The Philosophy and Psychology of Sophocles’s Antigone and The Eumenides in Aeschylus’ Oresteia
There is a consensus among readers of the poetry or plays written in the fifth century that the plays succeed with inspiring profound movement on the audience. The methods or reasons for the reader to be moved by a text are often disputed. Specific to tragic works the concepts of philosophy and psychology are critical elements to understand the cause of the stirred emotions of individuals who response to classical tragedies in a similar manner. Philosophy helps to understand “why” and psychology “how” poetry affects and moves human emotion.
Philosophy and poetry are united by a common intent. Each searches for an explanation of universal ideals instead of concentrating on the particular. Aristotle described this idea in the Poetics, “Poetry, therefore, is a more philosophical and a higher thing than history: for poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular” (Aristotle, 68). Sophocles’s Antigone and The Eumenides in Aeschylus’ Oresteia are examples that demonstrate the use of poetry as an explanation of the universal.
Antigone deals with the struggle of Antigone, who sought to obey the moral obligation of burying her fallen brother and the dictation of Creon not to bury him. Creon’s dictation represents the particular. Described by Antigone his declaration develops from Creon being the, “Lucky tyrant—the perquisites of power! Ruthless power to do and say whatever pleases them” (Sophocles, 84). The declaration is seen not to follow the universal cause but it is specific to situation that Polynices had died while attacking Thebes. Antigone insistent to obey the universal code that she should give proper burial to Polynices in spite of the king’s declaration. She describes obedience to the gods as primary importance and justification for her actions:
“Nor did I think your edict had such force that you, a mere mortal, could override
the gods, the great unwritten, unshakeable traditions. They are alive, not just today
or yesterday: they live forever, from the first of time” (Sophocles, 82).
Antigone goals are to obey the universal. This sets up a direct clash with Creon’s will concerned with a particular situation.
Antigone successfully maintains her moral standing throughout the play. Creon, the character representative of the particular, is punished in the loss of his son and wife for failing to compromise his “particular” stand to the moral “universal”. The play has therefore taught its audience the importance of the universal when compared to the specific idea.
The Eumenides also stresses the universal as more important than the historic or particular. The Furies are representative of history because characters and including themselves define the Furies as drawing their power from ancient law. The Furies have a particular manner of dealing with...