The Classical Greeks embraced an evolved value system. Authors utilised their art to convey the value system (and their own thoughts on it) by creating an inevitable conflict between two characters. The tragedy lay in the conclusion, which would obviously leave one side devoid of, for example, Δίκη – or justice.Extensive study has been undertaken by Classics scholars to understand the role of G reek values (predominantly Δίκη) within Classical tragedy and epic poetry, its interaction with the contemporaneous legal system and allegiances to family and the State. Where was religion?
Given the amount of research done by scholars and the fact that I have written several papers on this subject alone, this offering is rather truncated.
On responsibility to the State, Family and Justice
“…If I were a mother, and my children rotting to death, or my husband, I would never have taken on this task against the City’s will…”
(871-875) (Sophocles, Antigone, trans. Franklin and Harrison, 2003, p. 67)
This duty was the one that may be perceived to have superseded one’s allegiance to family; or φίλος. Antigone echoes Creon’s feeling (Sophocles, Antigone, trans. Franklin and Harrison, 2003, p. 15) that the city should come first; owing to the fact that children and husbands are expendable. Herein lies a conflict. Creon and Antigone argue that Polyneices was brother to one (Antigone) and traitor of Thebes to the other (Creon). Citizens’ highest callings were said to be to family and state (Pomeroy, 1976, p. 60); therefore, this presents an unquestionable dilemma for Antigone.
This speech was regarded to be unfit for a heroine on account of the high child mortality of the time and the fact that if the marriage dissolved, any children would transfer to the father (Pomeroy, 1975, pp. 100-101). Therefore, were children not so replaceable as Antigone suggested? Pomeroy’s assertion is irrelevant, as Antigone was neither a wife nor a mother. I am in agreement that masculine woman of Greek tragedy (equivalent of today’s feminist and compensating for the passive role of women in tragedy) would reject the role of wife and mother; and therefore, experience a markedly closer familial bond to a brother.
On the Role of Religion
“…Justice determined his death; I wasn’t alone…”
(527-528) (Sophocles, Electra, trans. Raeburn, 2006, p. 152)
Given the importance of the State and one’s family, it may be asked where the supernatural fit?
When she claims to Electra she was not alone in “demanding justice,” to whom was Clytemnestra referring? Possibly divine intervention? However, Gill offers a concept called ATE, or delusional behaviour, or the notion of belief in divine intervention (Gill, 1995, p. 383). One may interpret this as Clytemnestra asserting the gods also “demand justice.”
Additionally, Clytemnestra leaves Electra to sacrifice to Apollo and admits, during her prayers, to having nightmares. She further asks that if Apollo should – in his divine wisdom – choose to punish her act, that he punishes her enemies and not her. Even so many centuries ago, people could not guess at the wishes of their deities.
Gill also argued that by the fifth century, humans in lyric poetry were possessed of the capability to make and be responsible for their own decisions and actions; therefore, acceptance of this argument will nullify the probability of Clytemnestra’s expectation of divine intervention. One wonders if Sophocles also recognised this level of evolution. Perhaps a question for further study? Another question worthy of note is: does Clytemnestra feel vindicated because her act was successful (Gill, 1995, p. 384)?