Analysis of the good life in Apology, Crito and Phaedo and Antigone
Various authors have over time explored the meaning of life in their works as well as the issues of morality, virtuosity, death, immortality and a good life. This is especially so for Greek writers and story tellers and is no exception for Plato and Sophocles in the various works especially in relation to Apology by Plato and Antigone by Sophocles. Both works have a good life as one of their central themes as is death, with some similarities and differences in both their portrayal of the good life and in the role death plays in the works.
Apology and Antigone both deal with the theme of good life and the role of morality in the goodness of life. To sufficiently understand and cover the theme of good life in Apology, it is important to take other related works in consideration namely Euthyphro, Apology, Crito and Phaedo. The Apology is a continuation of Euthyphro, where Socrates is brought before the court for corruption of the morals of the young and discusses what is pious and impious with Euthyphro and undertakes his own defense. Crito was written about Socrates while he was in jail and is a dialogue between him and his friend Crito who had gone to visit Socrates as he awaits his execution. The Phaedo deals with the last day of Socrates when he is visited by his friends Phaedo, Crito and Simmias, where they talk of the link between pain and pleasure, the non-existence of contradictions and the immortality of the soul. It ends with Socrates saying goodbye to his family and friends before drinking poison as his judgment of execution prescribes.
Antigone, written by Sophocles, which is a continuation of Oedipus at Colonus, talks of Antigone, the sister of Eteocles and Polyneices, who returns to Thebes in the hope of preventing her brothers from killing each other for the throne. On arrival, she learns that her brothers have already killed each other and that while Eteocles has been buried properly and with all the rituals observed, Polyneices, whom the current leader of Thebes Creon views as a traitor, has neither been mourned nor buried and that the sentence for burying him is death. Despite the threat of death hanging over her, Antigone prepares the body of her brother ritually and buries him. Antigone is thrown in jail and by the time Creon relents and decides to set her free, she has already taken her own life.
In the Apology, Socrates makes it clear that although he obeys the law of man, he is only held by the laws of God. This is clearly brought out at the beginning of the text when he says though he makes his defense to obey the law, may the will of God be manifested in the event. Later in the text by his admission that he believes that there has never been greater good in Athens that has happened than his service to God as per God’s decree. we deduce that Socrates considers his work a service and obedience to God and an integral part of the good life for the virtuous man, something he is will to die for, clearly brought out when he says that though he were to die over and over for many time, he would not change his ways and cares not whether the judges acquit him.
Socrates asserts that a good life is the seeking of truth and wisdom for the improvement of the soul and developing a way of making the correct decisions based on virtue and the soul, in what he terms as a competency in living and that it can only be achieved through the love of wisdom. This is brought out in various phrases in the Apology such as why citizens of Athens are so concerned with accumulation of material wealth, reputation and honor yet heed little attention to truth and wisdom which have the most desirous effect on the soul as well as his assertion that all he does is persuade everyone not to focus on themselves and their property but rather on improving the soul, from where virtue springs and from it all that is good in every person’s life including wealth.
His consistency is brought out in both Crito and Phaedo where he turns down the chance to be broken out of jail and sent to live in comfort in exile where he chooses death over doing something he deems as immoral and in Phaedo where he focuses on immortality of the soul, his refusal of contradictions and drinking his poison calmly and his last words being to Crito urging him to pay the debt they owe. Even in death, his focus is still on ensuring that his last moments on earth are spent in a virtuous manner. Antigone displays the same fearlessness of death in defense of her ideals, which can be deduced from phrases such as telling her sister to not focus on her plight but rather on setting her soul alright and her question to Creon asking him other than for taking her life, what else could he do to her.
There are several comparisons and contrasts in the way the theme of good life is brought out in the texts. In all the texts, both Socrates and Antigone are driven only by doing what they term as morally right and are willing to go against the will of others to stand by their decisions and that which they deem right. Another similarity is the fact that they would both rather die rather than derelict their moral duty or resort to that which they see as immoral and both eventually do. Similarly, they are willing to sacrifice everything for their moral rights and duty even when being persuaded otherwise by those they love.
There are differences inherent in the views of the good life for Socrates and Antigone. Socrates is concerned with virtue and the soul as the main focus of the good life while for Antigone, it is driven by family, duty and appeasing the gods. Socrates’ vision of the good life is universal and he speaks to all people of the way to lead a good life while for Antigone, it is personal and focuses on doing right by her brother and herself. Socrates is standing up not only for himself and what he believes in but for all people in Athens and indeed all over the world while Antigone is standing up for herself and her brother for what she believes is right for both of them. It is also clear that while Socrates believes in the rule of law to the extent of taking the poison as per the judgment voluntarily, Antigone doesn’t and would rather take her own life than to leave her death in the hands of her persecutors.
These differences can be attributed to some extent to the differences between their authors and their protagonists. Plato and Socrates, both being philosophers, are evidently more concerned with philosophical questions such as the immortality of the soul, virtue, the love of wisdom and the universality of such concepts as is evident in Apology and the other related works. Sophocles, being a tragedian, chose a personal battle for his protagonist, something the audience is more likely to identify with. These differences may explain the difference of how death is used in both works, in Antigone to bring out the tragedy of a needless death since Creon relents and plans to release Antigone. Yet, without her death, the other tragedies that follow such as Creon’s son and wife committing suicide would not have happened. In Apology, it is used to show the strength and conviction of Socrates, who would rather die than break his moral code.
Both Socrates and Antigone ultimately die for doing what they deem as right and moral and in their conviction that their deeds are in service of the good life. Although not stated explicitly in Antigone as Socrates does in Phaedo, they both accept that to lead a good life, one must accept that the pleasure of enjoying a good life requires sacrifice, whether it is of pain or death.