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Matthew S. Santirocco JUSTICE IN SOPHOCLES' ANTIGONE Sophocles' Antigone is most often apprehended in terms of conflicts, an approach which the play does indeed invite. The personal clash of Antigone and Creon generates conflicts on many different levels— political (individual or family vs. state, aristocracy vs. democracy), theological (gods vs. men), philosophical (nature vs. law or convention), sexual (woman vs. man), even chronological (young vs. old). However, insofar as no list can ever be so inclusive as the play itself, all such discussions tend by their very nature to be reductionist. And even if a balanced critique were possible at this level, a tragedy is not the sum of abstract conflicts; it is theatre, people in action. Furthermore, the conflict approach encourages us to ask the wrong questions. Although conflict need not imply resolution, critics persist in searching for it. Yet there is no resolution in the Antigone except by death. Similarly, such an approach invites us to ask who is right, Antigone or Creon. But in a very real sense this question misses Sophocles' point. Relevant, perhaps, to versions by Anouilh and Brecht, the question misleads when applied to the ancient play. It is interesting that we oversimplify, for Sophocles' sympathies are more expansive and complex than these modern interpretations of his myth. For all these reasons a valid alternative approach to the play may be to consider it not in terms of the conflicts incarnated in the personalities but rather in terms of one theme in the context of which all the conflicts are played out. The precise issue here, as so often in Greek tragedy, is a philosophical one. As the religious thought of an earlier era was yielding to judicial and political thought, and as older heroic ideals were being supplanted by a rationalistic view of man, tragedy's function in fifth-century Athens was, in part at least, to expose and explore these cultural displacements, either by affirming traditional values and concepts or else by questioning their continued validity. One such concept, perhaps the most recurrent in tragedy, 180 Matthew S. Santirocco181 is justice, dike. Originally a term used to refer to things as they are, dike came also to acquire a normative sense, things as they ought to be. At different times and in different contexts the word can signify custom or usage, law-enforcing authority, penalty, and ofcourse "justice" as a higher standard. Its precise semantic range is wide and fluctuating. Thus tragedy becomes, in a sense, a matter of vocabulary. In the Antigone the characters appeal to justice, but each defines it differently, so that the conflict is not so much between justice and injustice as between one sort of justice and another. The Oresteia of Aeschylus had earlier celebrated the transition from vendetta justice to courtroom justice. The Antigone, however, focuses not so much on the changes in dike as on a question these changes raise, namely the very possibility of dike. The establishment of the law court brought Aeschylus' trilogy to a resolved ending. Sophocles' vision in the Antigone is much more austere. Although he acknowledges the existence of an ideal of justice, he exposes the tensions and ambiguities inherent in it and thereby questions whether that ideal can ever be realized in the lives of men. II A key text concerning justice is contained in one of the choral odes. But can it be trusted? The tragic chorus is not, after all, the mouthpiece of the poet as was the comic chorus in Aristophanes' parabaseis. Nor is it always or necessarily the mouthpiece of the audience, SchlegeFs "ideal spectator." In the Antigone, as elsewhere, the chorus simply constitutes a panel of the population (here, of Thebes) and its perspective on the action is, if not omniscient, not particularly partisan either. Gordon Kirkwood has demonstrated the many dramatic functions of the Sophoclean chorus, including its ambiguities. In the Antigone no fewer than three odes are ambiguous, leaving in doubt the identity of the one who has disturbed order and right (332-75), who has violated the will of heaven (582-625), and whose mind has been perverted by love (781-816). Although the chorus may not be aware of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 180-198
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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