Hegel, Antigone, and Women

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Philosophy Dept., Villanova University


When Hegel turns to a treatment of culture in Chapter VI of the Phenomenology—as anyone who has read his early writings would expect1—he begins with the ancient Greek polis. There the human spirit first fully emancipated itself from nature as it had not, in Hegel’s opinion, in Egypt; yet it was still in perfect harmony and balance with the natural. In Hegel’s view, this was an age of beaut y that produced a social community and an ethical life where citizens were free and at home. What is a bit surprising, though, is that in the Phenomenology Hegel does not begin his treatment of the ancient world with the heroes of Homer, the philosophers of Athens, or even with the general cultural perspective of men. He starts, in the section entitled “The Ethical Order,” with Antigone and the perspective of women. It is quite true that the perspective of Antigone and of Greek women is constructed from the perspective of men, the perspective of Sophocles and of Hegel himself; nevertheless, it is still rather surprising that Hegel begins with Antigone.