“We all make mistakes, but a good person yields when the course is wrong and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.” —Tiresias
Sophocles’ Antigone still resonates with cultural relevance over two millennia after its debut at the Dionysian Festival in Athens in 441 BC. Its timeless themes include the battle between the state and the individual, the strain between family loyalty and civic responsibility, the enduring disconnection between divine laws and human legality, and the innate yearning to bury our dead with care and reverence. Sophocles’ luminous tragedy digs deeply into these surprisingly contemporary cultural touchstones, abounding with wisdom and grace.
Among the powerful themes reverberating through Antigone, Sophocles’ mandate for intellectual humility convicts me the most, perhaps because it hits as someone who “professes” for a living. I know I stubbornly cling to my hard-earned biases that resist un-learning. Understandable. We live in a culture where changing our minds constitutes weakness—where “flip-flopping” loses elections. As if in response, Antigone ferociously entreats us to open ourselves to reason, to recognize the limits of human understanding, and to be submissive to each other and to God.
Performed over 400 years before the birth of Christ, Antigone’s plea for intellectual humility still reconciles powerfully with a life lived in the shadow of the cross. This great, Greek Tragedy—pagan roots and all—advocates the kind of humility practiced by a carpenter King, by a God willing to became a frail human in order to die a criminal’s death. The warning Jesus gives his disciples in Mathew 22:12 could just as easily be delivered to Creon or to many of us a bad ego day: “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”