"Nobody Likes The Bringer Of Bad News"

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Context: In Thebes there has been a history of bad news, and as one of the few humorous characters in all Greek tragedy remarks, this fact does not make the bearer of such news popular. King Creon has just put down a rebellion and buried a loyal nephew who supported his cause, but he leaves to rot his brother, the antagonist who claimed the throne. The two sisters of these ill-fated warriors are deeply concerned that the soul of the outcast will not find peace, so the more valorous Antigone performs with dirt and libations the symbolic act under the very noses of the guards set to prevent these rites. This treasonous act will be punished by the death of both the perpetrator and the guard. The soldier chosen to bring the news to the King is very reluctant to do so.

. . . The lot chose poor old me
to win the prize. So here I am unwilling,
quite sure you people hardly want to see me.
Nobody likes the bringer of bad news.

"The Ship Of State"

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Context: The Theban plays of Sophocles chronicle the events in the reign of Oedipus and Creon, reigns fraught with incest and fratricide. After Oedipus abdicates the throne to remove a pestilence from his kingdom, he wanders abroad with his daughters Antigone and Ismene, who return to Thebes only after his death. They thereupon observe the tragic deaths of their two brothers, one who fights for Creon to preserve the kingdom, the other who kills his brother and whose body must perforce remain unburied. Antigone makes a ceremonial burial on pain of death and in spite of all Creon's precautions to prevent her from doing so. The Victorian translators of the classics imposed a common phrase "the ship of state" which is not present in the original, and which is variously translated as Creon's ironic speech that insurrection has now been put down and all is well: "My friends, for what concerns our commonwealth,/ The Gods who vexed it with the billowing storms/ Have righted it again," or "My friends, the very gods who shook the state/with mighty surge have set it straight again."

Sirs, the vessel of our State, after being tossed on wild waves, hath once more been safely steadied by the gods . . .

"Wonders Are Many, And None Is More Wonderful Than Man"

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Context: Antigone is third in the famous trilogy by Sophocles dealing with the legend of Oedipus, King of Thebes, who unwittingly slew his father and married his own mother. When the truth was revealed many years later, his mother Jocasta took her own life; Oedipus blinded himself and left Thebes, wandering about the earth in misery and repentance with only his faithful daughter Antigone to serve and care for him. After his death she returns to Thebes. Her brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, had agreed to reign alternate years after Oedipus' abdication; but Eteocles would not give up the throne to his younger brother. The latter engaged six other Argive chiefs to help him seize it by force; but he and five of the chiefs were killed, and in the battle he and Eteocles slew each other. The play opens immediately following Antigone's return. She learns that Creon, now King of Thebes, has forbidden anyone to bury the corpse of Polynices. Her loyalty to her brother takes first place in her mind: she is determined to see that he has a decent burial. She calls her sister Ismene to her and makes this determination known. Ismene reminds her of all the misery the family has passed through, and of the death they too must suffer if they brave the king's wrath. She refuses to assist Antigone, whose purpose is unshaken. The Chorus, representing a group of Theban elders, tells of the joys of peace and victory; then Creon enters and reaffirms his intention to hold a noble funeral for Eteocles, who defended the city, and to leave unburied Polynices, who tried to destroy it. The Chorus upholds him. A guard arrives to inform Creon that the body of Polynices has disappeared. Creon, convinced that this act is the work of persons who have been bribed, orders that the evildoers be found. The Chorus now soliloquizes on the nature of man, whose greatness and baseness exist side by side:

Wonders are many, and none is more wonderful than man; the power that crosses the white sea, driven by the stormy south-wind, making a path under surges that threaten to engulf him; and Earth, the eldest of the gods, the immortal, the unwearied, doth he wear, turning the soil with the offspring of horses, as the ploughs go to and fro from year to year.
And the light-hearted race of birds, and the tribes of savage beasts, and the sea-brood of the deep, he snares in the meshes of his woven toils, he leads captive, man excellent in wit. And he masters by his arts the beast whose lair is in the wilds, who roams the hills; he tames the horse of shaggy mane, he puts the yoke upon its neck, he tames the tireless mountain bull.
And speech, and wind-swift thought, and all the moods that mould a state, hath he taught himself; and how to flee the arrows of the frost, when 'tis hard lodging under the clear sky, and the arrows of the rushing rain; yea, he hath resource for all; without resource he meets nothing that must come: only against Death shall he call for aid in vain; but from baffling maladies he hath devised escapes.
Cunning beyond fancy's dream is the fertile skill which brings him, now to evil, now to good. When he honours the laws of the land, and that justice which he hath sworn by the gods to uphold, proudly stands his city: no city hath he who, for his rashness, dwells with sin. . . .

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Character and Theme Quotes