Would Sophocles' Antigone still be a success if it did not have a chorus?

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noahvox2 | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator

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This is a rather interesting question because modern readers of the ancient Greek tragedies are often puzzled by the Chorus, which often seems to interrupt the action with poetic utterances that sometimes seem to have nothing to do with the play.

For the ancient Greeks, though, the Chorus was the foundation of the play. According to tradition, Greek drama originally only consisted of the Chorus. So, in a strict sense, Sophocles' Antigone could not have been a "success" without a Chorus. In fact, the idea probably never occurred to Sophocles or any ancient Greek dramatist of his era--with the exception of Agathon--to produce a play without a Chorus.

In fact, Aristotle (Poetics 18) holds up Sophocles as an example of a playwright who understood how best to utilize the Chorus:

The Chorus too should be regarded as one of the actors; it should be an integral part of the whole, and share in the action, in the manner not of Euripides but of Sophocles. (S. H. Butcher translation)

So, from the perspective of the ancient Greeks, Sophocles' play would have been quite bizarre without a Chorus. Of course, many modern readers of the play feel like they could do without the choral passages. I would encourage those who feel that way to reconsider the beautiful poetry they do contain, such as the song that the Theban elders sing in the Antigone:

O Eros, the conqueror in every fight,

Eros, who squanders all men’s wealth,

who sleeps at night on girls’ soft cheeks,

and roams across the ocean seas

and through the shepherd’s hut—

no immortal god escapes from you,

nor any man, who lives but for a day.

(Ian Johnston translation)

Now that's what I call a success-bringing choral passage!


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