• Polyneices’ Body and His Monument: Class, Social Status, and Funerary Commemoration in Sophocles’ Antigone

    David Roselli (see profile)
    Theater, Sixteenth century, Seventeenth century, Art, Greek, Greece, History, Marxian school of sociology, Theater--Political aspects
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    Ancient theatre, Greek art, greek history, Marxism, Classical theatre, Greek history, Marxist sociology, Theatre and politics
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    There has been much debate about the role of Greek tragedy in questioning and/or affirming values. This paper addresses the broader relationship between theater and society in terms of the ways in which the dead were commemorated in fifth-century Athens. In section 1, I briefly consider different forms of funerary monuments and, in particular, the increase in the use of images of women. I argue that the types of monuments that people erected conveyed specific social and political meanings. In particular, I draw attention to the new role played by images of women to represent the class and civic status of the family, by focusing on the social and political implications of this form of commemoration in comparison with archaic-style burial mounds. Whereas images of women or men in a domestic setting allowed for more ambiguous messages concerning the status of the family, burial mounds (which continued to be erected by a few families in fifth-century Athens) promoted an elite identity that drew on Homeric models. In section 2, I bring together Sophocles’ Antigone with the insights from changes in iconography and funerary practice. I first discuss the representation of Polyneices in the debate between Antigone and Creon, highlighting the emphasis placed on social status. The play defines Polyneices’ class and status through a series of contrasting images (e.g., slave, lower-class male) and further emphasizes the outrage of Creon’s edict by depicting the denial of burial as an attack on Polyneices’ social standing. Then I analyze the representation of his burial and the references to the tools used to build his tomb. I argue that the play presents an aristocratic burial through the location and description of Creon’s construction of the tomb. While the play provides clear support for Antigone and her defense of the unwritten laws in terms of the general right to burial, it also indicates an ongoing concern with social class and its contested role in Athenian society.
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    7 years ago
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