Loyalty Conflicts between Family and State in Homer’s Odyssey, and Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and Antigone
Everyday we are faced with hundreds of decisions. Some of the decisions take very little time and are made without a second thought. Other decisions hold more at stake and can tear a person in two while trying to make the final decision. The basis of many of the hardest decisions is the conflict between family and state. The decision between pursuing a career and starting a family first is an example. Once a family is started, there are endless decisions about daycare, office meetings, and school activities to decide which will take priority. These decisions can become harder during a time of war. People are forced to choose between their personal lives including education, family and careers, and their duties as a citizen.
Some of the earliest recorded literature presents this conflict between family and state. Homer’s novel, The Odyssey, deals with the issue at a time of war. Sophocles also addresses the conflict in two of his famous plays, Oedipus the King and Antigone. In the Greek language, this is a conflict between oikos1 and polis. 2 This essay will present the separation of loyalty between oikos and polis as is evident in early literature and in decisions of today.
A modern example of the conflict between oikos and polis at a time of war can be seen in one National Guard soldier, Ryan. In February, 2003, Ryan was twenty-one years old and had just received a degree from a two-year college. He had met the woman he wanted to marry and had recently proposed to her. The couple had not set a date, but was looking at the spring of 2004. Everything was headed towards a bright future. Then Ryan got the call that his National Guard troop was being sent to Iraq. Things suddenly started to move too fast. Ryan did not have much time before deployment, and he and his fiancé had a huge decision to make on when to get married. There were benefits and comforts to getting married before he left, but there were also negatives, like not being able to have the perfect wedding they had envisioned. One week the decision was to be united in marriage at the court house, and the next week they had decided to wait. After volleying the marriage idea back and forth, they ultimately decided to wait until Ryan safely returned. Thus far, the couple is happy with the decision because Ryan is still safe, and hopefully will return safely in the summer of 2004.
True loyalty is being prepared to give a life for the cause. What and whom loyalty is given to has changed over the centuries. Loyalty was once given to the family and the government as one, because the two were one, then it progressed into loyalty to the government, or polis, and today everyone is loyal to his or her own beliefs. The separation of oikos and polis will be examined and the resulting loyalties will then be analyzed.