Sophocles Portray And Explore English Literature Essay

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The play Antigone, written by the playwright Sophocles, portrays and explores a profound relationship between the ancient Greek gods and mankind. The gods are depicted as unlimitedly powerful entities: generous and rewarding, as well as vicious and punishing. The relationship between the gods and mortals is simple. Mortals must respect these deities at all times, for they ultimately rule over destiny, nature and essentially everything of the mortal world. Regardless of an individual's actions and intentions, it seems that in Greek mythology, the gods have the final judgment and supreme control over all. Sophocles explores this relationship through the use of references to the gods, as well as his use of characterization. By drawing on the faults of humans and demonstrating their weaknesses through his characters, Sophocles is able to fully highlight the connection between man and gods.

The main relationship that occurs constantly and is most evident throughout the play is that of power and authority vs. impotence (is "impotence" the right word?). From the opening of the tragedy, when Antigone tells Ismene to "Live, and defy the laws of heaven" (Pg. 128) (recorded page numbers because I was unsure as to how to quote from a play, and because line numbers in the book don't seem to be correct. Also, do the line/page numbers of quotes add to the word count?), Sophocles is already portraying the gods as the ones in control. These words indicate that defying the "laws of heaven", and the higher order from which they come, i.e. the gods, is an awful sin, suggesting that the gods are the undisputed rulers. Even though the gods themselves do not personally appear in the play, their power can be perceived through the way the characters refer to the gods in their interpretation of the happenings and events, such as when Creon addresses the people, speaking of how "the gods have brought our city/Safe through a storm of trouble of tranquillity" (pg. 130). Furthermore, the gods not only have the POWER, they also have the AUTHORITY to make use of their dominance, for instance when the chorus hails Creon, "whom the gods have appointed for us [the city]" (Pg. 130). As ones in control, the gods make, interpret and enforce the laws, unable to be overruled.

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Sophocles further emphasises the power of the gods by characterizing the characters of the play as arrogant and flawed. By exposing their faults, Sophocles demonstrates to the audience the final judgement of the gods; the characters' final acceptance of the gods' will demonstrates their powerlessness and impotence. Even Antigone, the seemingly most strong-willed character of the story, can be seen to bow her head to the power of the gods when she states, "whatever I have to suffer, it can't be more/Than what God wills" (Pg. 132). And the proud king Creon, in the end, also recognises the extent of the gods power and "that to hold/The gods in awe/This is the law".

Absolute power and authority (further possible quotes to use):

- Pg. 133: That this may prove to be an act of the gods.

- Pg. 138: That order did not come from God. Justice,

That dwells with the gods below, knows no such law.

I did not think your edicts strong enough

To overrule the unwritten unalterable laws

Of God and heaven, you being only a man.

The presence of supremacy vs. humility is another trait in the relationship between gods and mankind, which is made apparent in Antigone. Mortals are required to constantly honour, worship, respect, and obey the gods. Sophocles explores this aspect of the relationship through additional use of characterization, especially through the speeches of the chorus. While outlining the battle that occurred before the happenings of the play, the chorus talks about how "The Father of Heaven abhors the proud tongue's boasting… And smote him with fire down to the ground" (Pg. 130). The chorus, representing the public of Ancient Greek, repeatedly mention and praise the gods (Zeus, in this case) and their glory and power, conjuring fantastic images of pre-eminence and dominance with their words: "Down… from the crest of his hurricane… with the fiery brands of his hate… each and all to their doom and destruction appointed"(Pg. 130), "for what presumption of man can match thy power/O Zeus, that art not subject to sleep or time/Or age, living forever in bright Olympus" (Pg. 142).

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The superiority of the gods is demonstrated even more when the chorus talks about love and refers to "Aphrodite immortal" (Pg. 148), and when they pray to "Pluto" (Pg. 188) to have mercy. In Ancient Greek, Aphrodite was believed to be the goddess of love and Pluto is the Roman name for Hades, god of the dead and underworld. The fact that man has assigned different attributes and domains to different gods confirms that the Ancient Greek gods were indeed an incredibly important part of men's lives. Also, the civilians must pray for mercy, which conveys humility and only serves to reinforce the supremacy of the gods.

Supremacy and Humility (further possible quotes to use):

- Pg. 134: Blasphemy, to say that the gods could give a thought

To carrion flesh!... (The gods are too mighty to consider the lack of respect given to a corpse)

(Can the difference between the first paragraph and the second paragraph be seen clearly enough? The first is to demonstrate the total control of the gods over mankind, whereas the second is to show how mankind must worship and respect the more superior beings. Are there any parts of the first paragraph that would be better in the second, and vice versa?)

The final major trait which recurs frequently in Antigone is the concept of reward and punishment, mainly the latter in this case. It is implied that the gods reward those that treat them with the proper honour and worship. However, none of this is seen in Antigone. Sophocles portrays the gods as ruthless and cruel; he characterizes Creon as an arrogant king, who believes that his law at least equal to that of the gods, and using this, lays out the whole tragedy as an ultimate punishment by the gods to Creon, for his disrespect and lack of obedience. The cruel, punishing characteristic of the gods is demonstrated when they are said to "not delay / The stroke of their swift vengeance on the sinner" (Pg. 155). By describing their punishment as "swift vengeance", Sophocles is giving further evidence that the gods are harsh and do not hesitate to address any who goes against them. Another chief example where the gods are illustrated with a punishing act: "God has delivered this heavy punishment" to the ignorant Creon and has "struck" him down "in the ways of wickedness" (Pg. 160). Despite the people making sacrifices to the gods with "our fires, our sacrifices, our prayers / The gods abominate" (Pg. 153). This shows that the gods are reluctant to reward them, even when they are obedient and worshipping.

There are even instances in the play where the gods' strictness even borders upon cruelty; the gods appear to exert a cold, uncaring disposition towards their loyal subordinates. This further emphasises the aspects of the relationship between gods and man explored above, as it depicts the gods as egotistical and proud, as opposed the suffering mortals. This cruelty can be seen through the prophet Teiresias's words to Creon: "You cannot alter this [the death of his son and wife]. The gods themselves/Cannot undo it. It follows the necessity/From what you have done…" (Pg. 155). If the gods are believed to have ultimate power over all attributes of the mortal world, then why can they not change the twists (right word?) of fate? This leads the audience to imply that the gods WILL NOT, not CAN NOT, alter the fate that awaits Creon and his family. (The same rings true for Antigone's death. She wonders "What law of heaven have I transgressed?" (Pg. 150), and rightly so, for she has followed the sacred and divine laws laid out by the gods. Antigone dies following due to her obedience, and the gods seem to think nothing of it. ) This sentence is another example, but I do not know if I should use it, as the example above it ends with a very final note.

Sophocles, through the many references made in his play Antigone, explores the relationship between the ancient Greek gods and mankind. In this relationship portrayed by Sophocles, the Greek gods are evidently superior and have total dominion, in contrast to the powerless, inferior mortals. (Needs work)

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