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Greek Cultural Values in Antigone

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Grace Murphy

on 22 February 2015

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Transcript of Greek Cultural Values in Antigone

The Favour of the Gods: Antigone Vs. Creon
Antigone, Creon and the "Ideal Greek"
Ancient Greece was a society with strict norms about how people were expected to behave. Cultural values on the subject of family, authority, respect for the dead and obedience to the gods permeated every aspect of their culture.

The Ancient Greeks believed that service to the gods was the most important of the above values and that the gods would lend their favor to those who obeyed them.

"Antigone" by Sophocles is a play that reflects many of these values in its two most significant characters- a young woman, Antigone, and her uncle, King Creon. Both Antigone and Creon embody and reject these values in different ways.

Sophocles may have intended for Creon and Antigone to be extremely similar characters that are contrasted against each other in order to highlight the idea of the ideal Greek citizen as one who obeys the gods above all.
Greek Cultural Values
Religion:
-The ancient Greeks believed in many gods and goddesses. They were believed to be extremely powerful, with control over aspects of nature or human society, but not omnipotent.
-The gods had human vices. Myths often described them behaving in human-like ways, including jealousy, revenge and competitiveness. The gods were often shown lending their favor to certain humans, whether it was to use them in a dispute against another god, or because that human was considered righteous.
-The gods could reward or punish humans at whim.
-Thus, complete obedience to the gods was an important value to the Greeks, for the sake of self-protection and the protection of those around them.
Family:
-Loyalty to ones' family was another important value in Ancient Greece.
-Much of Greek religion centered around the home and family.
-Part of this ideal of loyalty to one's family came the idea of ensuring they had proper passage to the afterlife.
-This meant that bodies had to be buried with the proper honors in order to pass to the Underworld, as was the will of the gods.
Speaking of Ancient Greek beliefs about the dead...
-Hubris was the greatest "sin" in Ancient Greek religion.
-Hubris was considered all consuming, harmful pride, basically considering oneself above the gods.
-It could also include such acts as rape or
desecration of a corpse.
Some other things to remember...
-Pride was not considered a sin in itself- it only because hubris when it became obsessive and destructive.
-Women had next to no rights in Ancient Greece. They were expected to be submissive to the male head of the household.
-The gods were believed to show their favor to humans by accepting or not accepting their offerings. Much of the worship of Greek gods revolved around animal sacrifices made at an altar or temple. The animal was then immolated.
-The Greeks believed in an honorable death- for example, it was more honorable for a soldier to die in battle than to retreat.
Antigone
In the play, Antigone defies her uncle, Creon, in order to ensure that her brother Polynices, is given a proper burial in order to pass into the afterlife.
How sweet to die in such employ, to rest
Sister and brother linked in love's embrace
A sinless sinner, banned awhile on earth,
But by the dead commended and with them
I shall abide forever. As for thee,
Scorn, if you wilt, the laws of Heaven.
-Antigone, (72-77)
-This quote was spoken by Antigone during her conversation with her sister Ismene early in the play. Ismene believes that as women and Creon's subjects, they should respect his decision not to bury Polynices. Antigone believes that the rule of the gods is more important, and that if she is put to death for carrying out their will, it will be an honorable death.
This quote shows several important things about Antigone:
-She does not believe in obeying Creon, a man, above all, instead she places the gods as the highest rulers.
-Her family is extremely important to her. Although Polynices was a traitor who caused countless deaths, she still loves him and wants to give him a proper burial.
-She believes in an honorable death and self-sacrifice.

Creon
As a punishment for betraying his brother and causing a war, Creon forbids his nephew Polynices from being buried, thus denying him an afterlife. He later sentences Antigone to death by being walled up in a cave for burying him, but sees the error of his ways and repents after Antigone's death triggers the suicides of his son and later his wife.
HAEMON
The Theban commons with one voice say, No.
CREON
What, shall the mob dictate my policy?
HAEMON
'Tis thou, methinks, who speakest like a boy.
CREON
Am I to rule for others, or myself?
HAEMON
A State for one man is no State at all.
CREON
The State is his who rules it, so 'tis held.
HAEMON
As monarch of a desert thou wouldst shine.
CREON
This boy, methinks, maintains the woman's cause.
HAEMON
If thou be'st woman, yes. My thought's for thee.
CREON
O reprobate, would'st wrangle with thy sire? (734-742)
-This is a conversation between Creon and his son Haemon. Haemon reveals that the common people of the city do not agree with Creon's decision not to bury Polynices and to put Antigone to death for doing so. Creon believes that the State belongs to him and that he should maintain his authority over it by killing Antigone. Creon also tries to invoke the value of loyalty to one's family by asking if Haemon is really going against his father.
This quote reveals several important things about Creon:
-He is committing hubris in several ways: being too proud to admit when he is wrong, desecrating a corpse, and seeing himself as the highest authority, even over the gods.
-He is committed to maintaining his authority, even to the point of killing his niece and refusing to bury his nephew.
As we know, Creon admits his wrongdoings and repents for them in the end, BUT only after being punished for them by the deaths of his wife and son, making him the Greek Tragic Hero.
So who has the favor of the gods?

-Antigone fits the idea of the ideal Greek since she is willing to risk herself to properly serve the gods and ensure her brother’s passage to the afterlife, and this is shown by her disobeying Creon’s decree not to bury Polynices.
--Creon fits the idea of the ideal Greek by maintaining his authority by sentencing Antigone to death.
The flesh was soft by now, and stinking,
So we sat on a hill to windward and kept guard.
No napping happened until the white round sun
Whirled in the center of the round sky over us:
Then, suddenly,
A storm of dust roared up from the earth, and the sky
Went out, the plain vanished with all its trees
In the stinging dark. We closed our eyes and endured it.
The whirlwind lasted a long time, but it passed;
And then we looked, and there was Antigone! (325-334)
The sentry's description of Antigone makes it seem like the forces of nature were working in her favor, as if the gods were supporting what she was doing.
Also....
When the priest Terisias speaks to Creon, he describes how a dog that was sacrificed did not burn properly when placed in a fire. The Ancient Greeks would have believed this was a sign that the gods were displeased with the king's actions.

Creon is later shown to be punished by the gods through the deaths of his wife and son.

More on this soon.
The role of man
-Creon believes that since he is a man he is elevated over Antigone. This does not contradict the societal and cultural context of the story.
-Antigone believes that since Creon is a man his authority over her as her uncle is not as important as the authority of the gods.
-One sees being a man as being powerful, one sees it as being weak.
-The Greeks were a patriarchal society but believed the gods were above all.
Antigone's Suicide
-The fact that Antigone dies may be interpreted to show that she was not favored by the gods.
-However, her death triggered Haemon’s suicide, and thus Eurydice’s suicide.
-Since Creon said “let the gods decide her fate”, this implies the gods caused the aforementioned string of events in order to punish Creon,
-Creon now accepts that he was wrong and accepts the consequences, as well as trying to fix the damage done by burying Polynices.

In conclusion:
Having been given the gods’ favor, Antigone is presented as being closer to the idea of the ideal Greek for most of the play. After her death and the deaths of Eurydice and Haemon, Creon accepts responsibility for his actions, thus redeeming him in the eyes of the gods and the audience.
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