In Ode 1 of Sophocles' Antigone, what portrait or concept of man is developed, and how?
Sophocles took a rather nuanced view of humanity, and Antigone epitomizes that perfectly, mostly in the speeches or comments of the character Creon, who assumes the throne upon the deaths of Eteocles and Polyneices. It is through the voices of Creon and the Chorus that Sophocles best expresses his views on the nature of man: nature is restrained through the establishment of a system of laws governing an otherwise anarchic society. Note, for instance, Creon's observation in one of his exchanges with Coryphaeus:
"Now, there is no way to learn thoroughly the essence of the whole man as well as his thought and judgment until he has been engaged in ruling and making laws. For, in my opinion, whoever, in guiding a whole city, does not adhere to the best counsels, but from fear of something keeps his tongue locked, that man seems to me now and before this to be most evil."
Law, to Creon, is everything. This is a king who understands that his own legitimacy is based upon a common acceptance of basic rules guiding conduct, with the king as the chief executive. Creon's concepts of civilization and justice have a firm foundation in the rule of law, and he is the law in his kingdom. Upon decreeing that the corpse of Polyneices shall be left to rot and be devoured by scavengers, he declares, "Never by me, at any rate, will evil men have precedence of honor over just men." Evil men, to the king, are those who do not submit to the rule of law.
The theme of the duality of man extends to the proclamations of the Chorus of Theban Elders, which observes that, "[m]any things cause terror and wonder, yet nothing is more terrifying and wonderful than man." The terror and wonder of man is, again, grounded in the acceptance or rejection of the rules that govern a civilized society. This leads to the final passages of Ode 1, when the chorus again ruminates on the nature of man and the role of law:
"O clear intelligence, force beyond all measure!
O fate of man, working both good and evil!
When the laws are kept, how proudly his city stands!
When the laws are broken, what of his city then?
Never may the anarchic man find rest at my hearth,
Never be it said that my thoughts are his thoughts."
This, then, is how Sophocles develops a concept of man. What separates man from animals, he argues, is the knowledge of a distinction between good and evil, and the imperative of a system of laws that restrain the worst impulses of man while elevating him to play by the rules.
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At the end of Scene 1, the Chorus sings an ode about the nature of mankind. They describe how the world contains amazing wonders, but “none more wonderful than man.” Mankind has conquered the ocean with ships, plowed the fields with horses, and tamed wild animals for work and food.
Humans also have amazing powers of thought and speech. Man can express himself well and “statecraft is his.” In fact, the Chorus goes so far as to say man can deal with everything that comes his way…except death. That is the one thing over which he has no control.
The ode ends with a caution, however. It praises mankind’s intelligence but warns that man is capable of both good and evil. When laws are followed, mankind progresses and builds wonderful civilizations. When laws are broken, anarchy reigns and destruction follows. The Chorus warns never to let an anarchist find welcome or rest.
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