Antimatter Essay, Research Paper


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

and disputes.


1: Henrik Ibsen “Ghosts”

Methuen Student Editions of 1985.

ISBN: 0-413-54460-5

2: Sophocles “Oedipus the King”

Oxford University Press of 1988

ISBN: 0-19-505493-8

1 Page 85, lines 1730 to 1738


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