Sophocles’ Antigone and Thucydides’ Athens: Romanticism and Realism in Politics

  • Simon Haines


A page or two about one or two scenes from one play would be an absurd gesture to make towards classical Greek tragedy, and perhaps not very much that could be inferred about Sophocles from such a narrow glimpse, even in the most general terms, could apply to Aeschylus or Euripides as well – although it is worth remembering that the three lives overlapped to a surprising degree. But this is a book about romanticism in literature, not about Greek poetry, and so we have no room here for more than a glance at two representative Greek Enlightenment attitudes to the self, of which furthermore only one is the poet’s, the other being a historian’s. “The wrath sing, goddess, of Peleus’ son Achilles”; “Oh my dear Ismene, sister-kin”; “Thucydides the Athenian wrote down the struggle between the Peloponnesians and the Athenians”: these are the opening lines of the Iliad, Antigone and the History of the Peloponnesian War; an epic romance, a tragic drama and a historical narrative. The first two if written today would be a novel and a screenplay, but the third would still be a history. Aristotle was the first writer we know of to discriminate methodically between these differing species and sub-species of literature: between history and poetry, and within poetry between epic and tragedy. With their examples in mind, he argued that poetry attends principally to the moral meaning of the events it represents, including their capacity to educe and illuminate human character in action and passion.


Moral Reality Moral Life Political Thought Moral Thought Political Practice 
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Copyright information

© Simon Haines 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simon Haines
    • 1
  1. 1.Australian National UniversityAustralia

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