When I was nearing the end of my first reading of Antigone, a question popped in my head from one of our past discussions: What is the purpose of prophecy to the modern reader? In our discussion, most agreed prophecy is a meaningless, predetermined fate which no one, mortal or immortal, can understand or change. The idea of prophecy would be strange to Christians and Jews, who believe that God controls fate. To quote Psalm 139: “And in Your book were all written/The days that were ordained for me/When as yet there was not one of them.” Let’s say, in line with common belief, that this kind of fate doesn’t exist. One would naturally say why care about greek tragedy all together? What could we learn from some imaginary universal law greater than any divine power? The truth is we can learn a great deal, and this is the genius of Sophocles. Whether we interpret prophecy ethically, religiously, or both, it is meaningful as a tool to help us develop the capacity for self-reflection and an overall insight of the human condition. Referring back to my original claim, I believe it is best supported by the chorus (whom at certain times gives very profound judgments on the actions in the play) at the end of Antigone, in this fable-like moral: “The mighty words of the proud are paid in full with mighty blows of fate, and at long last those blows will teach us wisdom.” This quote is a perfect example. Paraphrased, the quote says that the hero/heroine of a tragedy is defeated by their unavoidable fate, which teaches us how to “see” ourselves like Oedipus and Creon after the fulfillment of their fates. Even though our lives may not be ruled my a predetermined fate, the decisions we make now will affect our future. Therefore, if we do control our own fate, frequently reflecting on our present course increases our chances of seeing our life in retrospect as happy and fulfilling.
Prophecies in Greek Tragedy