How was your understanding of cultural and contextual considerations of the work developed through the interactive oral?
After taking part in the interactive oral presentation carried out by Sonia’s group, I now believe that I have gained a much greater understanding of the play Antigone. Themes commented on by the presentation were women, religion and tragedy; further examining their place in society at the time the play was written by contrasting it to society today. Obstacles hindering my understanding of the play, including its time and setting, have been removed. After comparing so vividly the society of Ancient Greece and that of the one I live in, I can now empathize with Antigone and the rest of the characters in the play, consequently broadening my understanding of the hard times that they had to endure. Many of the issues regarding women, religion and politics in the country during the period were observed in Sophocles’ Antigone, clearly displaying their importance. The contemporary issues that shaped the play deserve further exploration.
Women’s roles in ancient Greek society were shockingly different in comparison to that of today. Before the presentation, I was aware of some differences between their society and ours but I was unaware that they were so extreme. Although she seems extremely negative and erratic, Ismene was shown to be a leading example of a woman at the time – the first difference between their society and ours. Although she is elevated in society she doesn’t hear about anything important – “No one has told me anything, Antigone, I have heard nothing…” Before the presentation, the irrelevant positions of women were unknown to me. As well as seen to be worthless, women were also presented as being a negative influence on men – “Don’t let any woman ensnare you…” was Creon’s advice to Haemon, displaying the general consensus on women. We examined Creon’s motives, prospecting that if Antigone weren’t a woman, would the punishment be the same?
Another important theme that was brought to my attention during the interactive oral presentation was that of religion. The religious laws in this time and country were incredibly significant. This society’s view on religion is a major influence in the play Antigone. It would have affected how the people in the country (the characters in the play) acted and what they thought, a large contrast to today. The themes examined by Antigone would have been incredibly shocking to the original audience as they were the social norms. After being informed, I was then able to make connections in the text, as to why certain things were said and insinuated about being rewarded in the afterlife and why specific acts were committed – all under the influence of religion. Prior to the presentation, I was completely uninformed as to the religion and many other cultural aspects of Ancient Greece.
Antigone: An Assessment of Antigone’s and Creon’s Deeply Held Beliefs and Views On Familial and State Responsibilities
In his play Antigone, Sophocles explores the ethical integrity of familial and state ties through the opposing viewpoints and beliefs of the central characters, Antigone and Creon. By pitching these two individuals against each other, Sophocles also successfully reveals the raw and multi-faceted nature of humanity. The tragic consequences that conclude Antigone emphasize the deadly differences between each character’s views on the unwritten duty towards family and the binding laws of the city-state, a conflict that would very likely be less of an issue in modern society. Sophocles promotes Antigone’s character, as she is the traditional protagonist of the play. By doing so, Sophocles succeeds in building the audience’s compassion towards her.
The audience is influenced therefore, through this empathy created towards Antigone, to view Creon’s ethical actions as being less moral than her own. However, it must be added that Creon’s points of view and actions can nevertheless also be justified. By studying the destiny of each character, and how each of their fates come to pass, one can get a clearer understanding of how and why Sophocles influences the audience into favoring Antigone and her domestic role, rather than Creon and his cold inflexibility. The contrasting views and principles that drive each character deserve assessment as the opposing passions driving each of them, lead to the play’s tragic, dramatic and poignant conclusion.
Sophocles brings to life the characters of Antigone and Creon, developing for each, a sense of responsibility and a set of morals, which clash dramatically with the opposite character’s. By pitting these two characters against one another, Sophocles not only successfully contrasts the ethical views of each, but also cleverly exposes the true face of humanity. Antigone is placed as both lead character and heroine of the play, as she holds a domestic, reasoned and more acceptable stance; any audience would name her as heroine. A.E. Haigh, author of ‘An analysis of the play by Sophocles – The Tragic Drama of the Greeks’ clearly states that Antigone lives a more familial motivated lifestyle, saying, “Antigone, however, seems to have been of a more domestic type.”1 Antigone’s resilient, and somewhat egotistical, feeling of responsibility toward family is what drives her to publicly violate Creon’s new decree and to question his judgment on, and knowledge of, divine law.
Antigone does this without question, so deep is her respect of the gods over the state. She clearly feels more obligated towards her religious responsibilities and ties than anything else. This somewhat defiant character believes that the gods alone determine her fate; she will do whatever is necessary to appease them. “I shall die in the knowledge that I have acted justly. What greater satisfaction than that … We have too little time to waste it on men, and the laws they make. The approval of the dead is everlasting, and I shall bask in it as I lie among them.”2. Here Antigone’s use of language shocks the audience as she has clearly prioritized her existence in accepting death and rejecting mortal life.
This strong and deeply held belief drives Antigone to stand by her familial responsibilities with steely determination and to perform the burial rights for her deceased brother that were callously denied him by Creon. Her acceptance of death shocks the audience as it almost seems as if she desires it. She remains certain throughout the play that the gods will reward her devotion and her heroic actions in the afterlife. Although she says differently, it appears that Antigone also strives for public acclaim in Thebes. When Ismene mentions that she won’t inform anyone of Antigone’s plans, Antigone responds strongly, “Don’t you dare! You must tell everybody, shout it in the streets.” This rebellious response from Antigone seems to indicate that her actions are not only divinely, but also somewhat egotistically motivated.
The second central character, Creon, shares Antigone’s determinism in abiding by principles and beliefs. However, contrary to Antigone, Creon remains certain that humans can in fact dictate the moral laws of society and that the state should and can handle its own matters by asking, “Is it likely, remotely likely that the gods will think twice over that stinking pile of meat?” Rather than fearing the immortal gods and their unwritten laws, Creon strives to uphold those of man and of state. His stubborn punishment of Antigone, a woman whose only desire is to bury her brother, shows a lack of respect and contempt for all family values and ties. Although Creon could justify his actions as being those required of a king, it is evident that they are too extreme. G.H. Gellie in ‘Sophocles: A Reading’ states, “He reminds us repeatedly of the physical nastiness of the [body’s] exposure …
We are made to feel in our stomachs that this is no way to treat the body of a human being.”3 Any empathy that the audience may have felt towards Creon quickly vanishes at this point in the play. However, this is somewhat redressed later when, ironically he loses his family members: his wife and son. Throughout Antigone, Creon appears to be unable to grasp the key traits of ruling and living in an ethical society. This is evident when he states, “I’ve just seen her inside in fury, not like someone in full control of her senses. The heart of one who weaves wickedness in darkness is usually convicted beforehand. I, for my part, hate anyone caught in the act who tries to beautify his crimes thereupon.”2 Statements of this nature show Creon’s cold and callous assessments of the morally upright Antigone – the effect on the audience is unambiguous: One can feel nothing but disdain for such a harsh and unfeeling character.
It is Creon’s own rules and regulations that publicly expose his apparent lack of respect for family values and duties. This is evident when he introduces his new decree, stating that Polynices cannot be buried. Creon’s secondary flaw is that he continually acts on his own self interest. His motivations are driven by his selfishness and not by the opinions or interest of his people. Egotistical traits such as these are neither honorable nor wise for a successful ruler. Creon’s son, Haemon, challenges his father, informing him that he neglects to serve the people of Thebes and fails to pay attention to their cries. He argues, “How the city weeps for this girl, says she’s the least worthy of all women to die so badly for such noble deeds.”2 Creon responds, with an outrageous outburst, displaying his arrogance through his strong views. He asks, “The city will tell me how I ought to rule it? … Isn’t the city thought to be her ruler’s?”2 His blatantly conceited claims, coupled with his unconcealed disregard for fair judgment, build tension towards a seemingly inevitable clash with Antigone, who is filled with equal tenacity but whose views are diametrically opposed to his.
The viewpoints of each character can be interpreted as quite ironic and at odds: Although Antigone strives to defend family values by violating the state’s laws, she remains a prominent and functioning member of Theban society. Likewise, even though Creon remains a loving husband and father, his ability to completely disregard familial ties in support of state laws is shocking. As the two are directly opposed, it is interesting to see how the characters cope in the same culture. Antigone and Creon are of such determined characters, that the irony considering each of their particular devotions to family and state becomes even more alarming.
Antigone appears the most ethical of the two as she is willing to risk her life over her decision to uphold family rights; Creon can also appear morally just, because, as king, he is motivated solely by his duty to serve Thebes. It could also be argued that neither Creon nor Antigone are wrong in their convictions: they are two sides that are simply conflicting. As the two protagonists stubbornly remain true to their deeply held beliefs and responsibilities, they are driven to make decisions that ultimately lead to their mutual destruction. This destruction in itself demonstrates the ethical validations of both Antigone’s and Creon’s opposing characters.
As well as highlighting the problems with society at that time, Sophocles through the characters of Antigone and Creon, reveals the true face of humanity, in all its ugliness. Sophocles cleverly manipulates the emotions of his audience in order to expose humanity’s true nature. G.H. Gellie identifies the depth of the audience’s feelings when he says that we feel this response “in our stomachs”3 Our response is almost instinctive: we cannot help but react deeply in this way. Sophocles successfully plays with our emotions and makes us feel outraged. Although Creon’s flaws reflect the flaws of humanity, Antigone herself is not without flaws. Like her king, Antigone demonstrates strong opinions and, at times, acts in her own interest. She passionately defies the state’s dominance over domestic values.
These obstinate principles are what lead Antigone down the path of destruction, glorified nonetheless. Sophocles portrays Antigone’s reasons, as being nobler than Creon’s who is profoundly selfish and possesses a frightening persistence to carry out his brutal deed. Tiresias, another character, provides an omen when he sternly warns king to be more understanding and to consider the impact of what he is doing, “You don’t protect it when you trample the honors of the gods!”2 Haemon and the chorus also warn the king, impartially informing him that his actions may not be as ethical as he imagines they are.
Each character’s warnings are disregarded, amid wild accusations of bribery and foul play. Consequently, the audience is encouraged to feel less sympathy for Creon than they do for Antigone, a woman whose only desire is to bury her slain brother. Antigone is prepared to lose her life trying to uphold family values and feels she has no choice but to accept her fate. On the other hand, after pleas from numerous characters, Creon repeatedly fails to see sense and strives to avoid his dark fate.
To conclude, in the play Antigone, the catastrophic conflict of beliefs that occurred between family and state in ancient Thebes is carefully demonstrated in the disastrous events that take place. Questions of morality and duty are challenged throughout the play as the two central characters, Antigone and Creon, clash violently in their battle to uphold the views they so diligently and resolutely stand behind. The views and deeply held beliefs of Antigone and Creon are of key significance in the play; they are what drive the plot to its tragic conclusion. However, they are not simply the driving force of the play, but the vehicle through which Sophocles exposes the many facets of humanity: its beauty and its ugliness. Through the tragic events that conclude the story, Sophocles was likely indicating that an amalgamation of the two characters’ contrasting approaches would be the best way to operate in ancient Greek society.
1. An analysis of the play by Sophocles – The Tragic Drama of the Greeks – A.E. Haigh -Oxford: Clarendon Press 1896
2. Sophocles – Antigone
3. Sophocles: A Reading – G. H. Gellie – Melbourne University Press 1972