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Sophocles' Praise of Man in the Antigone

  • A. S. McDevitt (a1)


The first stasimon of the Antigone is widely and justly acknowledged to be one of the finest of Sophocles' extant lyrical compositions. The praises of the achievements of man are set forth in language whose sheer power of diction and imagery imparts to the ode a tone of sincerity and conviction which is perhaps rivalled only by the praise of Athene in the first stasimon of Oedipus Coloneus. Just as that ode shows that Sophocles felt a real and abiding love for his native city, so too from this ode in Antigone we can see that he was deeply and genuinely impressed with the picture of the cultural progress of man as expounded by Protagoras. The power and the achievements of man made a great impact upon him, which is reflected in this ode. But just as the praise of Athens is not to be regarded in this light alone, as an independent song (for it has an intimate connection with the drama arising from its immediate response to the situation and from its wider implications for the action of the play as a whole), so also here, the praise of man in Antigone must not be treated as independent of the action of the play. For the choral ode stands, in the first place at least, as a response to the situation by a character involved in that situation, and as such it has an important contributory part to play in the total effect of the drama.



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1. See, for example, Ehrenberg, V., Sophocles and Pericles (Oxford, 1964) 61ff.

2. See my article ‘The Nightingale and the Olive; Remarks on the First Stasimon of Oedipus Coloneus’, Wiener Studien (forthcoming).

3. Op. cit. 65.

4. Goheen, R. F., The Imagery of Sophocles’ Antigone (Princeton, 1951) 56. See especially 53–56 for a brief but eloquent discussion of these elements.

5. Musurillo, H., The Light and the Darkness (Leiden, 1967) 44.

6. Knox, B. M. W., The Heroic Temper (Calif., 1964) 112; Segal, C. P., ‘Sophocles’ Praise of Man and the Conflicts of the Antigone’, Arion iii 2, 1964, 46–66; Müller, G., ‘Ueberlegungen zum Chor der Antigone’, Hermes lxxxix, 1961, 398–422; compare also the remarks in Müller’s excellent commentary, , Sophokles’ Antigone (Heidelberg, 1967) 83–89; Jens, W., ‘Antigone-Interpretationen’, in Festschrift Otto Weinreich (Baden-Baden, 1952) 43–58, reprinted in Sophokles (Wege der Forschung, Band XCV, Darmstadt, 1967) 295–310. Cf. also Alexanderson, B., ‘Die Stellung des Chors in der Antigone’, Eranos Ixiv, 1966, 85–105.

7. Bowra, C. M., Sophoclean Tragedy (Oxford, 1965) 86. Cf. also Musurillo, as quoted above.

8. Kirkwood, G. M., A Study of Sophoclean Drama (Ithaca, 1958) 206.

9. Op. cit. 63.

10. This point is well made by Goheen also (op. cit. 55), who refers it rightly to the secondary or underlying level of meaning in the ode.

11. Whitman, C. H., Sophocles (Cambridge, Mass., 1951) 91.

12. So Pearson’s apparatus. But Jebb claims that L reads ἔρδει.

13. Op. cit. 185, note 47.

14. Jebb rightly compares Demosth. 4, 51: vιϰώη 8’ ὅτι πᾶσιv ὑμῑv μέλλει συvoίσειv: ‘may that counsel prevail which is going to be of advantage to all of you’; the advantage is seen as a fact, certainly derivable from the specific counsel which Demosthenes has in mind. If the optative μέλλoι were used, the sense would be: ‘whatever counsel may be of advantage … , may that one prevail.’

15. There is, besides, some difference between τὰ θεῶv ἔvτιμα and θεῶv δίϰη, the phrase used by the Chorus. The former need suggest only Antigone’s sense of the fitness of burying Polyneices, whereas δίϰη inevitably suggests the notion of law.

16. For the Choral dance as a symbol of the salvation and continuity of society, cf. O.T. 896 and 1093, and see my article, ‘The Dramatic Integration of the Chorus in Oedipus Tyrannus’, Classica et Mediaevalia (forthcoming).

17. For a defence of this text, see my paper ‘Two Notes on Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus’, Parola del Passato (forthcoming).

18. My paraphrase is based on the commonly accepted conjecture γεϱαίϱωv. But the received text παϱείϱωv has much to be said for it, if it can mean ‘weaving together’, which does not seem an unduly bold departure from the word’s basic meaning; and ‘to weave together’ seems an acceptable metaphor for ‘to identify’. Certainly the ironic value of the phrase is greatly enhanced by retaining παϱείϱωv. The Chorus insists on a correlation, a weaving together, an identification, of human law (vὁμoυς χθovὁς) and divine law (θεῶv δίϰαv). It is Creon, as we have seen, who makes such an identification, and the Chorus supports him in it, believing that thus he is ὑψίπoλις. But the subsequent action will show that Creon is mistaken in his belief that his own laws are congruent with the justice of the gods.

19. Among the works cited above (notes 4, 5, and 6) see especially those of Goheen, Musurillo and Müller.

Sophocles' Praise of Man in the Antigone

  • A. S. McDevitt (a1)


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