Antigone (The Oedipus Plays) | Study Guide

Sophocles

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Antigone (The Oedipus Plays) | Stasimon 1 | Summary

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Summary

The Chorus gathers to ruminate on human nature, using the analogy of movement through a stormy ocean in order to learn how to become more resourceful. Men now have power over almost everything but death, the Chorus notes. But man's inventiveness only serves him when he lives within the bounds of law and justness; if he uses it for evil or disobedience he will be punished by the gods.

Analysis

One of the most studied stasima in the play, the Chorus gives an "ode to man" here, noting, "there are many strange and wonderful things, but nothing more strangely wonderful than man." Yet the Chorus seems to caution against the indiscriminate use of power and means. Man can invent and dream, but this practice can lead him down the path to either good or evil. What's important, the Chorus notes, is to treat "laws with due respect and [honor] justice by swearing on the gods." Their warning foreshadows the fate of Creon, who ignores the laws of the gods but makes sure his laws are obeyed. The sea imagery presented here also recalls Creon's "ship-of-state" metaphor in that man must steer himself across times that feel precarious and violent.

Their ode also sets the stage for the conflict that is emerging between Creon and Antigone: Which is more important—law or personal values and beliefs? The justice decreed by men such as Creon is not necessarily the justice decreed by the gods, so what is a person to do when the two forms of justice come into conflict with each other? Antigone believes that burying Polyneices is a just act that honors the gods, even if it discredits her king. The Chorus's caution against men's abuse of power and knowledge in light of the gods' superiority foreshadows Creon's intolerance and hubris.

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