This supplement is aligned with Common Core Standard CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6 (for 9-10 and 11-12).

Students learn to apply key rules of Aristotle’s Poetics, such as the Law of Necessity, to their skits, plays, and short stories by using a very familiar and easy-to-understand model of dramatic structure and characterization, The Wizard of Oz. The external and internal obstacles that obstruct Dorothy and Antigone serve as models for students’ own dramatic works. This creative writing exercise with its straightforward and fun analytic components is aligned with Common Core Standards CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.2, RL.3 and RL.5 (for 9-10 and 11-12).

Antigone Supplement and Lesson 3 - Athens’ Hubris: The Turning Point of the War

This interdisciplinary Antigone supplement expands upon the chapter “The History of 5th-century Greece” in Antigone and the Greek World. In Ancient Greece soaring too high – hubris – was viewed as the prelude to an Icarus-like fall. Athens’ aggression against its reluctant ally Melos and its subsequent unprovoked invasion of Sicily may have been driven, in part, by hubris. Students consider the various points of view of 5th-century Athenian leaders as they debate whether to invade Sicily or not. This interdisciplinary Antigone lesson satisfies Common Core History Standards CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.2, RH.3 and RH.9 (for 9-10 and 11-12).


Antigone Supplement and Lesson 4 - Euripides' Anti-War Tragedy, The Trojan Women

Euripides wrote his great anti-war play as a censure for the unprovoked Athenian attack on Melos (they massacred all the males and enslaved the women, much like what the Greeks did at Troy) and a warning not to attack Sicily. Without being required to read the play, students explore key passages of The Trojan Women and compare them to quotations from Edith Hamilton’s preface to her translation of the tragedy. This supplementary Antigone and the Greek World lesson builds upon “Athens’ Hubris: The War's Turning Point” and meets Common Core Standards CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1, RL.2, RL.3, RL.4, and RL.5 (for 9-10 and 11-12).

Antigone Supplement and Lesson 5 - Dramatic Dance in Greek Tragedy 

Students learn the role of choral dance in Greek drama and choreograph a dance for the “Ode on Man” in Antigone by balancing a sequence of mimetic gestures as we sometimes see on Greek vases. Choreographic choices are partly determined by the symmetry and contrast in strophe and antistrophe. This supplementary Antigone and the Greek World lesson is aligned with five COMMON CORE STANDARDS: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1, RL.2, RL.4, RL.5. and RL.7 (for 9-10 and 11-12).

In this engaging, interdisciplinary Antigone and the Greek World lesson students use three resources (including a rock song) to help them not only grasp but appreciate what many argue is Keats’ greatest ode. The NEXUS exploration of Ode on a Grecian Urn reinforces what students learn about reading and interpreting the visual narrative and visual metaphors, contrasts, and symbols on Greek vases in “Greek Art: Visual Storytelling”in the Antigone and the Greek World volume. This Antigone supplement satisfies Common Core Standards CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.2, RL.4, RL.5, and RL.7 (for 9-10 and 11-12).

This interdisciplinary Antigone lesson delves into Ode to Psyche by first exploring Keats’ belief in an evolution of refinement and self-awareness modeled on the progression of Greek gods from Chaos to crude Titans to refined Olympians and finally to Psyche, the goddess of the mind. This supplement expands upon sections of the chapter “Greek Myths and Modern Man” in Antigone and the Greek World and satisfies Common Core Standards CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1, RL.2, RL.4, and RL.5 (for 9-10 and 11-12).

GUIDELINES: The NEXUS guidelines suggest interdisciplinary activities and student-friendly ancillary readings. They also offer teachers guidance in many key areas; for ex., we tell you exactly where to find Pericles’ three great speeches in Thucydides’ voluminous History.

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