Antigone Moral Obligation and Civil Disobedience

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Greek tragedy often teaches moral lessons at the expense of human life and political will. Antigone is the tragic story of the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta of Thebes after the army of Argos vanishes and her brothers have killed each other on opposite sides of the battle. While the Greeks were well-aware of the literary history, the tragedy still provides a historical and modern perspective for one of the oldest questions in society: how does one protest an unjust and cruel law that is contrary to moral obligation? The tragic conflict between Creon, Antigone and Ismene illustrates the struggle between the unjust laws of kings and the Greek gods.

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Creon, as the king, represents the dictator of human laws; Ismene represents the frail human emotion of submission to power; and Antigone illustrates the concept of facing unjust and tragic death without doubting its purpose. Antigone is the quintessential character who risks her life to comply with divine order, familial loyalty and social decency in the face of political power. In the process, her actions demonstrate how to follow ones moral soul to do the right thing.Historically, Greeks held burial of the dead as the most sacred of acts.

Honoring the dead and their valor plays a significant role in their literature and mythology. Homer provided examples in the Iliad regarding an agreement and ceasefire during the Trojan War to pay homage to the bodies of fallen soldiers and conduct their funerals with admirable rituals. The extraordinary sense of duty and honor continued centuries later in Greek Theatre. Respect and burial of the dead played a significant role between the democratic city and those who fought for it. Sophocles wrote in an era of democracy, but the laws of the gods were still powerful. The citys and the individuals fate were one in the same and even after death, they would be remembered as honorable men continuing to live in the city. The legend of Oedipus and his children was well-known by all of Greece. The conflict between the brothers seeking to rule was a story that repeats throughout history. Thebes was a divine monarchy under attack. Against this landscape, the stories of Antigone begin after the armies of Argos has vanished and the two sons of Oedipus, Polynices and Eteocles, have killed each other in war. Each brother believed his actions were just.

Sophocles interprets the ancient story with the Chorus, whose role changes throughout the play. The city, represented by the Chorus, is summoned by the new ruler, Creon. Creon thanks the citizens for their loyal service and dictates a proper burial for Eteocles to honor his loyalty as a defender of his city. He then prohibits, under punishment of death, any burial of Polynices as a punishment for his treason.

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