Fate was a very important concept for the Greek culture. This fact had a significant impact on the Greek culture, religion, politics of this civilization and many other spheres of life. The ancient Greek drama perfectly reflects how the concept of fate was treated and interpreted in the society. Antigone written by a prominent Greek tragedian Sophocles is a bright example of the ancient Greek approach to fate as a governing principle of the individual’s life.
Sophocles makes the binary of fate and free will one of the central and most important themes of his Oedipus trilogy that comprises Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone. He starts elaborating this theme in Oedipus the King and in Antigone it turns into a multi-dimensional and complex concept that is a source of both painful problems and critical solutions. Antigone, the protagonist of the last play, decides that she has no other option, but to rebel against Creon, the ruler of Thebes and a close friend of her father in the past, and bury the body of her brother. She is perfectly aware that Creon has forbidden touching the body of Antigone’s brother as he considers him a traitor of the city. Antigone acts in an extremely selfless way, almost like a martyr, understanding that she is likely to be executed for her actions, buries his brother. She does it even without the help of her sister Ismene that chooses to be obedient to the law and Creon. Antigone tells to Ismene, “for thou chosed’st life, and I to die” (Sophocles). Palmer argues, “Acts of martyrdom occur at points in the history of societies when they are driven by fundamental conflicts” (206). It means that Sophocles depicts the Greek society that is actively rethinking the role of fate in the lives of people and the importance of free will.
The concept of fate in Antigone has a profound impact not only on the life of individuals but on the whole course of political development. Antigone is “a lamenting sister and she does die for her cause, but she is, more fundamentally, a political actor embroiled in fifth-century burial, kinship, and polis politics” (Honig 2). Fate in Antigone and other plays of the Oedipus trilogy rules both personal and political life, making significant changes to all levels of human activities. Creon became the ruler of Thebes after Antigone’s father, as Oedipus was so “naïve”, according to the Greek ideology and philosophy, which tried to change his fate and was punished for that. Creon says, “…the obstinate soul that fights with Fate, is smitten grievously” (Sophocles 1098-99). However, “Antigone’s “defiance” of Creon reveals her commitment (or obedience) to her other role as sister/daughter and inheritor of her family” and she sees it as her fate and does not attempt to change it (Verkerk 283). Obeying the law will mean to Antigone that she betrayed her fate and duty as a member of her family.
Fate was a crucial concept for the ancient Greek culture, and it was evident not only in literature, but in all other spheres. Fate plays a great role in the Greek world, stemming from the idea that the gods influence the course of men’s lives for better or worse. The understanding of fate in this civilization was largely based on the religious and mythological ideas and theories. The Greek myths provided a set of moral rules, principles, and exemplars, which each Greek had to follow. The Greeks had to try to be the best of what they could be, pursue virtue, accept fate and prepare for the death that would be followed by the life in the underworld. The importance and inevitability of fate were reflected in the way gods responsible for the fate construction were portrayed in the Greek mythology. Although Zeus was considered to be the ruler of all other Olympic gods, the fates of all gods and people were subject not to his will, but to powerful Ananke that was feared by everyone (Graf 47). The Greeks did not have any significant temples devoted to Ananke as praying her with the hope to alter fate was “useless” as this goddess could not be persuaded to change her mind. Other powerful goddesses that were engaged in managing the people’s fate were the Moirai that were, according to Plato, the daughters of Ananke (Graf 51). They were usually depicted as old and even ugly women who would never listen to the pleas of gods and people. They choose when the person is born, how long he lives and when he dies. It happens when the oldest of three Moirai, Atropos, cuts the thread that symbolizes the human life. However, the Greek culture also had gods and goddess of positive fate or luck. One of them was Tyche, who may help people with successful marriages or profitable business deals. In Greek philosophy, this concept of fate that was understood as the Supreme Law or Ultimate Reality was often emphasized and thoroughly analyzed. Greek philosophers also based their theories on the mythology and religion but treated fate from other perspectives as well.
To conclude, fate was a significant concept in Antigone by Sophocles. The tragedian managed to reflect the importance of the fate for the Greek civilization and gave a thought-provoking account of the relations between fate and free will. The Greek understanding of fate was predominantly based on mythology and religion and stretched to other spheres of life such as politics, philosophy, etc.