Feb 9, 2015

Monday Morning Quote (Sophocles, 2/9/15)

from Sophocles's Antigone (trans. Robert Fagles)


Antigone has buried her brother she says this to King Creone. 
Antigone:

Of course I did. It wasn't Zeus, not in the least,
who made this proclamation - not to me.
Nor did Justice, dwelling with the gods
beneath the earth, ordain such laws for men.
Nor did I think your edict had such force
that you, a mere mortal, could override the gods,
the great unwritten, unshakable traditions.
They are alive, not just today or yesterday:
they live forever, from the first of time,
and no one knows when they first saw the light.
 Antigone was produced shortly before 441 B.C. and is one of the most popular of the ancient Greek plays. Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus and in this play she challenges the king for the right to bury her brother. The king has decreed that the corpse be left to the elements. Antigone's two brothers killed each other fighting over the right to rule Thebes. Antigone ignores the decree and buries the brother even though the act is punishable by death. George Steiner says that Antigone is the one piece of literature that demonstrates "all the constants of conflict in the condition of man. These constants are fivefold: the confrontation of men and women; of age and of youth; of society and of he individual; of the living and the dead; of men and of god(s)."

In the short passage I quoted we see Antigone denying the King's authority to dictate morality. In Creone's mind it is he that has the ultimate authority over good and evil. The only thing good is obeying his commands. The only thing bad is to go against his commands. Antigone argues that morality and even law itself transcends the particular instance and the societal dictates of the present.

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