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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The role of the chorus in Sophocles’ Ajax and Antigone Martin, Lindsay Geddes


The Chorus in the Ajax are both soldiers and sailors, completely dependent on their leader, Ajax, and strongly affected by developments in the action. They provide commentary on Ajax directly, by ascribing various adjectives to him, and by contrasting his former and present states, and indirectly, by remaining loyal to him. They are used to express various emotions, such as anxiety and distress, melancholy and despondency, excitement and joy, grief and mourning, and they generate tension and a sense of danger during much of the play. The respect and concern they show toward Tecmessa, their steadfast support of Ajax, and their involvement in a dangerous situation not of their making make them a sympathetic Chorus. Their description of Ajax's grieving mother in the first stasimon, their illogical excitement in the second stasimon, and their attempts at mediation between Teucer and the Atreidai do not emanate from their personality but exist for dramatic purposes. Although they do not unify the two parts of the play, they mold our assessment of Ajax. The Chorus in the Antigone are pious, elderly men, who embody community wisdom and show deference to power. Their support of Creon, however, is not whole-hearted, but because they fear him, they do not speak candidly. Toward Antigone, they are both sympathetic and critical, but differences of age and gender prevent a close association with her. In their songs they introduce or develop ideas which often impart a certain sense of disjunction, because the connection to the previous episode is not immediately apparent. Nevertheless, the ideas are relevant to important themes in the play. The Chorus also convey various emotions, such as joy and thanksgiving, marvel and horror, pessimism (about human powerlessness in relation to the gods), apprehension and (false) hope. Their lyrics are suggestive of secondary meanings, which are often applicable to Creon, but of which they are not fully cognizant. Their relationship to Antigone creates interest because we wonder why, other than their fear of Creon, they are not more supportive of her.

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