Inevitability Of Fate - "Antigone" By Sophocles
Sophocles’ Antigone, written in 441 B.C.E., is over 2000 years old and is still a common element in an average English class reading list. It is a story about a woman who wants to cause no trouble, but will also stop at nothing to honor her brother in his death. Even though King Creon has decreed that anybody who tries to bury Antigone’s brother will be punished with death, she does so anyway. Antigone disregards the threat and buries her brother honorable as he should be. King Creon leaves Antigone to die in a cave with no food; when he is advised by a wise prophet to take Antigone out of the cave and not punish her, he calls the prophet a liar and keeps Antigone in the cave. Later on, King Creon hears from a messenger that his son and his wife have killed themselves. King Creon is left in dismay and is in severe grief towards the end of the play. The Chorus finishes the play by saying, “For what is destined for us, men mortal, there is no escape”. Does this quote mean that the way the characters ended up had nothing to do with the things they did throughout the play? This is important to think about because it can flip the reader’s thoughts on the play upside down. Sophocles shows the idea that fate is inevitable through the Chorus, and through his philosophical beliefs.
The chorus in Antigone helps the reader to understand that fate is unchanging and is a predetermined sentence for everyone. The chorus acts as a narrator in the play but has a larger role as a background information giver. Instances, where the chorus talks about fate, helps the reader understand that the characters had no chance to change what was doomed to happen to them. When the chorus says, “That shifting fate had woven for him”, it is not saying that fate changes, it is saying that many people try to change their fate or believe that they can. When in reality they cannot and do not have any control. Another instance where the chorus says that fate is unavoidable is when it says, “deathless Fate”. This means that fate is persistent and never stops its course.
Another way I know that Sophocles believes that fate is inevitable is through the things he has said in past writings. One example of writing that included his ideas on fate is in Philoctetes when he talks about the Lemnian exile. It says, “the fate of the Lemnian exile”. Even without knowing anything at all about the play, it is easy to see that fate is an element in it. In another one of his plays, Oedipus Coloneus, the theme of certain fate is even more clear. It can be seen where it says, “The curse of Oedipus upon his sons was occasioned by Fate”. The quote can be simplified by saying that fate is what brought Oedipus curse onto his sons. Again, without knowing the context of the play, it is obvious that Sophocles believes in fate and its importance.
Somebody might disagree with the statement that Sophocles believes that fate is always inevitable and unchanging, based on the evidence in Antigone when the chorus tells Antigone that she dies with “distinction and praise”, not by sword or illness, and that it was, “your own choice and alone among mankind you will descend, alive, to that world of death”. However, to say that she made the choice does not mean that it was her choice. Fate, in all its power, decided that she would die this way. It was decided long before she even buried her brother; in fact, according to my interpretation of Sophocles’ belief, her fate was sealed from the moment she was brought into the world.
It can be deduced that Sophocles believes that fate is unavoidable through the words of the Chorus and through his other works of literature. One of the most obvious signs of this is when the Chorus states: “what is destined for us, men mortal, there is no escape”. This information is important because it totally changes the way the reader reads not only Antigone but all of Sophocles’ plays. This perspective makes the reader question every underlying message of the play.
- Paris, J. Bernard. Imagined Human Beings. NYU: NYU Press, 1997. JSTOR. Web. Accessed 10 October 2019.
- Post, Rafton Chandler. “The Dramatic Art of Sophocles.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, vol. 23, 1912, https://www.jstor.org/stable/310448?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents. Accessed on 18 October 2019.
- Sophocles. Antigone. The Seagull Book of Plays, edited by Joseph Kelly, Norton, 2017, pp. 3-45.
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