Antimatter Essay, Research Paper
1 PERMEATING EFFECTS OF RELIGION.
When comparing the two works “Oedipus the king” by Sophocles and Henrik
Ibsens “Ghosts”, it is at first hard to believe that they have anything in
common. But when performing a deeper study of the plays, one will find at least
one common topic. The permeation in society of religion.
I will in this essay thus try to show how religion permeates society in the
Greek tragedy “Oedipus the King” by Sophocles and Norwegian drama “Ghosts” by
These two works are very different due to them being written at different
times and in completely different settings. The writers have dissimilar
understanding of the role of God, and this is reflected in the direct
communications between the gods and Oedipus, in contrast to the indirect contact
between God and the society presented to the reader in “Ghosts”. Still, both
societies follow the rules and norms, set by their religion.
An important similarity which is worth mentioning, is that both plays cover only
a short period in time, the happenings all occurs within a few days. In this
short time we are only introduced to a few characters, as to create a close
relationship between the characters and the reader, giving them life and depth.
In “Oedipus the King” one meets a society which believes in direct
communications with the gods. Each god was worshipped for their special ability
and strength. In the play gods by the names of: Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite and
Athena amongst others are mentioned. The people of the ancient Greek world
communicated to their gods through oracles. The oracles were highly pious
people who were thought to have a close tie to the gods, and received
prophetess of what was going to happen in the future. In “Oedipus Rex” the
oracle most often mentioned is the oracle of Delphi, which is one of the best
know to the modern world.
During the action of the play, when Oedipus realises what he has done, he begs
the gods for forgiveness. He turns directly to them with his grief and horror,
and then stabs out his own eyes as means of punishment towards himself. In an
indirect way he blames the gods for what has happened, but also to lead him
through this horror he now has to live with. This may be seen by the following
line spoken by Oedipus;
” Apollo. Apollo. It was Apollo, always Apollo, who brought each of my
agonies to birth, but I, nobody else, I, I raised these two hands of mine, held
them above my head, and plunged them down, I stabbed out these eyes. [.....]“1
Oedipus is not being judged by the other characters, but supported, as this
happening was not to his knowledge at that time. This response comes even if
what he has done is against the norms of his society, but Oedipus’s’ religion
allows faults to be committed and leaves it to the sinner to decide the
harshness of his punishment.
In “Ghosts”, the whole society is of a different structure. The members of
this community do not have the same direct contact with their God as the members
of the ancient Greek world, but reach their God through a divine person. In this
way, the society presented in “Ghosts” is further away from their wholly sprite,
but closer to their priest.
This gave the priest enormous powers as he was a “pathway to heaven” for his
congregation. This may be seen in Pastor Manders obsessions of how he is
perceived by the people who entrust in him. This shines through during the
discussion with Mrs. Alving if the orphanage should be insured or not;
“You see! In town, we have a great many such people. Followers of other
denominations. People might very easily come to the conclusion that neither you
nor I have sufficient trust in the ordinance of Higher Power”2.
The orphanage is to be raised in Captain Alvings memorial, but it’s his own
reputation Pastor Manders is concerned with. Mrs. Alvings’ name is just
mentioned to obscure his obvious reason for saying this. This shows how the
church was used for personal achievements, and not only to reach divine
The common peoples conduct, is also an important mirror in how the religion
permeates the society in this drama. Mrs. Alving has been living on her own, in
the country side, and not been bonded by societies norms and regulations the few
last years. She has become a free thinker, and freely reads books that are not
commonly accepted. Pastor Manders response to this, reflects the attitude of
this time when he expresses;
“[.....] Remember the duty you owe to this orphanage which you decided to found
at a time when your attitude towards spiritual matters was quite different from
what it is now – as far as I can judge”3
Here, the element of judging is also presented. In the society Ibsen gives life
to, it is not the role of God to judge others, but the priest and the other
members of society.
From this one may deduct that religion has always been a shaper of
society. It’s rules and norms are followed by the people, and it has enormous
power if used to its full extent. It has also been the founder of great
tragedies (personal and collective), but just as often been a solid pillar for
people to depend on when times were hard. Religion has always been present, and
will always be an important part of life, even if its forms one meets will vary
as much as time and fashion does. But a society without common norms and
guidelines I believe would be one of a weaker sense, with much internal fighting
WORKS USED AS REFERENCE:
1: Henrik Ibsen “Ghosts”
Methuen Student Editions of 1985.
2: Sophocles “Oedipus the King”
Oxford University Press of 1988
1 Page 85, lines 1730 to 1738