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The First Stasimon
The Chorus: “Many a wonder lives...”
The Chorus sings an ode to man, praising him as the wonder of all things that live and move. Men have built vessels in which they travel “the gray ocean” and “high-swelling seas.” The Chorus asserts that man has even subdued the earth by means of farming: his ploughs turn the earth year by year. He has learned to hunt for his food by catching birds, fish and animals in “woven coils of nets.” Man, according to the Chorus, is thus “craftywise.”
Man, says the Chorus, has been able to tame the wild horse and the tireless mountain bull by means of his extreme intelligence. He uses these beasts to farm the land. Man has learned to create shelters against all kinds of weather, against “biting frost” and “sharp, roof- penetrating rain.” Man, continues the Chorus, is inventive and imaginative, endowed with many skills. He meets each new challenge with a new device. The only thing that mankind cannot vanquish is Death. However, the Chorus praises the fact that man has been able to discover cures for the most baffling and dangerous diseases.
Man, the Chorus believes, moves toward either evil or good, depending on whether he loves his land and fears the gods above. If he follows the laws of the land and remains true to heaven, the Chorus maintains, then man will keep his high position in the state. But if he acts dishonorably by committing crimes against the state as well as against the gods, he will become an outcast, shunned by all.
Now the leader of the Chorus speaks. He notices a sign of evil, an ill-omen from the gods. He sees that Antigone, the “hapless child of hapless sire” has been arrested. He assumes that she has recklessly broken Creon’s law and has now been caught in the act.
This choral interlude serves to reduce the tension created in the previous scene. It is the only respite that the audience (or reader) will have for a long time. After this point, the drama moves headlong into tragedy.
The Chorus’ song in praise of man is highly musical and rich with images from agriculture, sailing, fishing, and hunting. Man is shown as noble and all-powerful. He triumphs over both earth and sea, over birds, animals and fish. He is resourceful and is able to find solutions to almost every problem he faces. Only Death stands in his way. Yet the Chorus does not praise man blindly. Towards the end of the song, man is shown to have a capacity for good as well as evil. The good man is one who follows the laws of the state and of heaven, whereas the bad man breaks these laws. The Chorus accepts the good man as a respectable member of society, but the bad man becomes a social outcast. Thus, the Chorus predicts the general reaction to Antigone’s act of rebellion when it becomes public.
The Chorus’ distinction between good and evil is too simplistic in nature, and will soon be proved wrong. The Chorus indulges in moralistic preaching and displays certain prejudices. Antigone may have broken the law of the state, but she is still in the right. Despite the buoyant mood of the choral song in praise of man, the mention of Death’s presence changes the tone. It is a harbinger of things to come. And soon enough, the leader of the Chorus tells of the arrest of the “girl Antigone.” Now the play is on the threshold of tragedy.