Sophocles, Antigone, 441 BCE
Sophocles' Antigone is the story of a princess who, even in the face of death, chooses her duty to her family over the state's new laws.
The city of Thebes has emerged from a civil war: Polynices has been defeated in his attempt to take the crown from his brother Eteocles, and the brothers have killed each other in a duel. The new king of Thebes, their uncle Creon, inaugurates his reign by condemning to death anyone who attempts to bury the traitorous Polynices – but Antigone knows it is her duty and privilege to perform her brother's funeral rites.
The play is a devastating battle between these two strong-willed individuals: Creon, who refuses to let a woman contradict him and condemns Antigone to death for disobeying his new law; and Antigone herself, who is determined not to stop in her duty until she has no strength left.
Sophocles adds to the mix:
- Ismene, Antigone’s sister, whose refusal to help bury their brother inspires Antigone to act alone and expect to be praised for it
- Haemon, Creon's son and Antigone's fiancé, who tries to rescue her but fails
- Tiresias, a blind seer whose perception of supernatural forces convinces Creon of his own folly
- Eurydice, Creon's wife, whose response to the events is the ultimate blow to Creon's confidence
- A chorus of Theban male citizens, whose lack of empathy for Antigone highlights her isolation as a woman and an idealist.
This masterclass will unravel the complexity of Sophocles' approach in Antigone – not least the fact that, for an original audience composed largely of Greek men, the play presents a woman's point of view as worthy of being taken seriously, with tragic consequences when she is heard, but silenced.
Associate Professor James 'K.O.' Chong-Gossard
K.O. Chong-Gossard is an Associate Professor of Classics in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies in the Faculty of Arts. In addition to teaching ancient Greek and Latin to undergraduates at all levels, he publishes research on the representation of gender in Greek literature, especially in the plays of Euripides. He has also received Australian Research Council funding for research projects on such topics as medieval commentaries on the Roman tragedies of Seneca, renaissance commentaries on the Roman comedies of Terence, and sex scandals in imperial Rome.
K.O. is the Honorary Treasurer of the Classical Association of Victoria, and a Vice President of the Australasian Society for Classical Studies. He also collects teddy bears and has over 200 of them in his office in the Arts West Building.