Physis vs. Nomos in Sophocles' Antigone

Topics: Morality, Sophocles, Oedipus Pages: 4 (1459 words) Published: May 19, 2007
Known today as the "Nature versus Nurture" debate, the question of human social conduct and character development has remained a topic of interest for many philosophical discussions. Centered around the natural and socially constructed, ancient Greeks referred to this debate as physis versus nomos – is individual behavior a primary product of custom and convention or absolute natural fact? Greek mythology addresses this dichotomy of mankind through scenarios of interaction between man and the supernatural. The juxtaposition and/or separation of physis and nomos in this way is found in many myths, an overt strategy that is used to convey Greek ideas of inherent moral responsibility.

Sophocles addresses the question of physis versus nomos – in essence, right versus wrong – in his rebellion-inspiring tragedy Antigone. Among others, his main characters, Antigone and Creon, are representative of the two ideologies in contrast. In regards to the burial, or rather, non-burial, of Antigone's slain brother Polyneices, they are constantly battling over polar positions: state against individual citizen, law against conscience, and human nature against divine nature. Ultimately, in following her conscience and sacrificing her life in defiance of nomos, Antigone is validated as a martyr and hero, while Creon is left alone in sorrow and despair. Given the fates of these two characters, is the fate of man subjective to acting solely on what is morally righteous, essentially upholding physis over nomos? In Antigone's very famous choral ode, the Chorus tributes man's accomplishments and mastery over sea and sky but also emphasizes human inferiority to divine powers: "only against Death shall he call for aid in vain; but from baffling maladies he hath devised escapes." The physis-nomos dichotomy, however, is not addressed in any part of the ode; instead, it is grouped together, leaving fate at the hands of obedience of both land's law and "that justice which he hath sworn by...
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