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Sophocles’ Antigone

Why the Gods Do Not Spare the Innocent

Sophocles’ Antigone is a drama about a young woman who defies orders because she believes them to be wrong.  Her uncle Creon, the ruler of Thebes, had proclaimed that no one was to give the rites of burial to Antigone’s brother Polynices, because he besieged his own homeland.  However, Greek religious custom unambiguously requires that the dead must be given a proper burial, and the next of kin had primary responsibility for the rites of burial.  Antigone understands that ties of blood take precedence over temporary disputes and rivalries.  She believes that she will see her family again, after she dies, when she will live in the lower world in a house with other members of her family, who will be united in death as they never were during their lifetimes.

Antigone’s courage makes her appear to be a protofeminist, a woman who refuses to stay inside the house and do what is expected of her.  In fact, however, it is not remarkable that the person who loses her life because of her piety toward the gods happens to be female and that the violator of the gods’ laws happens to be male.  Even though the ancient Greeks did not permit women to govern or to vote, they recognized that females often had a better sense of what is right and just than men do and that they were the survivors of the wars initiated and fought by men.  Women preserved the family; they washed the bodies...

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