Transcendentalism in Beowulf and Antigone
As time progressed through the various ages, Ancient to Renaissance, a trend began to form in the literature. The Ancient periods, reflected in the writings of the Taoists and the Greeks, were basically a time of transcendentalism. The gods of this era were treated almost as if they are friends to the people, or advisors; the gods controlled their fates and the uncontrollable, but the people were still very individualistic. As time progressed forwards, a trend swept Europe towards a period of theism, where the god or gods are treated as father figures; the gods controlled the lives of all their people just as parents control their children, even, as Martin Luther stated, with an attitude of fear. Through the periods of Ancient Greece, to Medieval Europe, to Renaissance Europe, a cycle forms from a completely transcendentalist attitude to a completely theistic attitude, and back.
Some of the first literature scholars have recovered through the years has come from the Ancient period, particularly from the Orient and Greece. These people had a strong belief in the will and power of the self, stressing the transcendental qualities to life; they encouraged people to look inwards for the answer instead of to the state or to God. Two works of this period that are representative of this attitude are the poems of Lao Tzu, a Taoist, and Antigone, a play by Sophocles. In Lao Tzu’s poem 47, "There is no need to run outside," Lao Tzu writes, ". . . abide / At the center of your being; / For the more you leave it, the less you learn" (Davis, 832). By encouraging others to study the world from "the center of your being," he clearly shows his interest in learning from within, and trusting the self to learn and grow. In poem 42, "Life, when it came to be," Lao Tzu establishes the previously stated recommendation by showing that he himself follows it; at the end of the poem he states, ". . . And is what my own heart teaches" (Davis, 832). This statement is a direct encouragement to look inside oneself for answers, an inherent quality of the Taoist writings.
The other important work to consider is the play Antigone, by Sophocles. Even the name of the play, which literally means "born to oppose," suggests an individualistic attitude. Throughout the play, Antigone clearly privileges the value of the self and the individual. In Scene 1, after Creon has received the news of the reburial of Polyneices, the Choragos asks, ". . .can it be that the Gods have done this?" to which Creon replies furiously, ". . .‘The gods!’ / Intolerable!" (Davis, 419). The king belittles the importance of the possibility of the gods intervening not only to show that he firmly believes in his absolute judgment, but that he has no real use for the ideas of the gods, that these superstitions are "Intolerable." Later, in Scene 2, after Antigone has been captured and brought to Creon, she says, "Which of us can say...