The Theology Of Sophocles -- By: William S. Tyler

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 018:69 (Jan 1861)
Article: The Theology Of Sophocles
Author: William S. Tyler

The Theology Of Sophocles

William S. Tyler


In its leading characters, the Antigone bears a strong resemblance to the Electra. The central figure in each, on whom all eyes are fastened, and who gives name to the piece, is a young woman, who stands up for the right, in opposi-

tion to the ruling powers, and is willing to sacrifice herself in the performance of a duty, which she owes to her kindred, to justice, and to the gods. In each, the heroine, who is made of sterner stuff, and possesses the martyr-spirit, is contrasted with a sister, of more complying disposition, the representative of ordinary womanhood. Antigone is offset by Ismene, as Electra is by Crysothemis, and is exalted to a higher pitch of heroism and self-sacrificing devotion by the contrast. But Electra has the sympathy and support of the chorus, which is made up of noble women, like herself; while the chorus in Antigone, consisting of Theban senators and courtiers, after a few feeble attempts to withstand oppression, yield a servile submission to the tyrant, and leave the more manly, more heroic woman to stand up, unfriended and alone, against despotism, clothed with the forms of the law and the powers of the state. Moreover, Electra has a brother to lean upon, who takes the active part in the work of vengeance, while Antigone, although she has a lover who pleads her cause, is forbidden by female delicacy to ask his cooperation, or even to mention his name; and so she goes, alone, to perform, with her own hand, the prohibited rites of sepulture to her brother. This, however, she is the better able to do, because there is no room for doubt or conflict in her own bosom. Electra, in avenging her father’s death, is obliged to lift her hand against the life of her mother. The ties of nature bind her to both her parents. The claims of filial duty might well impel her in opposite directions. But in Antigone, however plausible the pleas by which the ruling powers justify their actions to their own consciences, it could not but appear to her a clear case of wrong to the dead on one side, and of duty to the dead on the other. Whether, therefore, we consider the holy cause in which she is enlisted, or the solitary grandeur in which she resists the mandates of the government, Antigone carries with her our undivided sympathy, and rises to a moral sublimity that finds its parallel only in the annals of martyrdom, in which tender and delicate, yet heroic and devoted, women have ever borne a conspicuous part.

Not the least interesting feature to modern readers — and

doubtless a point of chief interest to the writer also and his contemporaries — is the conf...

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