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The Philosophy and Psychology of Sophocles’s Antigone and The Eumenides in Aeschylus’ Oresteia

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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 sh...


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...age” (Knox, 137).

Sophocles, like many poets, understood the dependence of poetry on its ability to successful implement both philosophy and psychology to their work.

Works Cited

Aeschylus. The Oresteia: Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The Eumenides. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Books, 1977.

Aristotle. Aristotle’s Poetics. Trans. S. H. Butcher. New York: Hill and Wang, 1961.

Euripides. Ten Plays: Electra and Iphigenia at Aulis. Trans. Moses Hadas and John McLean. New York: Bantam Books, 1981.

Knox, Bernard. Introduction and Notes. Three Theban Plays: Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus. By Sophocles. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Classics, 1984. 131-53.

Sophocles. Three Theban Plays: Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin Classics, 1984.


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