The Greek tragedies are the benchmarks of tragedy. As mshurn has so cogently stated, they do, indeed, examine the basic nature of human beings, and, for this reason, they are of paramount importance.
Sophocles's "Oedipus Rex" defines tragedy for the reader, containing the six elements of tragedy found in Aristotle's Poetics with plot, characters, theme, language/diction, music, and spectacle. For the reader of this Greek tragedy, hubris, an element of tragedy, is defined in the arrogance demonstrated by Oedipus as a result of his harmartia, or tragic mistake. The relief of emotional tension after the climax is known as catharsis. Clearly, after one reads the Greek tragedies, he/she gleans a better understanding of Shakespearean tragedies and of modern tragedies. The relevancy of these Greek tragedies is not just applicable to those who are "interested in them." The relevance is intrinsic to the understanding of the tragedies that have followed them. People who study the tragedies of Shakespeare and of modern playwrights comprehend better what they read regardless of whether they are interested in the plays or whether they are assigned the reading. Besides, does not life itself present people tragedies everyday that people must understand?
The mathematician or the musician is part of human nature, and, as such, his/her having read these tragedies enables him/her to better understand fellow human beings, for all drama and other forms of literature are recordings of the human experience, an ancestry, if you will. Such a play as Oedipus Rex, for instance, has its very name in the annals of psychiatry. (The Oedipus complex as purported by Sigmund Freud.) Familiarity with the history of literature is familiarity with the history of human life, affording a person a better understanding of numerous things, making him/her more well-rounded. A background in any study, whether it be science, math, literature, music, or art, increases one's understanding of that study and of others, as well. The study of Greek tragedies enables people to appreciate modern drama: plays and movies. And, who does not like movies?
The Greek tragedies are still relevant today because they examine the basic nature of human beings and their most basic conflicts. Since human nature doesn't change--never has and never will--we continue to experience the same basic conflicts. The tragedies will always be relevant in their humanity.
High school students respond to Greek tragedies such as Antigone because they deal with timeless themes that never lose their relevance. What teenager hasn’t chafed against the rules and edicts of parents? Young people long to change the world for the better and do what is good. Antigone’s actions doom her, but ensure that she will live on for centuries as a literary heroine. When I was a high school English teacher, I loved pairing Antigone with Romeo and Juliet to examine the themes and also to compare Antigone to Juliet.
I would echo the previous post's assertion. In analyzing the beauty of Antigone, the tension of obedience to moral law and civic law is extremely powerful. Her predicament envelops much of the notion of conscientious objection and the idea of justice. In examining the play about her father, the paradigm of fate vs. free will, and whether individuals can overcome forces of divine predilection is beautifully examined. In the works of Homer, the heroic quest as well as the heroic tragedy of being poised between equally desirable and ultimately incompatible course of action is eloquently and beautifully portrayed. The study of these concepts not only allow greater examination of these ideas, but also help us better understand who we are and what we do.
Well, for one, they are telling the stories of humankind. Just like Shakespeare and other classic literature, the greek tragedies tell the stories of love, hatred, revenge, loyalty, valor, cowardice, envy, mistrust, good, evil, etc. As long as there have been human beings, there have been these emotions and issues. The greek tragedies are great stories, too. Antigone, Oedipus, Ulysses, Medea, Lysistrata...they are incredible stories with heartbreaking issues.
In addition, they show us the elements of the perfect play. The use of the chorus, the number of acts...many playwrights even today follow the pattern of creating plays that the Greeks used.
Greek tragedies deal with universal feelings and emotions. For instance, everyone can relate to sybling rivalry and disagreement as in Antigone. Two sisters are totally different in their views of morality and justice and even though they disagree they completely love each other. The characters are larger than life but yet they symbolize the intense emotions that we all feel at some time in our lives. The Greek chorus is symbolic of society and the way the world views our actions. Love, betrayal, war, lust and joy are all expressed through Greek Tragedies.
Greek tragedies or anything else of the past, that is relevant today, is relevant only to the people who are interested in them. It is quite imaginable that to a scholar of Greek tragedies, these may be more relevant than any other type of literature. And to a scholar in slang used by young people, none of the older classics may hold much interest. And to a scholar in mathematics, neither of these two may be of much interest.
I wonder why we need to prove that something we like is of greater and more lasting value than what others may prefer. Why can't we just enjoy what we like, and leave it at that.