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The opening Chorus (or Parodos)
After the initial debate between Ismene and Antigone, the Chorus enters for the first time in the play. It describes the beginning of a new day which dawns over the seven gates of Thebes and the fountain of Dirce. According to the Chorus, this is the “brightest” and “fairest” day that Thebes has seen. The Chorus then gives an account of the battle recently fought at the gates of Thebes between the two brothers, Polynices and Eteocles. The soldiers from Argos, who had supported Polynices, hurried away from the battle because they were losing to the Thebans, led by Eteocles and Creon.
The Chorus next relates how the warriors of Argos came to wreak destruction on Thebes: the man of Argos bears “sharp menace” within his breast and is covered in armor. The Chorus describes the sights and sounds of the furious battle, as the spears fired by the enemy, “(y)awned wide around the gates that guard (their) homes.”
The Chorus believes that the king of the Greek gods, Zeus, and his son, Ares, the god of war, were both on the side of Thebes. Zeus hurled down fire on the enemy, and Ares fought in open battle against the foe. During the battle the seven champions of the Argive army were matched against seven champions of the Theban forces. The two brothers, Polynices and Eteocles, were paired against each other and were killed when they met in combat.
Afterwards the Chorus sings a song about victory and peace. It wishes that the memories of this battle would be wiped out of people’s minds and that thoughts of peace would reign once more over Thebes. The Chorus plans to indulge in “holy dances of delight” and visit every shrine to give thanks to the gods for this newly found peace.
In its first appearance the Chorus gives further information about the background of the play. The Chorus represents the people of the city celebrating the victory of Thebes over the Argives. It vividly describes the battle between the two brothers and is conventional in outlook, displaying a strong faith in the gods. Zeus and Ares are said to have fought for Thebes. The Chorus exults in Thebes’ victory, and at the same time, it prays for a lasting peace. Joy gives way to ecstasy as the Chorus pays tribute to Bacchus with “dances of delight” lasting through the night.
Sophocles uses a wide array of imagery in this opening Chorus. The rays of the sun are compared to the weapons of war that the Thebans used to drive away the Argives. In an extended metaphor, the man of Argos rises “on eagle wing,” hoping to bring ruin to Thebes. Like an eagle, the enemy screeches “sharp menace from his breast” and has a “plumed crest” crowning his helmet. His body is described as wrapped in armor of steel. Thebes, on the other hand, is the “serpent struggling to be free” of the predator. Therefore, the Chorus provides a graphic account of the recent battle.
The gods are seen to be taking sides, and they support Thebes. It is Polynices who comes “breathing madness at the gate.” The battle hangs in the balance until Ares, the god of war, hurls himself among the Argives and fights for Thebes.
At the end of the battle, the Chorus claims that Pallas Athena, the goddess of war (and victory), descended upon Thebes as a heavenly omen of Thebes’ victory. Hence, to give thanks to the gods, the Theban chorus visits every shrine “in solemn round.” It concludes its opening sequence by performing a ritual dance on stage. The Chorus pays homage not only to the gods of war and victory, but also to Terpsichore, the Muse of dancing and choral singing.
The Chorus echoes the common citizen’s desire for peace and stability, instead of war. Ironically, the peace for which the Chorus offers such gratitude will soon be disturbed by Antigone’s revolt against Creon.