Antigone: A Backwards Design


Antigone is canonical because its themes and characters transcends time. We see Donald Trump in Creon, both men willing to wreck their ships of state because he cannot be humble.  Its themes fit as well in Modern America as ancient Thebes.  The questions Sophocles forces us to ask remain relevant to today's leaders as those struggling to understand how Greek democracy can best serve its citizenry.  Before this unit on Sophocles, however, I spend a week reading and discussing the Allegory of the Cave. Always a good read. I start every year with it.

I have the students explore how some shadows are more enticing and persuasive than others.  We examine together our own resistance to enlightenment. Why we resist? How we resist? How we treat our guides and benefactors who dedicate themselves to our journey out of the cave.  After a week of this kind of exploration, the pump is primed for a trip into the putrid lake of the Oedipus Trilogy.

Of course, the students want to focus on surface level plot: the incest, the murder, and the suicides.  Once we get past the prurient details and consequences, we start to explore some of the infinitely more interesting questions.  The reading, the discussions, and, ultimately, the final assessment become matters of intense deliberation and debate.  In short, we all look forward to class each day because our journey is exactly what Edith Hamilton said it is: "Great literature, past and present, is great knowledge of the human heart," and even the most reluctant student cannot help but enjoy the benefit of seeing themselves and seeing others that matter to them in the characters. It is a treat to wrestle with seeing ourselves in Ismene as well as Antigone.  With that, I offer the following unit plan outline.

Enduring Understanding:

Sometimes we must be willing to sacrifice all in order to preserve self-interest versus acting on behalf of the common good and swallowing our pride and silencing our ego, indeed, suppressing the ego.

Essential Questions:

  1. Is it more important to be right than to be happy?
  2. Is it our responsibility to rebel against and break an unjust law? Where’s the line?
  3. What price should a person be willing to pay if he/she breaks an unjust law?
  4. Can a leader show uncertainty and maintain leadership?

Final Assessment: Position paper:

What good amid these? What good amid all this, the towering mass of inhumanity and waste? Prove there is good left in the world, in your world. 

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