Adv. English 12
3 October 2004
Greek play comparison
Similarities between Antigone, Oedipus Rex, and Medea
Several similar motifs are present between the plays Antigone, Oedipus Rex, and Medea, written by Sophocles and one written by Euripides respectively. All three of these plays were written in the ancient Greek society and therefore contain the morals and values of the day. These plays contain the belief in the ancient Greek gods and mythical creatures that were believed to exist at the time and have no Christian values. Duty is one very important motif that exists in all these plays. All the characters have a deep desire to carry out their duty no matter what the consequences might be. Stubbornness is quality given to many characters in all the plays. They refuse to give up even when they should and are very persistent until the very end. The previous motifs are the main cause for the extreme amount of emotional pain throughout the plays. A great deal of pain is felt by all of the characters, particularly the main character in each play. Each play contains characters seeking revenge for something that has been done to them or someone they love. This revenge usually leads to homicide of suicide, which long ago were believed virtuous not cowardly. Death by suicide was often how the life of a hero came to an end and was seen as bravery. The motifs that exist in these plays were common in the ancient Greek society and play an important role in giving an identity to the plays.
Duty is probably one of the most omnipresent motifs in all of the three plays. The characters feel that if something is their responsibility it must be done even if the result will not be pleasing to them. In Antigone Creon feels his duty, as king is even more important than his family and their happiness. “Unworthy wives for sons of mine I hate” (Sophocles 22), is what Creon says to the women he once thought were perfect for his sons. He is so caught up in his job that he forgets all about morals and values that may be more important than law. Not until the very end does Creon realize that carrying out his responsibility as king has caused him to neglect his responsibility to his family. It is too late for Creon to rectify his mistakes and all that he once loved is gone and he can never gain it back. Oedipus finds himself in this same situation when he realizes that he has killed his own father and married his mother. He decides that his duty must be carried out and he not only banishes himself but also gouges out his own eyes. Antigone feels that it is her duty to bury her brother Polynices even if it meant her own life. She could have easily adhered to Creon’s rule and avoided that long chain of deaths that resulted from her foolishness. Her brother was not even good to her, she just knew it was her responsibility to send him to the afterworld no matter what results would arise from it. Similarly, Medea felt it was her responsibility to send her children to the afterworld. She did not want her children “To be slain by a hand less kindly to them” (Euripides 40). The instinct to protect their children from harm is common among all mothers and occurs even today. Margaret Garner, a slave often referred to as “the modern Medea” (Leslie 36), ends the life of her daughter to keep her from suffering as a slave like she has. Duty in all three of these plays is the cause of many deaths and avoidable consequences. If responsibility would have been forgotten, tragedy could have been avoided.
Justification by revenge is portrayed in all three plays and usually leads to the death of one of the characters. The phrase “two wrongs don’t make a right” really proves true in these Greek plays. Medea’s desire for revenge against Jason for betraying her causes the death of many innocent people. Although Medea seeks revenge against Jason her wrath is unleashed upon Jason’s new lover, Creon, and even her own children. If Medea could have let Jason go she could have left to be with Aegus and could have started a new life with her children. Pride was seen as a very important attribute long ago and Medea is unable to swallow her pride, not even for her own children’s well being. Haemon also seeks revenge, for the homicide of his fiancée Antigone, which is viewed as an act of valor. He first makes an attempt at killing his own father who is responsible for Antigone’s death. He then realized it would not solve his problem and “he flung himself along upon the sword-point firmly planted in the middle of his breast…his arms around the dead (Antigone)” (Sophocles 46-7). Haemon’s revenge is very similar to Medea’s even thought it is not viewed that way at first. Haemon’s death effects not only himself but leads to the death of his mother and Creon’s wife Eurydice. These acts of revenge do not seem to justify Medea or Haemon, but they really do. By leaving Creon alive Haemon forces him to suffer over the loss of his entire family. Similarly Medea lets Jason live so that he may also suffer over the loss of his family.
Tragedy could have been avoided entirely in all there of these plays if the characters were not so stubborn. Stubbornness is motif that exists in several of the characters and usually is at the root of most of the problems. Antigone and Creon are both equally stubborn, neither giving in to the other’s demands. Antigone is at fault because she refuses to follow the law that Creon has set down. Creon even offers Antigone a second chance, but Antigone admits she will just do it again. This forces Creon to set and example and sentence Antigone to death, which will result in the downfall of all he loves. Creon’s stubbornness is also at fault and he as equally responsible for the tragedy as is Antigone. Creon could have easily revoked his law and allowed Antigone to live. This would have lowered his authority over his citizens, but it would have left him someone alive in his family. Antigone’s father Oedipus was also very stubborn and set in his ways. He could have quit his investigation when all the evidence started to point at him, but he insisted on finding out for sure. He insists, “it cannot be that having such a clue I should refuse to solve the mystery of my parentage” (Sophocles 38). Being king, he could have taken his ruling back and continued on with his life as normal, but his stubbornness was greater than his desire for life. He sentenced himself to his own punishment and forced himself to wonder aimlessly for the rest of his days. Medea’s stubbornness is also accountable to the great tragedy that occurred in the play by Euripides. Aegus tells her “if you reach my land…I will try to befriend you” (Euripides 24) and then swears by it. She refuses to just give in though; she must be avenged for the wrong Jason has done her no matter what the costs may be. If Medea were able to suppress this stubbornness, no deaths would have occurred in this play. Stubbornness and pride are very closely related in these plays. The stubbornness of all the characters in these plays results from the desire to protect their pride and reputation.
Today suicide and homicide are horrendous crimes that do not occur often, but in these Greek plays death is what makes it a tragedy. Tragedies always involve the death of many people, suicidal, homicidal, or accidental. Laius’ murder in Oedipus Rex is the reason for which Oedipus begins his research. Oedipus soon discovers he is to blame for his own father’s murder and fathering several incestual children with his own mother. He decides he does not even deserve death but a fate worse than death, banishment. Antigone is the cause for a whole chain of deaths that start with her own suicide. She is sentenced to be locked in a cave and she hangs herself with her own dress causing great agony to befall her fiancée, Haemon. Suicide is then the only reasonable choice Haemon has left so that he may once again be with his love in the afterworld. Creon is then told, “Thy wife…is, by a blow just fallen, haplessly slain” (Sophocles 49). He has now lost his entire family to suicide and is left with the pain carried by them. A similar chain occurs in Medea, but this time it is a chain of homicide not suicide. Medea is greatly distressed by the betrayal of her love Jason and vows revenge against him. She starts by killing Jason’s new fiancée and this leads to the death of many others. Creon touches the cursed dress that has caused his daughter’s death and is forced to join her in the afterworld. Finally Medea is forced to kill her own children to save them from the cruel punishment that will befall them if she does not. Death is often considered the greatest punishment that one can receive, but that may not be true. Although many died in these three plays that ones that suffer the most are the ones left alive. Creon is forced to live with the guilt of the death of his own family, which was caused by his own stubbornness. Similarly Jason loses his children, his fiancée, and all that he once loved and is now left alone to “lament and cry upon heaven” (Euripides 46). These plays effectively show that death is not the worst punishment that can befall a person.
The most abundant motif in these three plays is the occurrence of emotional pain among the characters. Many of the characters suffer emotional pain and several times it leads to the death of that character. Oedipus is struck with a severe amount of pain when it is discovered that he has not only killed his own father, but also married his own mother. He makes an attempt at ridding himself of this emotional pain by causing immense physical pain. He renounces “O Light, this be the last time I shall gaze on thee” (Sophocles 42) and gouges out his eyes to prevent himself from looking ever again upon the spawn of sin that are his children. Oedipus’ daughters also suffer emotional pain at the loss of their father who has banished himself from his land. Years later when Antigone has grown older she finds herself the bearer of even more emotional pain. She suffers much pain from the incident that has occurred between her brothers and her morals tell her she must bury her brother while the law says she should not. Her morals override the law and she buries her brother and is sentenced to die. Antigone's death also causes great emotional pain to befall Ismene, who pleads to die with her, and her fiancée, Haemon. Haemon finds the only outlet for his pain to be suicide, while Ismene is able to suppress hers and move on. Creon suffers more emotional pain throughout these tragedies than does any other character. In Antigone his entire family ends up dead due to his own ignorance and he is forced to live with this guilt for his entire life. He states, “a doom that is heavy to bear has come down on my head” (Sophocles 52), and this rings true into Euripides’ play. In Medea, Creon is included in the script once more and this time he has another daughter. Medea kills Creon's daughter and the emotional pain caused by another death in the family is too much for Creon to bear. He breaks down and begins to touch and kiss his dead daughter and he is trapped and forced to join the rest of his family in the afterworld. Creon’s pain in this play sprouted from the emotional pain felt by Medea because of the betrayal of her lover. Medea has sacrificed everything for Jason only to be abandoned by him for another woman. Medea finds revenge to be the only outlet for her pain, even if it means killing her own children to rid herself of it. Jason is then left in a similar situation to that of Creon’s in Antigone. He has lost his children and the one he loved and it was caused by his own ignorance. Jason’s role in Medea is very similar to that of Creon’s in Antigone. They both could have prevented the deaths of their own families but refused to do so and are forced to live with immense emotional pain for the rest of their lives.
The many motifs carried throughout these plays were common in the days in which they were written. Many of the motifs lead to the occurrence of other motifs in the play. Stubbornness and duty are two motifs that are very important too these tragedies. If the characters could have overcome these two things most of the deaths and emotional pain could have been prevented. These plays show what pride and arrogance can lead to if you cannot learn to rid yourself of them. If Creon was able to forget his duty he could have saved his entire family and lived his life out in happiness. This shows that duty and pride were even more important to people of the time period than their own families. By including these similar motifs, the authors were able to connect with their audience and teach them something about what arises from ignorance.