Antigone and Classical Athenian Society and Government

Instructions: Using a computer, compose a 3-to-4 page essay, with double-spaced text, standard font and 1” margins, that first, summarizes what you see as the contents of and philosophies expressed in the excerpts of Sophocles’ Antigone (attached below) then; second, evaluates both the historical context of the play as well as the characters of Antigone and Creon and what they say about/represent in Classical Athenian society, particularly as relates to the conflict between moral law and civic law; then, third compares the historical context and political and social structures depicted in Antigone to the historical, political, and social philosophies described in the contemporary primary source The Funeral Oration of Pericles (attached below), as recorded by Thucydides – how does Antigone reflect this society/act as a commentary on this society and what can we learn about Classical Athens from Antigone – then, finally, fourth, compares the characters of Antigone and of Gilgamesh as heroes and evaluates what those particular heroes say about the societies that created them.

Please feel free to relate the debate between moral law and civic law as illustrated in Antigone to events in our current community, society, and politics, but do make sure to focus on analysis of Classical Athens in your papers as well. If you want to contrast these documents and societies to others we have read/studied thus far that aren’t included in the topic above, please feel free to do so. No additional research is required. Please cite the documents or textbook when you quote or paraphrase them and please note that Wikipedia or other such sites are not appropriate for college-level essays.

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For your reference, here are some study questions to consider when reading Antigone – please note however, the assignment must be submitted in essay format – with an introduction, main body, and conclusion – not just simply a list of answers to the study questions.

Study Questions – Antigone

The play Antigone is the third in a series of three tragic plays (a trilogy) about the family of Oedipus, a cursed King. Oedipus was cursed to kill his father and marry his mother, despite his father leaving him out to die as a baby, Oedipus was found and rescued and ultimately, unknowingly, did kill his father (in a chance encounter on the road) and marry his mother. When he discovers that he has done this, he blinds himself and goes into exile. Antigone is the story of Oedipus’ four children – two boys, Polyneices and Eteocles, who have killed each other in a Civil War before the events of the play start, and two girls, Antigone and Ismene, who are still alive.

This play was written in Athens in 442 BC by Sophocles during the “Age of Pericles” and won the award the next year as the best play in the Athenian dramatic festival. At roughly the same time, the Archon Pericles, speaking just after the beginning of the 2nd Peloponnesian War, the great conflict between Athens and their Hellenic enemy Sparta at a public funeral honoring those who had died in the early battles of the war, gives his description of the Athenian democracy that he has led for nearly 30 years.

As you read Antigone, please consider the following topics and questions, which can not only help you with your paper but also the Unit Discussion on the Greek World:

  1. What is the structure of government in Antigone? How is it similar and how is it different than the structure of government in Athens? What is the author trying to say given these differences?
  2. How would you describe the character and personality of Antigone?
  3. How would you describe the character and personality of Ismene?
  4. Based on the characters of Antigone and Ismene – analyze the role(s) of women in Antigone; then consider what the role of women might have been like in Athenian society.
  5. How would you describe the character and personality of Creon?
  6. Who is the hero of the play? Is there more than one possible hero and, if so, who and why are they heroes?
  7. Based on what you read in Antigone – analyze the relationship between humans and God/the gods in the story and then consider how did Athenian society think about religion?
  8. Who in Antigone represents moral law and what does the play saw about the philosophy that moral law is superior to civil law?
  9. Who in Antigone represents civil law and what does the play saw about the philosophy that civil law is superior to moral law?
  10. What does the position of the play Antigone regarding moral and civil law say about the Athenian society in which it was created?
  11. Who in our society – real, fantasy, or pop-culture – would you compare to Antigone and to Creon and why?
  12. Finally, identify the differences and similarities between Antigone, Creon, and Gilgamesh and the societies that created them to evaluate the historical context of Athenian and Babylonian societies

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