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Lines 583-623

The Second Stasimon

The Chorus: “Blest is the life that never tasted woe.”

Summary

The Chorus now sings a song of woe which forms a prelude to the final scenes of tragedy which are to follow. They state that the person who has never suffered pain and anguish in his/her life is indeed blessed. The Chorus remarks that when a house (here meaning “family”) has undergone its first tragedy, then troubles come upon it in ever-increasing numbers. Deeper and darker tragedies soon ensue in the manner of the storms that arise near Thrace and disrupt land and sea.

The descendants of Cadmus, according to the Chorus, have suffered terrible calamities in quick succession. Fresh sorrows have distressed each new ruler of Thebes upon ascending the throne. Even the most recent “smiling light” of Thebes has been extinguished. The Chorus believes that the gods have been ruthless in reducing the powerful Cadmus dynasty to ashes.

The Chorus then prays to Zeus, the highest of all the Greek gods. They realize that man is powerless in the face of Zeus’ might. The Chorus remarks that Zeus has ruled forever.

The Chorus believes that there exists in the world a law of misery which does not spare anyone. Those who are comforted by hope soon begin to desire more and are destroyed by the fire of their desire. The Chorus quotes one of the wise men of ancient Greece as saying that the mind often mistakes evil for good. In this present time and age, the Chorus considers few people to be able to live a life free of troubles.

Notes

The subdued note that the Chorus strikes in this Stasimon is in sharp contrast to the note of celebration evident in the previous choral song, “Many a wonder lives.” This Choral song sets the mood for the remainder of the play: a mood of solemnity and tragic gloom.


The image of a storm in the sea near Thrace is used to describe the nature of the problems faced by the House of Cadmus. Cadmus was the legendary founder of Thebes and the son of the King of Tyre. He was turned into a serpent and taken to Elysium, and all of his daughters met with disastrous ends. Thus, for a long time, “the stock of Cadmus” has suffered tragedies. Laius, Oedipus’ father, was the great-grandson of Cadmus. When he was the King of Thebes, Laius was killed by his own son, Oedipus, who was ignorant of his father’s identity. Oedipus himself had a tragic life. He unknowingly married his own mother, Jocasta, and ended his life in tragedy. Now it is the turn of Oedipus’ daughter, Antigone, to face death. Already her two brothers have fought against and killed each other. Therefore, as the Chorus rightly puts it, this is a family destined for disaster. The gods do not ever seem to smile kindly on them.

“The new smiling light” that the Chorus admires is Antigone, who will soon be lost “in dark Nonentity.” She used to think about the facts surrounding her birth and life. In a way, the Chorus reiterates that she, like her father before her, is destined to die a wretched death.

For the Chorus, it is the gods who control the lives of men. Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, rules men’s lives from the lofty Mount Olympus. Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece. According to Greek mythology, twelve Olympian gods lived on the summit of the mountain.

The Chorus now sounds pessimistic. They believe that misery is endemic to the world in general, and even if hope exists, it soon results in destruction because it gives rise to fatal desires. The days seem full of despair, and one cannot tell the difference between evil and good, for the “angry God” of desire that rules man’s mind also makes him blind to the truth.

Thrace was a region in the northeast of the Balkan Peninsula. Historians believe that Greece owes the beginnings of its music, mythology and philosophy to the early inhabitants of Thrace.

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