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With regard to Creon's delay in the Antigone, I venture
A suggested explanation.
to suggest that the true explanation is a simple one. If it seems inadequate when tried by the gauge of modern drama, it will not do so (I think) to those who remember two characteristics of old Greek drama,—first, the great importance of the rhetorical element, more particularly as represented by the speeches of messengers; secondly, the occasional neglect of clearness, and even of consistency, in regard to matters which either precede the action of the drama (“τὰ ἔξω τῆς τραγῳδίας”), or, though belonging to the drama itself, occur off the stage. The speech of the first Messenger in the Antigone (1192-1243) relates the catastrophe with which the tragedy culminates. Its effect was therefore of the highest importance. Now, if this speech had first related the terrible scene in Antigone's tomb, and had then passed on to the quiet obsequies of Polyneices, its rhetorical impressiveness would have been destroyed. It was indispensable that the latter part of the recital should correspond with the climax of tragic interest. This, I believe, was the motive present to the poet's mind when, after indicating in the dialogue that the release was to precede the burial, he reversed that order in composing the Messenger's speech. He knew that his Athenian audience would be keenly susceptible to the oratorical quality of that speech, while they would be either inattentive, or very indulgent, to the defect in point of dramatic consistency. The result is a real blemish, though not a serious one; indeed, it may be said to compensate the modern reader for its existence by exemplifying some tendencies of the art which admitted it.

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    • Sophocles, Antigone, 1192
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