Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” In a new article, Elizabeth Bobrick, visiting scholar in classical studies and visiting assistant professor in liberal studies, writes about lessons from Sophocles’ Greek tragedy Antigone, a play which, she writes, “mirrors the state of America’s current disunion.”
What the Greek tragedy Antigone can teach us about the dangers of extremism
In a Greek tragedy written in the middle of the fifth century B.C., three teenagers struggle with a question that could be asked now: What happens when a ruler declares that those who resist his dictates are enemies of the state, and that ruler has as many supporters as he has detractors?
The story of Sophocles’ Antigone and the accursed royal family of Thebes belongs to the mythical pre-history of Greece.
Greek tragedy portrays in broad strokes the cruelties that take place within families and cities, but keeps them in the safe distance of the mythical past. The mythical past provided a safe space to present contemporary problems without outright political affiliation.
The play, named after its young heroine, mirrors the state of America’s current disunion: Political and moral views are framed in terms of a fight between patriot and traitor, defenders of civic order and its enemies, and law and conscience.