Tompkins 1


Original Word Count: 1,800 -- but shortened here by DB, using ellipses (“[. . . ]”)

A Historical Perspective on

Sophocles’ tragic Antigone was written around 420 B.C.E. but is as relevant today was it would have been to the original Athenian audience. The story of the archetypal rebel who stares down the tyranny of the state is timeless. Antigone is a girl who as the play begins has two paths she can follow. She can get married to the son of the King, have children, and live happily ever after. Or she can ignore the specific dictates of the King, bury the rotting corpse of her brother and ultimately be put to death for it. It is easy to see how the specific actions of Antigone are still relevant. Despite the relevancy of battle against tyranny, there are certain elements that may be lost on a contemporary audience. My question is: it is important, in trying to get a true sense of the of the play, to have a better understanding of what Sophocles was trying to articulate to his original audience? I be taking a look at two secondary sources which should give different perspective of the historical context of the play and help answer the question of what Sophocles was trying to articulate to his original audience. First I will look the “The Wrath of : Withholding Burial in and Sophocles” by H. A. Shapiro. The second text I will examine is “Replaying Antigone: Changing Patterns of Public and Private Commemoration at

Athens c. 440–350” by Sarah Brown Ferrario. Upon assessing each source, I will re-evaluate my research question in light of the information covered. Tompkins 2

H. A. Shapiro’s essay “The Wrath of Creon: Withholding Burial in Homer and

Sophocles” compares the behavior of Homer’s and Sophocles’ Creon in relation to the withholding of burial. In both cases, Shapiro contends that each character is guilty of undertaking actions that are “overstepping the bounds of appropriate behavior for mortals” (Shapiro 120). He deals specifically with the decision to give burial in one case and withhold it in another. Shapiro looks at the historical record of black-figure vases to discuss the way these actions were perceived in ancient .

It is easy to make the connections that Shapiro wishes to make since his argument is laid out in an organized and logical manner. He specifically analyzes the decision of Creon to withhold burial by illustrating the similarity to the treatment of Hector’s body by Achilles in the

Iliad. He attempts to answer the question of whether Sophocles’ original audience would have indeed been aware of the Homeric implications (121). In relation to this linkage, he explains: “I believe there is also some visual evidence to support this parallel and to suggest that the issue of burial and its refusal was one of which the Athenians was keenly aware” (122). The visual evidence is the black-figure vase paintings. There are fifteen version of the portrayal of the treatment of Hector’s body still in existence. The visual presentation of this evidence is important in helping establish the link Shapiro wishes to make.

To further the connection between the two stories and Sophocles original audience,

Shapiro introduces ’ Seven against Thebes, in which the story of and

Polyneices is first introduced, giving context to the original story. Shapiro gives adequacy to his argument by augmenting his argument with the background of the original story. He asserts that in Aeschylus’ depiction, the withholding of burial was not a major theme. He goes on to state that the theme of withholding burial was added by Sophocles (126). Shapiro slowly works his Tompkins 3 way through the layers of context to get to his major assertion: Antigone was not a political statement. The crux of his argument hinges on the fact that the issue is a specifically Theban problem. Shapiro, in making his argument, notes that “[t]he issue of Polyneices’ burial is entirely internal to Thebes: his is a hero who fell attacking his own city in a power struggle with his brother and now lies unburied on Theban soil. No power outside Thebes is involved in any way”

(127-8). Given the manner in which the argument is laid out and the quality of the background information, it not hard for a reader to accept the thesis of the author.

Despite the fact that Shapiro makes his argument in a concise, logical manner, it is hard question if the original audience would have made the same connections. It is possible to look at the documentation that he provides and identify that scope of the evidence. This does not translate back to the original audience. It would be speculative and require something of a leap of faith to assume that the Athenian audience of Sophocles would have connected the same dots.

Yet, that is not to say that he does not make an objective argument. The documentation is well presented, the sources support his argument well, and it is just hard to make the necessary leap.

Where he may have provided more detail was the distinction that he makes between the religious and the political aspects. He makes his argument that the implication of the Creon’s actions are not political (or would not have been perceived as political), yet he does not follow up with a detail explanation of his argument.

Sarah Brown Ferrario contends in her essay “Replaying Antigone: Changing Patterns of

Public and Private Commemoration at Athens C. 440-350” that changing attitudes due to cultural changes in precipitated a change in the perception of the Antigone. Ferrario frames this argument by looking at ’ statement that Creon had given good advice. Tompkins 4

Ferrario makes a detailed argument about the changing attitudes in Athens from the time of Sophocles (specifically during the reign of ) and the orator/statesman Demosthenes

(after the ). She does this by looking at the “commemorative practices” of these two distinct periods. The way in which the information is laid out leaves no question about the sufficiency in terms of the argument. [A BIT MORE EVIDENCE AS TO “WHY” WOULD

BE HELPFUL HERE.] There is a vast amount of data relating to the specific aspects of the funerary monuments and means of commemoration. The overriding question may become is there too much information, does the initial thesis warrant the depth of detail provided to paint a clear picture of the changing attitudes? By contrast, the basic premise of the argument is predicated upon the words of Demosthenes, [. . . ]

The documentation of the changes in funerary practices suggests documentary accuracy.

In making the case that funerary practices changed, the author devotes significant energy providing explicit detail of the shift from the era before the Peloponnesian War until the era following it. [ . . . ]The full scope of the discussion of the commemoration that Ferrario discusses is too broad to mention here, but the scholarly fashion is which the information is documented firmly establishes the objectivity of the author. The full extent of the argument is rooted in the question of what changed in the perception from the time the drama was first produced [ . . .] .

To this end, Ferrario undertakes a detailed excavation of the landscape of commemoration, showing how the change in funerary methods invariably reflects the cultural changes that would have given birth to Demosthenes’ statement. The methodical way in which the author looks at the data and then documents it, provides a credible foundation upon which to make an argument.

Ferrario faces challenges when attempting to link the fifth-century “commemorative media that presented significant invocation of individual memorialization” (105) to the forth- Tompkins 5 century burial with emphasis on the “positions of individuals within the ” (105) eventually back to Demosthenes’ perception of Creon’s actions. The challenge here is not the authority, documentation, or sufficiency of data, but rather a matter of logic.

My own perspective of what Sophocles was trying to articulate to his Athenian audience is that hubris and tyranny have to be challenged. To fully understand that reactions of the original Athenian audience, it is necessary to understand why Antigone would wake up on her wedding day and decide should would rather die than allow her brother to go unburied another day. For this point might be lost on modern audiences. Though the archetypical image of the individual standing bravely against the forces of tyranny would be retained, the cultural aspects would be lost in translation. I concede that my perspective might be a bit broad, and Ferrario goes more in-depth, making cultural connections and differentiating the “religious” from the

“political.” My reply to the matter of “religious” versus “political” is that, irrespective of how one categorizes the matter, the overriding issue relates to one’s basic humanity and how one responds to it. History is defined by characters like Antigone who risk everything to resist tyranny. Her character is differentiated nicely by Sophocles in form of , the meek sister, who in some way defines most of us—just wanting to get through the day, making no waves.

The issue involved is base emotion and the dignity afforded to each person, and how we as individuals choose to deal with it. To this same end, Ferrario makes a compelling argument for how there was a shift in perception of Creon, and how that cultural shift can be identified by looking at the funerary practices. In response to Ferrario, I would assert that, well over a thousand years later in a culture far removed from the Athens of Sophocles and Demosthenes, the fundamental opposition of tyranny still resonates.

Tompkins 6

Tompkins 7

Works Cited

Ferrario, Sarah Brown. “Replaying Antigone: Changing Patterns of Public and Private

Commemoration at Athens C. 440-350.” 33 (2006): 79-119. Academic Search

Complete. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.

Shapiro, H.A. “The Wrath of Creon: Withholding Burial in Homer and Sophocles.” Helios 33

(2006): 79-119. Academic Search Complete. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.

Sophocles, The Three Theban Plays. Trans. by and Bernard

Knox. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin, 1984. Web.