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Sophocles' portrait of Antigone is depicted with deep sympathy and tenderness. She is love personified in its selfless devotion to the beloved one -- her father. She has sacrificed the comforts of home and hearth in Thebes to follow her aged father into exile. She risks the grave discomforts and dangers of life on the open road and braves the harsh and inclement weather in differing seasons to attend faithfully and carefully on her father's every need. As a young maiden, she is naturally at risk from hostile strangers and men with lewd desires.
She bears her burden with remarkable fortitude and an equanimity that belies her tender years. Considering the times in which she lived, Antigone seems a daring and unconventional young woman for the difficult path she has chosen to tread. She is one of the finest examples of the nobility of human character in all Greek tragedy (and appears at her unforgettable best in Sophocles' earlier play, Antigone).
When the chorus is about to oust Oedipus from the sacred grove and even from Colonus, Antigone pleads eloquently with them to let her father stay and wins the chorus over to her side. She serves not only as Oedipus' 'eyes' and 'feet', guiding him through his hazardous exile, but also becomes his 'voice'. In his earlier play Antigone, Sophocles depicted her as a rather unusual young girl with a willful devotion to moral duty and a passionate nature obsessed with martyrdom. The spirit of self-sacrifice that she reveals in Oedipus At Colonus is not dissimilar from her portrayal in Antigone.
When Sophocles wrote Oedipus At Colonus, Athens was about to lose its glorious position as the leading city-state in Greece, a position it had achieved under the glorious reign of Pericles. As his beloved city was about to fall to the Spartans, Sophocles recalls through the person of its legendary founder, Theseus, an ideal king who brought Athens its enduring fame. His enlightened statesmanship gave Athens a well-deserved reputation for its nobility, integrity, and hospitality, and its mission as champion of the underdog. It is these virtues of a truly emancipated leader that Sophocles celebrates in his highly sympathetic portrait of Theseus.
Theseus is the ideal leader Athens needs so desperately at the close of the 5th century B.C. He is also the perfect statesman to help rehabilitate the social outcast, Oedipus. As soon as Theseus arrives on the scene in Episode I, he reveals his good grace and humanitarianism. He immediately accepts the outcast and exiled former Theban king. That Theseus is perfectly loved, respected, and admired by his people is obvious from the fact that they too show their compassion for Oedipus following Theseus' gracious example.
Theseus even breaks off his sacrificial rites to Poseidon, patron deity of his city-state, as he rushes to the aid of Oedipus. For Theseus, it is more important to attend to the needs of suffering humans than to wait and complete such rituals. He generously invites Oedipus to stay in his palace at Athens or in the grove at Colonus, leaving Oedipus free to choose. Compared to Creon, Theseus is far removed from the average domineering, sneering politician. When the manipulative and hypocritical Creon is faced with the majesty and inner dignity of Theseus' forceful personality, he desists from his vile schemes of bullying Oedipus.
As Oedipus goes to his death, Theseus is shown to be a quiet, but noble, tower of strength to the dying Oedipus. Theseus' deep and abiding affection sustains Oedipus in his last moments. In return for Theseus' unstinted support, hospitality, and generous affection, Oedipus offers his blessings to Athens, its king, and its people after his death. Thus, the bonds of humane love and sympathy that Theseus creates bring him the emotional and spiritual rewards that he so richly deserves. He is the epitome of the gentle and refined Athenian spirit, the very essence of personal integrity; he is truly a man of laudable ethical behavior whose heart and mind work in perfect balance.