Seven Against Luoyang (or, Sophocles' Antigone Was No Chinese Philosopher)

Victor Castellani


In this paper I argue how, on the one hand, prehistoric Greek myth in its account of the catastrophic Labdacid dynasty of Bronze-Age Thebes presented a horror story whose cautionary value Chinese of all schools would have appreciated. Indeed, it even exceeded the worst political and moral scandals in the Book of History/Book of Documents with its accounts of early Chinese dynasties in steep and fatal decline. On the other hand, the 5th-century BC Athenian playwright Sophocles unknowingly, of course, yet with an uncanny intuition for human possibilities, embodied in characters of his tragedy Antigone (ca. 440 BCE) three major ancient Chinese philosophies, namely, in the title character’s sister Ismene a "Daoist", in their uncle Creon a "Legalist", and a "Confucian" in Antigone’s cousin and fiancé Haemon. As we shall see, the Athenian tragic poet found all three of these persons and their initial positions wanting when contrasted with his own Hellenic-heroic standard of human virtue/excellence. That, of courses is what his protagonist Antigone herself epitomizes. She alone, though dead by her own doing, is fulfilled at the end of the disturbing play.


Antigone; Sophocles; Daoism; Legalism; Confucianism; Mencius; Han Fei

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A. Sebastian Anderson, “The Seven against Thebes at Eleusis,” Illinois Classical Studies 40.2 (Fall 2015), 297-318.

Zachary P. Biles in “Aeschylus' Afterlife: Reperformance by Decree in 5th C. Athens?,” Illinois Classical Studies 31-32 (2005-2006), 206-242.

William Theodore DeBary, ed., Sources of Chinese Tradition. Vol 1 (Columbia University Press 1960), pp.124-136

D. C. Lau, Confucius: The Analects (Penguin 1979)

---- Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching (Penguin 1963)

---- Mencius (Penguin 1970)

Vincent J. Rosivach, “On Creon, Antigone and Not Burying the Dead” Rheinisches Museum 126 (1983) 193-211, open access at

[and Greek Classical texts from Hesiod, “Homeric” epic, and Sophocles]



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