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Sophocles and Antigone
Sophocles is an ancient Greek writer and philosopher, who wrote one of the greatest stories of all time Antigone. Sophocles is also said to be one of the greatest minds in the ancient world. This paper talks about Antigone, achievements and times of Sophocles.
Sophocles was born about 496 BC at Colonus in Attica, near Athens and died 406 BC. He lived in the most brilliant intellectual period of Athens. Sophillus, his father, was a wealth Athenian citizen and gave him a sound education in music, gymnastics, and dancing. He was well known as having a reputation for learning and esthetic taste. He was well versed in Homer and the Greek lyric poets, and because of his industriousness he was known as the “Attic Bee” (Rexine 132). “Do to his youthful beauty, he was chosen to lead the chorus in the Paen of Thanksgiving for the naval victory at Salamis in 480 BC.” (Rexine 132)
In Sophocles’ long life he several times held public office, partly do to his fame as a dramatist and his gentle qualities as a man. “In 440 BC he was appointed one of the generals in the war which Pericles led against Samos, and in 413 BC.” (Magill, Kohler p# 1023) He was also one of the ten commissioners appointed after the failure of the expedition to Sicily, to govern Athens. Pericles once said to him “you know how to write poetry, but you certainly don’t know how to command an army” (Internet)
Sophocles first won first prize, in a competition with Aeschylus, on 468 BC at the age of twenty-eight. During his career he never won less than second prize and gained first prize twenty times, more than any other Greek tragedian. Sophocles wrote more than 120 tragedies, only a mear seven have survived. “Plutarch tells us that there were three periods in Sophocles’s literary development: imitation of the grand style of Aeschylus, use of artificial and incisive style, and use of the best style and that which is most expressive of character. It is only from the third period we have examples of.” (Rexine p#134)
The seven tragedies that survive are Ajax 447 BC, Antigone 442/441 BC, Oedipus at Colonus 401 BC, Tracheniae 437-432 BC, Oedipus Rex 429 BC, Electra 418-414 BC.
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Sophocles made many improvements to plays such as adding scene painting and a third actor. He increased the number of the chorus from twelve to fifteen, and reduced the proportion of the play given to the chorus, thereby accelerating the progress of the action; he also made better tragic masks and made many other technical improvements. A grandmaster in the delineation of characters, he is credited with the invention of the heroic maiden, and the ingenuous young man.
Antigone is the young princess who pits herself against her uncle, King Creon. She defies his cruel judgement forbidding the burial of her brother Polyneicess who in attempt to invade Thebes and seize the thrown from his brother Eteoclels, slew himself into mortal combat and in turn was slain. Against the pleas of her sister Ismene and her fiancé Haemon. Antigone goes to her death holding to her defiance and buries Polyneices.
The theme of Antigone had enormous impact in my life. Antigone stood up for what she believed in even if it cost her the ultimate sacrifice, her life. I believe that I do have the same determination, strong will and loyalty she had.
The political ramifications of her actions could have been great and wide sweeping if the King did not act as swiftly and as efficiently as he had. Antigone’s political move was wrong do to several reasons: King Creon made a decision and she should have stood by it, if she wasn’t loyal to him she should have joined her brothers side. The blatant disregard for the law may have given the citizens an idea they could break the law whenever they want. King Creon acted justly and stood by his word and has his niece killed. By showing what he could do to his family, he left the people to wonder what he could to someone not related to him.
“The religion that developed among the Greeks during the Homeric Age differed greatly from the religions of the Egyptians, Persians and Hebrews.” (Avery, Jotham p# 486) The Greeks asked three things from their religion, an explanation for mysteries such as the physical world
thunder, lightning, and the changing of the seasons. An explanation of passions was considered a necessity, and a way to gain such benefits as long life, good fortune and good harvests.
Greek religion strangely did not focus on mortality. Greeks did not require their religion to save them from sin, bring them any spiritual blessings, or to ensure life after death. Often Greeks cremated or burned their dead with a simple ritual. They thought that with a few exceptions the spirits of all the people went to a gray and gloomy place the “underworld”.
The Greeks gave human qualities and personal characteristics to their gods and goddesses. They believed that the gods as having weaknesses and wants much like their own but on a grander scale. The Greeks had many gods for various things such as weather, underworld, sea, and love. The king of the gods was Zeus god of thunder and lightning.
“Greeks considered marriage a very important institution. Its main purpose was the bearing and rearing of children. Girls married early, usually at the age of thirteen or fourteen and to a man who was at least twice her age.” (Magill, Kohler p# 487) A married woman had few legal rights. She couldn’t make a contract or bring a suit in court. When a man died his wife didn’t inherit his property.
Women’s duties included managing the household and the slaves and raising the children. “The mother aided by a woman slave, took care of both boys and girls until the age of six. At the age of six, a boy was placed in the care of a male slave who taught the boy proper manners and went everywhere with him. Girls stayed at home, where they learned how to run a household.” (Internet)
Farming was the most honorable occupation for a Greek citizen. “More than half of all it’s citizens farmed, including many who owned small plots of land, farmers concentrated on growing olives, grapes, and figs” (Avery, Jotham p# 1023) on terraced hillsides. Athens exported olive oil and wine and imported a lot of the grain it needed to feed its people.
In Athens the economy depended on Trade. A large desire to increase the food supply influenced all government policy. It made foreign trade a necessity and led to a large Athenian fleet and an establishment of colonies throughout the Mediterranean.
Greek government changed from monarchy to aristocracy and then to tyranny. The people decided they could and should rule themselves rather than be ruled by others took root in many city-states. “City-states were a form of government developed by the Sumerian, it consisted of a town or city and the surrounding land it controlled.” (Funk and Wagnall’s p# 1328) Some cities that ousted their tyrants restored monarchies or aristocracies. Others developed a new form of government called democracy.
“After his death the Spartans under Lysander invaded Athens. According to legend, Dionysus appeared to Lysander in a dream and commanded him to honor with all the usual honors of the dead the new siren. As a result of the vision Lysander granted a truce, and the poet was buried on the road to Declea, where an image of a siren marked his tomb.” (Avery, Jotham p# 1024)
The work of Sophocles is considered the very perfection of tragedy. He is arguably the best ancient and modern day tragedian writer ever to grace the pages of time. What do you think about Sophoclean tragedy?
Avery B. Catherine, Johnson Jotham, The New Century Classical Handbook, New York: Appelton-Century-Crofts, 1962.
Landau I Sidney, The Readers Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary, Pleasantville, New York: Funk & Wagnall’s, 1977.
Magill N. Frank, Kohler Dayton, Cyclopedia of World Authors, New York: Harper and Row, 1958.
Rexine E. John, Encyclopedia of World Biography, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1973.
I. Biography of Sophocles
B. Place of birth
D. Important works
II. Synopsis of Antigone
III. Theme of Antigone
A. Relevance to my life
IV. Greeks Culture
V. Greek Economy
A. Main resources
VI. Greek Government
B. Type of Government