Joe has taught college English courses for several years, has a Bachelor's degree in Russian Studies and a Master's degree in English literature.
Importance of Antigone
Antigone is an ancient literary work, written by Greek writer Sophocles. It has influenced world literature, but does it really have any relevance in today's world? Society has changed. The world has changed. Even our knowledge of the world and how it works is more advanced. How can this play about a woman who wants to bury her brother relate to any aspect of the 21st century? For starters, the ideas that Sophocles emphasizes continue to resonate today.
Sophocles introduces his audience to Creon, the Thebian king who believes his word is law. No one is allowed to challenge him, and this type of rule goes contrary to our idea of Greek democracy. Antigone disobeys the king, and their confrontation reveals the diminished role and value women have in society. There is also the question of whether man's law supersedes that of the gods. We still see these ideas discussed today.
Even before Antigone goes before King Creon, her sister, Ismene, states that 'we were born women, we should not strive with men'. Ismene tells Antigone that as women they have no right to go against the word of man. They are essentially of a lower class than men. Creon emphasizes this point when he comments that 'while I live no woman shall rule me'. If he asked a woman to tell him what to do, it would be a sign of weakness.
Ismene further emphasizes this point when she tells Antigone that women must obey, since they 'are ruled of the stronger'. This comment demonstrates the inequality between men and women. The disparity is based on the belief that physical strength means superiority. Although since Sophocles' time women have been granted all the same rights and, ostensibly, the same professional opportunities as men, there is still contention as to whether this is enough or even true. The always-contentious debate about the wage gap, or more recent stories of workplace harassment, show that the friction caused by gender roles, while improved since the time of Antigone, still exists.
Antigone buries her brother against the king's order. The king is considered the absolute ruler. So where is the idea of democracy? The idea appears when the chorus tells Antigone that she has 'rushed forward to the utmost verge of daring, and against that throne where Justice sits on high'. Since the king sits on the throne, he must be considered to mete justice as well. Preventing her brother from proper burial is not considered a just act by Antigone.
Creon, however, believes that 'whomsoever the city may appoint, that man must be obeyed. . . in just things and unjust'. He believes that since the city appointed him, his word is law and no one has the right to choose arbitrarily what rules and laws they will obey. If he was appointed king by the citizens, and he acts in a manner that's unjust, the people have a right to oppose him. Although Antigone doesn't go that far, her disobedience demonstrates her right to protest and call for change. Creon adamantly disagrees, which is why he imprisons her in a cave.
Antigone's civil disobedience shows a citizen holding the government accountable for unjust actions. Antigone indicates that Creon has 'no right to keep me from my own'. She believes the burial of her brother is just. The king's refusal to allow the burial is unjust, which moves Antigone to believe that she owes 'a longer allegiance to the dead than to the living'. Antigone believes the king is overstepping his bounds as monarch, and that he is impinging on the freedom of the people, such as the proper care for burial according to religious traditions.
In a democratic society, the people should have the right to choose their own religious beliefs. But when these beliefs oppose man's laws, which law takes precedence? Antigone follows her faith. She won't 'be guilty of dishonoring laws which the gods have established in honor.' Sophocles presents the question: do you choose your faith, or do you obey man's laws? Many people through history have chosen their faith at the expense of their own life. Antigone does the same.
This is a difficult, yet personal, choice. Antigone chooses to bury her brother in a respectful manner rather than let his body remain exposed to elements and wild creatures. The difficulty in choosing religious belief over edict of government authority appears in Ismene's choice. She chooses to follow the king's order, although she later recants and stands by Antigone's side. Ismene doesn't follow Antigone in death, but the difficulty she has in deciding which path to choose has relevance to today's world, where people continue to struggle with this choice.
Let's review. Antigone is an ancient literary work written by Greek writer Sophocles. It wouldn't seem to have much relevance in today's world, since with all the changes and advancements, the lives of the ancient Greeks would seem, well, ancient. The ideas Sophocles presents in Antigone have relevance in today's world, and indicate that modern society is not as advanced as we believe. The problems of gender equality, democratic voice, and religious faith still resonate today.
Antigone attempts to show the strength women have in the face of male authority. Women were subordinate to men during the time of Sophocles, and still face problems today in being considered equal to men. Antigone raises this issue through her disobedience toward the king's unjust decision. This raises the question of a democratic society and holding government leaders accountable. Creon doesn't believe this should be permitted, but Antigone shows that in the face of injustice, the people should make their voice heard.
Religious faith also plays a prominent role in Antigone. Should one follow one's religious faith to death, or acquiesce and follow man's law? Antigone does not question her faith. Ismene struggles in her choice between man and god, and provides an excellent example of the struggle in deciding which law to obey as well as showing us that doing the right thing comes with a price.
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