Philosophy Behind Antigone, Sophocles’ Core Beliefs and How they Informed his Narrative

Antigone is a famous Greek tragedy that was written before 440 BC by the philosopher Sophocles. As one of the most renowned tragedians in the ancient world, it is quite remarkable that his plays still survive. Antigone is written in the Theban tetralogy style that was popular during this particular epoch in history. Athens was in its Classical Period during which the ruling class encouraged the development of theatre and other forms of art across the city-state (Badger, 2013, p. 42). Antigone begins with the aftermath of the war in Thebes. Two brothers, Polynices and Eteocles, had fought each other in a vicious military campaign to occupy the throne. Nevertheless, both died leaving their uncle Creon as sole contender for the crown since he was next in the line. However, Creon views both bothers from an unusual perspective. He considers Eteocles a loyal legionnaire while Polynices is viewed as a traitor whose death was justified. It was this attitude that set the tone after the end of both brothers as Eteocles was to be buried with full honors while Polynices’s corpse would be left outside and exposed to the elements. Athenians were also threatened with severe consequences if they dared to disobey this directive and give their fallen hero a proper burial. Antigone soon learns of this situation and approaches Ismene requesting to be allowed to give Polynices a proper burial. Even so, Ismene refuses to grant her request, also though Antigone is relentless in her quest to obey the gods. Hence, it is fundamental to explore the philosophy behind Antigone, Sophocles’ core beliefs and how they informed his narrative.

            One of the most critical facts to note about Sophocles is that he wrote Antigone during the reign of Pericles. As ruler of Athens, Pericles was known for his ruthlessness and sheer heavy-handedness. It was a tactic which he executed expeditiously to ensure that the city-state remained united after the damaging effects of the Peloponnesian wars. Pericles is also remembered for his undying support for the arts and theatre for he considered Athens as a center of cultural heritage in the classical world. Sophocles was actively involved in the city-state’s exploits and was even appointed as a general in one of Pericles’s excursion against Samos Island. It was a period of political fervor, which is why it is striking that Sophocles chose to tone down such talk in favor of a tragedy set in Thebes.  An atmosphere of uncertainty pervades the narrative as the playwright describes the circumstances that led to the civil war and the disunity it has created. Sophocles’ philosophy was one that centered on individuals inherent goodness and their ability to implement lasting changes when confronted by grim reality. Antigone embodies this attribute since she goes as far as risking her life and disobeying Creon’s directive for the greater good.  She recognizes her duty to the gods and her family which is why she is ready to risk her life for the sake of social decency: “I didn’t say yes. I can say no to anything I say vile, and I don’t have to count the cost. But because you said yes, all that you can do, for all your crown and your trappings, and your guards—all that you can do is to have me killed” (Sophocles, 2013, p. 15). Sophocles was an exponent of democracy and Antigone might have been the best chance he had in exposing the risk posed by absolute power in young republics. Creon is strict and unrelenting, which leaves his subjects paying a high price.

            Antigone was also written to express Sophocles’ moral barograph and opinions on topical issues that were of concern at that particular period in history. He firmly believed that rulers had been accorded an exclusive opportunity by the gods to govern wisely and enable their subjects to lead useful lives. In return, citizens were expected to obey their leaders and respect all their directives thus honoring them. However, Sophocles is still aware of the challenges that such an expectation poses in a society that was as stratified as Athens was during the reign of Pericles. The higher classes consisted of sophisticated political leaders and their cronies who dominated every major aspect of life in Greece (Markantonatos, 2012, p. 54). Additionally, they were the largest landowners and expected individuals from the lower classes to work for them when summoned. Sophocles questions this nascent demeanor and makes good use of the Chorus by Theban elders to express his sentiments about the issue. Moreover, Sophocles believed in an egalitarian society with fair play and opportunities for social advancement. He exemplifies this belief by including a sentry from the lower strata of society in the player. The sentry uses lower-class language which is less complex as opposed to the stylized poetry that the rest of the characters use. Such characters indicated the political undertones which the playwright wanted to explore.  For instance, Sophocles was a strong believer in personal freedoms. He, therefore, presents Creon as a threat to personal obligations and a cause for worry since such rulers often end up instituting state control.

 Sophocles was also keen on presenting his philosophy, which is why he crafted a masterpiece which still has legal epistemic relevance. From the onset, it is clear that Creon and Antigone are on a collision path. As mentioned earlier, Creon believes that Polynices was a traitor who does not deserve any honor even in death. On the other hand, Antigone seeks to perform her filial duty of loyalty while also obeying the gods. In essence, this rivalry is a clash between human laws and rules of the divine. Antigone seems ready for the consequences that may follow her actions but seems at peace with the fact since she would be answering a higher calling (Sophocles, 2013). She is, thus, presented as a pious martyr who was ready to face a ruthless opponent.  It is also worth acknowledging that Creon also plays an essential role in the antagonism depicted in the play. He represents an abstract right inherent in every leader with the primary objective being to ensure public order prevails at all times. Both protagonists are myopic and fail to understand each other’s point of view. They hold differing opinions about law and justice, which is why subjective morality hinders success in any of their endeavors. Sophocles points out the danger of a single approach regarding morality since it, eventually, creates more problems for those involved. Furthermore, Sophocles seeks to present the ambiguity of life and the struggles that individuals will face in their quest to understand their role in a world that does not exhibit any synthetic harmony.  In conclusion, Antigone is one of Sophocles’ most popular plays and presents a philosophy that was ubiquitous during the Classical Period. In writing the play, Sophocles sought to explore oppressive leadership styles, individual’s moral duties and the legal episteme of any choice made. By so doing, he succeeded in presenting the dynamics of ancient life and advice on how to maneuver through rapids.

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