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The power of relationships in Antigone by Sophocles and The Odyssey by Homer Essay Sample

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The power of relationships in Antigone by Sophocles and The Odyssey by Homer Essay Sample

     When an individual feels powerless to tackle a situation, one is persuaded to act against one’s will, one experiences the importance of power; when one is able to exercise one’s  will and feels what one does is  correct, power comes to the fore again. All human relationships have implied power, good or bad. Social structure and power structure are interlinked. Power dynamics is the inherent part of human life. The concept of influence is latent within the concept of power.

Kings and warriors of the ancient times, consciously or unconsciously, wantonly or unwittingly, act in  various challenging situations and plough through the  power-brokering  game, to achieve their selfish objectives,  as per the demands of the situations. In terms of historical context, Antigone is written when the nation is in turmoil. Sophocles is one of the ten Generals to lead a military expedition against Samos Island in 440 BC. Antigone has the essential virtues of literature, and provides no patronage for a particular type of political philosophy or backup for any leader, no propaganda, not even a passing reference to Athens. Antigone remains devoted to characters and themes, which is the hallmark of the great literature. Thus, it has universal, timeless appeal.  It explains the genuine relationship of human being in trying situations.

     One such important relationship explained in Antigone is that of state and the individual. This is the fundamental problem through the Ages, which the society has not been able to solve satisfactorily until now. The individual resents curtailment or infringement of one’s freedom and state control as for personal matters of faith. Antigone refuses to be guided by the directions of King Creon and wishes to exercise her freedom to perform a personal obligation. She defies Creon’s edict and decides to go by her own, as for the ritual to bury her brother. She is guided by the rational thought and not just the spontaneous volition. Here is an important example of clash of power of relationships.

The King wishing to exercise his inherent power and the individual retaliating with the power which one considers as one’s birthright. The issue relating to the second burial also is the perfect example of the power of relationship– power as well as relationship. As per the customs of burial then prevailing Antigone completes the burial rites, when she puts dust over her brother’s body. (Dust returns to dust!)

Thus she has done her obligatory duties to her brother and maintains the essential dignity of the relationship with him. With such a perfect and procedural burial the soul of Polynices can proceed with its onward march to the underworld. When his body is uncovered again as per king’s orders, she has the audacity and conviction to perform the ritual again, unmindful of the consequences. She thus exercises her individual powers of freedom of action and conviction, against the autocratic, unjustified power of the state.

Another important example of power of relationships in the epic is the rivalry between the sisters. Ismene and Antigone. These blood relation sisters try to outsmart each other. The feminine trait of jealousy is shown in their mutual interactions. They are poles apart by nature and their relationship can t be expected to be smooth. Many sentimental scenes are often created and they highlight their contradictory nature. “As with Sophocles’ sisters, Ismene and Antigone appear as foils and rivals. Ismene is “reasonable,” timid, and obedient, full-figured and beautiful in being a good girl. In contrast, Antigone is recalcitrant, impulsive, and moody, sallow, thin, and decidedly resistant to being a girl like the rest. (Antigone…)

 Ismene is shown as an obedient and sober girl. In contrast, Antigone is moody and impulsive and not so beautiful and attractive like her sister. Antigone’s animosity with her sister is due to another aspect of her sister’s personality. It has to do with the femininity. Antigone hates her sister to the point of being brutal, and this peculiar relationship is seen right through her childhood.

Antigone is so ruthless on her sister that she once binds her to a tree to mutilate her. She is extremely jealous about men appreciating her and the inherent capacity of her beauty to attract men. She goes to silly and extreme extent and wishes to become the woman of Haemon and for that she schemes to steal the feminine assets like, perfume, powder, frock, rouge and lipstick. A peculiar love-hate relationship is pictured between the two sisters.

     As explained earlier, Antigone’s solid determination to bury Polynices has twin objectives. To honor the family relationship, and to challenge the unjust authority! Her loyalty and adherence to the familial traditions is deeper than her loyalty to the present ruler.

She makes a fervent appeal to her sister Ismene that they must care for the brother more than anything and show their sisterly love. This is the intense power of her internal, heart to heart relationship with her brother.  Over this issue, she is willing to betray the state if at all some think that it is an act of betrayal. However, she does not mention a word about divinity and divine laws being on her side. She does not crave to establish any sort of holy relationship. Her loyalty and relationship is with the laws of the family in the present case.

     The dilemma of power and relationship is highlighted in the peculiar attitudes of Creon, when he applies two different yardsticks for the same question in identical situations. Like Antigone he too values family traditions. Here is a rare agreement between the two contending powers; two opposing powers; the powers that do not see eye to eye on vital issues.

When dealing with Haeon, Creon demands of him obedience as the son first and citizen next. He counsels his son that all other issues are secondary as compared to father’s wish. This is nothing but soliciting   vote for such a contradictory relationship. In Antigone’s case, he declares that the laws of the state are supreme-obedience to them is absolutely necessary for the citizen.  Thus, Creon falters, when dealing with his own case.

The Odyssey by Homer:

Homer, the blind bard, is credited with authorship of The Odyssey. Or has he done simply the summing up of the long Greek tradition of unwritten, oral poetry? The scholar’s debate on this issue still persists. This epic is composed between 750 and 650 BC. The power of relationship is explicitly seen between Odysseus and his wife Penelope. Penelope is in a highly disadvantageous position. She has not seen her husband for twenty years. She is intensely troubled by a number of suitors, who think that Odysseus is no more.

Why has he not returned to his Kingdom, even after the lapse of ten years from the end of Trojan War? Her young son, Telemachus, is unable offer tangible opposition to the suitors. One among them, Antinous, has plans to assassinate him, because he is the only successor to the assets of Odysseus. Under such grim circumstances, Penelope exhibits the strength of her loyal relationship to her husband. Odysseus, besides his physical prowess, is a quick-thinking individual. He is capable of meeting the challenge of tough situations and his presence of mind is extraordinary. He excels in converting situations of defeat into victories. He is an excellent orator and has the capacity to sway his audience.

     His fascination with Calypso is the temporary aberration of his real strength of character. If he were basically sensuous individual, he would have continued to stay at the exotic land with her. The genuine desire sprouts within him to return to his Kingdom and join his wife. But he is frank enough to admit that his wife is no comparison to Calypso. This is the style of Homeric characters.  They are realistic and complex. The power of relationship exhibited in the character of Telemachus, when he is placed in the most difficult situation is noticeable.

He is an infant when his father leaves for Troy and knows about the glory and valor of his father. He has the added responsibility of looking after his mother and care of father’s estate. The suitors are greedy and crazy and wish to take advantage of his helpless situation. Penelope provides the sterling example of the power of relationship. Twenty years of uncertainty at the prime of her youth, and yet her love and loyalty to Odysseus is perfect. The suitors are applying relentless pressure on her to remarry but she withstands their tactics courageously. She spends her nights weeping in her bed.

     They say, desperate situations need desperate remedies. Athena, the staunch supporter of Odysseus has disguised him as a beggar. This is an example of the strong power of relationship between the two. Athena knows that Odysseus has a tough and dangerous job ahead in dealing with the combined might of suitors. The identity of Odysseus is only revealed to Telemachus. Both of them devise a plan to massacre the suitors and to take control of Ithaca. When he enters the palace the next day as a beggar Odysseus has to bear the insults from the suitors. His old nurse, Eurycleia recognizes him but gives the solemn assurance that she will keep it secret.

This is a unique proof of relationship between the master and the nurse and the power of sincerity is invaluable. Her loyalty to the importance of relationship and its time-value is worth noting. Eurycleia does right things at the right time. She is aged, and once nursed Odysseus and Telemachus, as babies. How great she must be feeling that she looked after both the father and son! She is well-versed in palace arithmetic and takes care about all confidential issues concerning her masters. She understands what is to be told to a particular palace functionary, howsoever important is one’s position, and what information is to be withheld from the individual. In the present context, she takes two important decisions; to keep Telemachus’s journey secret from Penelope, and also Odysseus’s identity secret.

She has recognized him, through his scar on his leg.  Even though Eurycleia   is a small character, an insignificant one, at a very crucial time, she does not do anything to damage the trusted relationship. She could have easily shifted loyalties, and informed the suitors secretly about the clandestine presence of Odysseus dressed as a beggar. As for Penelope, she plays her cards with the suitors well. She does not say ‘no’ or ‘yes’ to remarriage. She goes on imposing one or the other conditions on them. Her sixth sense works well, and she has the suspicion, whether the beggar can be her husband. The archery contest is the outcome of her genius and her supreme faith that only Odysseus is capable of firing the arrow through the row of twelve axes.

Each suitor tries, fails, humiliated and ultimately can not win the hands of Penelope. Destiny has taken the full circle as for the suitors, when Odysseus not only wins the contest, but turns the bow on the suitors to kill each one of them. The punishment to the twelve household maids is also instant and severe, for they have committed the grave sin of sleeping with the suitors. They have betrayed the sacred relationship of the master and the servant. They are killed by hanging.  The power of relationships does not end here. “Odysseus reveals himself to the entire palace and reunites with his loving Penelope.

He travels to the outskirts of Ithaca to see his aged father, Laertes. They come under attack from the vengeful family members of the dead suitors, but Laertes, reinvigorated by his son’s return, successfully kills Antinous’s father and puts a stop to the attack. Zeus dispatches Athena to restore peace. With his power secure and his family reunited, Odysseus’s long ordeal comes to an end.”(The Odyssey…)

The aged father is also surcharged with the fiery relationship of love for his son and successfully counters the attack on Odysseus. Each one of the family members and associates of Odysseus live up to the expectation and turn out to be the sterling examples of loyalty and the power of relationships. The loyal shepherd, Eumaeus is another minor but laudable character as for maintaining the dignity of human relationships. He, along with the cowherd Philoetius, assists Odysseus reclaim his throne when he returns to Ithaca. When Odysseus appears disguised as a beggar in his hut, he gives him food and shelter, which is a great human quality.

     The power of relationship between gods and Odysseus is depicted by Homer in a unique style. Athena is the goddess of wisdom and battle. It is but natural that she supports Odysseus, well known for his crafty ways and valor. Apart from her divine acts to help Odysseus, when the decisive moment arrives, she assures him of victory over suitors, but desires and allows Odysseus to fight his own battle. She does not involve actively in the battle, but watches the situation carefully. This is a unique relationship where she has absolute trust in the power of Odysseus to score victory, without her help.


The two epics are full of incidents of loyal relationships and how they exercise power over their actions and reactions. Such relationships are part of the personalities of minor and major characters. The ten years of the relentless efforts of Odysseus to return to his kingdom, are as heroic and amazing as the ten years of the Trojan War. How Odysseus lives life in its trials, tribulations, duty and beauty—that is Homer’s The Odyssey!  Antigone by Sophocles also depicts the beauties and strains of the power of human relationships.


 AntigoneHome: Spark Notes: English: Drama Study Guides: Antigone. Antigone. – Navigate Here -, Context, Plot Overview, Character List, Analysis of Major … Antigone…

www.sparknotes.com/drama/antigone/ – 27k – Cached – Retrieved on July 25, 2008

The OdysseyHome: Spark Notes: English: Literature Study Guides: The Odyssey. The Odyssey. – Navigate Here -, Context, Plot Overview … The Odyssey · Classical Literature…

www.sparknotes.com/lit/odyssey/ – 31k – Cached – Retrieved on July 25, 2008.

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