What is the meaning of the second choral Ode in Antigone by Sophocles?
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The Odes in Greek Tragedy are the most ancient of the aspects of the plays. Before there were plays with individual characters speaking lines to each other and undergoing personal events that lead to tragic outcomes, Greek Theatre was comprised of choral presentations meant to celebrate the gods. The Odes are moments in the more evolved Tragedies that retain this sense of stepping a bit out of the immediacy of the circumstances of the characters' struggles and having the Chorus relate directly to the audience and the gods.
Here, at line 332, the Chorus has its second Ode of the play, just after a Guard has revealed to Creon that someone (Antigone) has disobeyed his command and buried Polyneices. This Ode is often referred to as "The Ode to Man" and is all about Man's attempt to dominate the Earth.
The first strophe discusses how man can travel across the oceans and tame the land with his ploughs. Antistrophe One describes how man tames the beasts and birds. Strophe Two shows man's own growth and development through his use of language and the creation of homes.
. . .He can always help himself.
He faces no future helpless. There's only death
that he cannot find an escape from. He has contrived
refuge from illnesses once beyond all cure.
The final antistrophe elaborates mankind's cleverness, but cautions that this quality may "drive him one time or another to well or ill." It all depends upon whether man acts in deference to "the laws of the land and the gods' sworn right." This Chorus of Theban Elders concludes their Ode by cautioning that man must not "dwell with dishonor," and he that does will be shunned by these pious and conservative elders.
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