“Antigone” is set in a time of war, and is about the proper behavior of citizens when faced with external threats. While the events are fictional, they reflect how Sophocles interpreted ancient myths based on what was going on in his own society at that time.
“These city- states were, as often as not, at war with their neighbors – over grazing land, borderlines or cattle raids. The Greeks, who gave us history, philosophy and political science, never managed to solve the problems posed by their political disunity; even the ideal states of their philosophers – the Republic of Plato, the perfect city of Aristotle – make provision for universal military training and active defense against external threats. This permanent insecurity in interstate relations reinforced the bond between citizen and citizen and at the same time directed their energies inward, to feed the competitive spirit that was so marked a feature of Greek life: competition in sports, in art, in politics” (Fagles, p. 15).
So, separate Greek city states were frequently at war with each other, and at the same time that Sophocles was writing his plays, there was also war between the Greeks (working together as a unit) and the empire of Persia (based in what is now Iran).
If you choose this prompt, you should think about how war and conflict affect the ways that humans conceptualize morality, loyalty, and patriotism. As well as reading “Antigone” we also saw a film about Martin Luther King’s speech on the Vietnam War. In each of these cases, the issues of what constitutes a patriot and what constitutes a traitor are paramount to understanding the difficult choices that faced people. Looking at “Antigone” as a product of a warlike culture in a time of hostilities is important to understanding how to interpret its meaning.
Martin Luther King’s speech, as well, should be viewed as coming out of a time of ferment in American society. In 1960s America there were internal conflicts based on race, gender, age, and social class while the entire country was supposed to be united in response to a war against another country. In fictional ancient Thebes, and in 1960s America, the issues of who were the enemies; who were the traitors and who were the patriots were difficult to sort into distinct categories of moral imperatives.
Assignment: Write an essay that compares “Antigone” as a play about morality in wartime to the King speech. When individuals disagree with the official government position during wartime, how should that be handled to maintain unity? How much dissent is acceptable during armed conflicts?
• Be sure to document specific references to lines or passages in the play. When you quote or refer to a specific passage, identify it through in-text citation. This is done by writing the title of the play and the line number in parenthesis immediately following your reference. For example: Haemon says, “I’d never suggest that you admire treason” (Antigone 819). This must also be done if you are referring in general to longer passages such as the chorus speech on man (Antigone 377- 416). NOTE: you must refer to actual passages in the play in order to do well on this essay. You must prove the points you are making by demonstrating your knowledge about the play itself. Before writing the essay, you should read the play once again to refresh your memory.
• If you have questions about writing in general, or need any help with the essay, you may either ask me or see a tutor at the Learning Resource Center in the library.
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