What Are Strophe and Antistrophe in Literature?
Strophe and antistrophe are two major elements of the ode, a type of lyric poetry. Most readers today encounter strophe and antistrophe in Ancient Greek plays such as "Oedipus Rex" and "Antigone." The strophe and antistrophe are delivered by the chorus, who offer commentary throughout the play. A third component of the ode, the epode, is sometimes delivered after the strophe and antistrophe.
Role of the Chorus
In Ancient Greek theater, the chorus initially provides important background information for the audience so that we may understand the context in which the characters find themselves. Once the inciting action of the play is underway, the chorus then also comments on the events taking place, in some cases even speaking directly to the characters. For example, in Sophocles' "Antigone," the chorus advises Creon to listen to Tiresias, the blind prophet.
The strophe -- meaning "turn" -- is the first stanza of an ode and is essentially the first half of a debate or argument presented by the chorus. In reciting the strophe, the chorus moves from the right of the stage to the left. Because the size of the chorus during ancient performances would vary greatly, sometimes the entire chorus would perform both the strophe and the antistrophe, and sometimes the chorus would be split down the middle, with only one half reciting the strophe. In one section of "Antigone," the chorus recalls the story of Danae, a woman whose father locked her away in her room to prevent her from having a child. This story implies that Antigone's punishment of being entombed is unjust.
The antistrophe is the other half of the debate or further exploration of the argument initially presented in the strophe. The word itself means "to turn back," which makes sense given that the chorus moves in the opposite direction of the strophe; for the antistrophe, the movement is left to right. The antistrophe serves as a response to the strophe, but it does not get the last word. The antistrophe only complicates the issue and makes it difficult to see the correct answer or path for characters to take. In one section of "Antigone," the chorus recalls the story of Lycurgus, a king who mocked the god Dionysus and was therefore punished by being imprisoned and driven insane. This story implies that Antigone's entombment is fair given her crime.
The epode, or "after song," is the third and final section of the ode. In the epode, the chorus comes together in the center of the stage and delivers a final stanza. While the strophe and antistrophe are delivered in the same meter as one another, the epode is often slightly different. In many odes, the epode is omitted, so the strophe and antistrophe comprise the entire choral interlude.
Amber Hathaway is an English teacher in the Boston area. She has earned bachelor and masters degrees in English education, and is currently licensed to teach ELA in grades 8-12. She specializes in curriculum development and program design.