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Portrayal of society in "Oedipus the King" and "Antigone"

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Portrayal of society in "Oedipus the King" and "Antigone" People and society have been significant principles in every civilization. We gain power through it, stay on top because of it and are a part of it. In Sophocles' time people were of great importance for the Greeks, it was the time of the establishment of democracy, the country was governed for and by the people. Antigone was written in France during the German occupation and contains political messages to the people. This essay tends to investigate how society is portrayed in Sophocles' Oedipus the King and Jean Anouilh's Antigone, and briefly how and for what purpose this is done. The portrayal of society depicts the society in the play, and how that reflects the contemporary society of the author. One way of portraying society in Oedipus the King is through the chorus. In this play the chorus is a group of Theban people who express their ideas and thoughts, and pray to the Gods. By doing this they show how the Theban people react to what happens during the play. In the chorus' first appearance we see them praying to the gods describing the horrors of the plague. The people of Thebes are suffering and they turn to Zeus, Apollo, Athena and Artemis for deliverance. ...read more.


The old respect and attention given to the deities were eroding as the result of the intellectual, social and scientific progress of the time. About this Knox writes "The figure1 of Oedipus represents not only the techniques of the transition from savagery to civilization and the political achievements of the newly settled society but also the temper and methods of the fifth-century intellectual revolution. His speeches are full of words, phrases and attitudes that link him with the "enlightenment" of Sophocles' own Athens." This change in society is reflected when Oedipus ridicules and offends Tiresias who represents prophecy and spiritual power. In fact Sophocles expresses his conservative ideas by setting up the double irony of the blind man who can see the truth and the future and the seeing man who is blind to his past, present and even to his own identity. As the story goes on we see the proud man who rejected the prophetic power descend to total humiliation and destruction. Knox puts it this way: " The catastrophe of the tragic hero thus becomes the catastrophe of fifth-century man; all his furious energy and intellectual daring drive him on to this terrible discovery of his fundamental ignorance - he is not the measure of all things..." ...read more.


He sarchastically explains how "schoolchildren emptied their savings-boxes to buy wreathes for him. Old men, orating in quavering, hypocritical voices ...and every temple priest was present with an appropriate show of sorrow and solemnity in his stupid face." This also shows that he has no respect for religion or people's beliefs, earlier he also uses phrases like "flummery about religious burial", "priestly abracadabra", "jibber-jabber" and "dreary bureaucrats". At one point Antigone exclaims " Animals, eh, Creon! What a king you could be if only men were animals". This can be Anouilh using Antigone's voice to say that not all people are animals, but docile and obedient people are. In general one can say that society is portrayed as better in Oedipus the King than in Antigone. Sophocles describes society as loyal, pious, open-minded and Oedipus and the Athenians as active, rational, courageous, intelligent, experienced, good at adapting to new circumstances and compassionate. The only portrayal of society in Antigone, which is through Creon, describes it as criminal, hypocritical, stupid, lazy, self-centred and ignorant. That does not necessarily say anything about the people, but more about the ruler himself. The writers describe two successive generations of the Theban people, but through them write to and about people more than 2000 years apart. 1 Introduction to Oedipus the King in The Three Theban plays, Penguin Classics. Notes by Bernard MacGregor Walke Knox. ...read more.

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