Antigone (Sophocles)

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Antigone
Lytras nikiforos antigone polynices.jpeg
Antigone in front of the dead Polyneices by Nikiforos Lytras
Written by Sophocles
Chorus Theban Elders
Characters Antigone
Ismene
Creon
Eurydice
Haemon
Tiresias
Sentry
First Messenger
Second Messenger
Mute Two guards
Date premiered c. 441 BCE
Place premiered Athens
Original language Ancient Greek
Genre Tragedy

Antigone (/ænˈtɪɡən/ an-TIG-ə-nee, Ancient Greek: Ἀντιγόνη) is a tragedy by Sophocles written in or before 441 BC. Chronologically, it is the third of the three Theban plays but was written first.[1] The play expands on the Theban legend that predated it and picks up where Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes ends.

Synopsis[edit]

Antigone's family tree

In the beginning of the play, two brothers leading opposite sides in Thebes' civil war died fighting each other for the throne. Creon, the new ruler of Thebes, has decided that Eteocles will be honored and Polyneices will be in public shame. The rebel brother's body will not be sanctified by holy rites, and will lie unburied on the battlefield, prey for carrion animals like worms and vultures, the harshest punishment at the time. Antigone and Ismene are the sisters of the dead Polyneices and Eteocles. In the opening of the play, Antigone brings Ismene outside the palace gates late at night for a secret meeting: Antigone wants to bury Polyneices' body, in defiance of Creon's edict. Ismene refuses to help her, fearing the death penalty, but she is unable to stop Antigone from going to bury her brother herself, causing Antigone to disown her.

Creon enters, along with the Chorus of Theban Elders. He seeks their support in the days to come, and in particular wants them to back his edict regarding the disposal of Polyneices' body. The Chorus of Elders pledges their support. A Sentry enters, fearfully reporting that the body has been buried. A furious Creon orders the Sentry to find the culprit or face death himself. The Sentry leaves and the Chorus sings about honouring the gods, but after a short absence he returns, bringing Antigone with him. The Sentry explains that the watchmen exhumed Polyneices' body and they caught Antigone as she buried him again. Creon questions her after sending the Sentry off, and she does not deny what she has done. She argues unflinchingly with Creon about the morality of the edict and the morality of her actions. Creon becomes furious, and, thinking Ismene must have known of Antigone's plan, seeing her upset, summons the girl. Ismene tries to confess falsely to the crime, wishing to die alongside her sister, but Antigone will not have it. Creon orders that the two women be temporarily imprisoned.

Haemon, Creon's son, enters to pledge allegiance to his father, even though he is engaged to Antigone. He initially seems willing to forsake Antigone, but when Haemon gently tries to persuade his father to spare Antigone, claiming that 'under cover of darkness the city mourns for the girl', the discussion deteriorates and the two men are soon bitterly insulting each other. Haemon leaves, vowing never to see Creon again.

Creon decides to spare Ismene and to bury Antigone alive in a cave. She is brought out of the house, and she bewails her fate and defends her actions one last time. She is taken away to her living tomb, with the Chorus expressing great sorrow for what is going to happen to her.

Tiresias, the blind prophet, enters. He warns Creon that Polyneices should now be urgently buried because the gods are displeased, refusing to accept any sacrifices or prayers from Thebes. Creon accuses Tiresias of being corrupt. Tiresias responds that because of Creon's mistakes, he will lose "a son of [his] own loins"[2] for the crimes of leaving Polyneices unburied and putting Antigone into the earth (he does not say that Antigone should not be condemned to death, only that it is improper to keep a living body underneath the earth). All of Greece will despise him, and the sacrificial offerings of Thebes will not be accepted by the gods. The Chorus, terrified, asks Creon to take their advice. He assents, and they tell him that he should free Antigone and bury Polyneices. Creon, shaken, agrees to do it. He leaves with a retinue of men to help him right his previous mistakes. The Chorus delivers a choral ode to the god Dionysus (god of wine and of the theater; this part is the offering to their patron god), and then a Messenger enters to tell them that Haemon has killed himself. Eurydice, Creon's wife and Haemon's mother, enters and asks the Messenger to tell her everything. The Messenger reports that Haemon and Antigone have both taken their own lives, Antigone by hanging herself, and Haemon by stabbing himself after finding the body, just after Polyneices was buried. Eurydice disappears into the palace.

Creon enters, carrying Haemon's body. He understands that his own actions have caused these events. A Second Messenger arrives to tell Creon and the Chorus that Eurydice has killed herself. With her last breath, she cursed her husband. Creon blames himself for everything that has happened, and, a broken man, he asks his servants to help him inside. The order he valued so much has been protected, and he is still the king, but he has acted against the gods and lost his child and his wife as a result. The Chorus closes by saying that although the gods punish the proud, punishment brings wisdom.

Characters[edit]

Antigone, compared to her beautiful and docile sister, is portrayed as the rebel of her family who seems withdrawn and refuses to play by the rules. The beginning of the play suggests Antigone’s rebellious side, the fact that Ismene seems terrified to disobey Creon for fear of his death penalty, while Antigone tells her Creon does not frighten her. Antigone rebels against the fundamental rules of her society that states that women must be afraid of the men, who are considered dominant. Antigone proves to be noble and wise. She defies Creon’s decree despite the consequences she may face, because she feels she must commit acts of sisterly love towards her brother. She is shown to be kind hearted and courageous, for she bravely allows Creon to humiliate her in public and send her to the death chamber. Understanding she will soon be put to death, she insists she obeyed the gods and committed acts of honor, meaning she will be rewarded. Sophocles attempts to show how Antigone’s intelligence and wisdom may have led to her death, yet will reward her with a prosperous afterlife.

Ismene is portrayed as the “good girl” of the family. Considered the beautiful one, she is obedient and submissive. She refuses to bury Polyneices because she fears Creon and plays by the rules of her society which state that men are dominant. Despite her cowardice, later she begs to die with Antigone, showing her kindheartedness and sisterly love.

Creon is the current King of Thebes. His fatal flaw, pride, leads to the tragic death of Antigone, his niece. However the death of Antigone causes the death of both Haemon, his son, and Eurydice, his beloved wife. At the end he learns his lesson but is forced to live the rest of his life in shame. He is the tragic hero of the play, due to his fatal flaw of being stubborn.

Eurydice of Thebes is the Queen of Thebes and Creon’s wife. She is not portrayed much in the play except towards the end, after hearing of her only son Haemon’s death, she commits suicide due to her grief. She curses Creon and blames him for her son’s death, screaming that she hopes he dies and is punished by the gods. Eurydice is clearly unlike her husband, and is shown to be more reasonable and kindhearted than he is.

Haemon is the son of Creon and Eurydice who is betrothed to Antigone. He is unlike his ruthless and foolish father. Proved to be more kindhearted and quiet, he attempts to stand up to his father for the sake of Antigone; he begs him to listen to her and be reasonable. However, when Creon refuses to listen to him, Haemon runs off angrily and shouts he will never see him again, clearly showing his love for Antigone outweighs his fear of his father. He later commits suicide after finding Antigone dead, yet just before he does, he attempts to kill his father due to his anger.

Tiresias is the blind prophet; despite being physically blind, he is able to see the truth and predicts prophecies. Sophocles plays with the word blind in this case; he attempts to show how Tiresias can see despite being blind, whereas Creon cannot see despite having full eyesight. Creon cannot see the truth, which is far more important than physical sight as Sophocles presents. Portrayed as wise and full of reason, Tiresias attempts to warn Creon of his foolishness and tells him the gods are angry. He manages to convince Creon and has him bury Polyneices, yet he is too late to rescue Antigone.

The Chorus consists of a group of elderly Theban men. Their sole purpose is to comment on the action in the play and add to the suspense and emotions, as well as connecting the story to myths. In Antigone, the Chorus often take the side of Creon, because they respect him and also fear him. However, over time, they begin to urge him to be more moderate. Their pleading is what causes Creon not to sentence Ismene to death along with Antigone. They also advise Creon to take Tiresias's advice. In a way, the Chorus indirectly saves Creon at numerous points throughout the play, suggesting they play a more important role than merely providing commentary.[3][full citation needed]

Historical context[edit]

Antigone was written at a time of national fervor. In 441 BC, shortly after the play was released, Sophocles was appointed as one of the ten generals to lead a military expedition against Samos. It is striking that a prominent play in a time of such imperialism contains little political propaganda, no impassioned apostrophe, and, with the exception of the epiklerate (the right of the daughter to continue her dead father's lineage),[4] and arguments against anarchy, makes no contemporary allusion or passing reference to Athens.[5] Rather than become sidetracked with the issues of the time, Antigone remains focused on the characters and themes within the play. It does, however, expose the dangers of the absolute ruler, or tyrant, in the person of Creon, a king to whom few will speak freely and openly their true opinions, and who therefore makes the grievous error of condemning Antigone, an act which he pitifully regrets in the play's final lines. Athenians, proud of their democratic tradition, would have identified his error in the many lines of dialog which emphasize that the people of Thebes believe he is wrong, but have no voice to tell him so. Athenians would identify the folly of tyranny.

Notable features[edit]

The Chorus in Antigone departs significantly from the chorus in Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes, the play of which Antigone is a continuation. The chorus in Seven Against Thebes is largely supportive of Antigone's decision to bury her brother. Here, the chorus is composed of old men who are largely unwilling to see civil disobedience in a positive light. The chorus also represents a typical difference in Sophocles' plays from those of both Aeschylus and Euripides. A chorus of Aeschylus almost always continues or intensifies the moral nature of the play, while one of Euripides frequently strays far from the main moral theme. The chorus in Antigone lies somewhere in between; it remains within the general moral and the immediate scene, but allows itself to be carried away from the occasion or the initial reason for speaking.[6]

Significance and interpretation[edit]

Antigone deals with four main questions:

  1. whether Polynices ought to be given burial rituals
  2. whether someone who buried him in defiance of state ought to be punished
  3. whether Creon is entitled to the throne
  4. whether Creon's actions are just or thoughtless

In regard to question one, both Antigone and Creon claim divine sanction for their actions; but Tiresias the prophet supports Antigone's claim that the gods demand Polynices' burial. Once Creon has discovered that Antigone buried her brother against his orders, the ensuing discussion of her fate is devoid of arguments for mercy because of youth or sisterly love from the Chorus, Haemon or Antigone herself. Most of the arguments to save her center on a debate over which course adheres best to strict justice.[7]

The German poet Friedrich Hölderlin, whose translation of the play had strong impact on Heidegger's reading, brings out a more subtle reading of the play: he focuses on Antigone's legal and political status within the palace, her privilege to be the hearth (according to the legal instrument of the epiklerate) and thus protected by Zeus. According to the legal practice of classical Athens, Creon is obliged to marry his closest relative (Haemon) to the late king's daughter in an inverted marriage rite, which would oblige Haemon to produce a son and heir for his dead father in law. Creon would be deprived of grandchildren and heirs to his lineage - a fact which provides a strong realistic motif for his hatred against Antigone. This modern and realistic perspective has remained submerged for a long time.[8]

Once the initial premises behind the characters in Antigone have been established, the action of the play moves steadily and inevitably towards the outcome.[9] Because Creon is the person and a king taking rash actions in rage that he is, he will naturally decree that the body of the disloyal brother remain unburied, and will naturally demand absolute obedience to his decree. Antigone, being the person that she is and holding her views, will naturally defy the decree. Creon will naturally demand that the unknown criminal be arrested and brought before him, etc. Because the action is so self-sustained, most interpretations of the play center around the text itself. Both Creon and Antigone show much pride which leads to their fates, with Creon's wife and son being killed and Antigone herself dying. This turn of events will eventually lead to Creon's downfall.

The problem of the second burial[edit]

An important issue still debated regarding Sophocles' Antigone is the problem of the second burial. When she poured dust over her brother's body, Antigone completed the burial ritual and thus fulfilled her duty to him. Having been properly buried, Polyneices' soul could proceed to the underworld whether or not the dust was removed from his body. However, Antigone went back after his body was uncovered and performed the ritual again, an act that seems to be completely unmotivated by anything other than a plot necessity so that she could be caught in the act of disobedience, leaving no doubt of her guilt.

Several scholars have attempted to solve this problem. Richard Jebb suggests that the only reason for Antigone's return to the burial site is that the first time she forgot the Choaí (libations), and "perhaps the rite was considered completed only if the Choaí were poured while the dust still covered the corpse."[10]

Gilbert Norwood explains Antigone's performance of the second burial in terms of her stubbornness. His argument says that had Antigone not been so obsessed with the idea of keeping her brother covered, none of the deaths of the play would have happened. This argument states that if nothing had happened, nothing would have happened, and doesn't take much of a stand in explaining why Antigone returned for the second burial when the first would have fulfilled her religious obligation, regardless of how stubborn she was. This leaves that she acted only in passionate defiance of Creon and respect to her brothers earthly vessel.[11]

Tycho von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff justifies the need for the second burial by comparing Sophocles' Antigone to a theoretical version where Antigone is apprehended during the first burial. In this situation, news of the illegal burial and Antigone's arrest would arrive at the same time and there would be no period of time in which Antigone's defiance and victory could be appreciated.

J. L. Rose maintains that the solution to the problem of the second burial is solved by close examination of Antigone as a tragic character. Being a tragic character, she is completely obsessed by one idea, and for her this is giving her brother his due respect in death and demonstrating her love for him and for what is right. When she sees her brother's body uncovered, therefore, she is overcome by emotion and acts impulsively to cover him again, with no regards to the necessity of the action or its consequences for her safety.[12]

Themes[edit]

State control[edit]

A well established theme in Antigone is the right of the individual to reject society's infringement on his freedom to perform a personal obligation,[13] obvious in Antigone's refusal to let Creon dictate what she is allowed to do with her family members. She says to Ismene about Creon's edict, "He has no right to keep me from my own."[14] Related to this theme is the question whether Antigone's will to bury her brother is based on rational thought or instinct, a debate whose contributors include greats like Goethe.[13]

Natural law and contemporary legal institutions[edit]

In Antigone, Sophocles asks the question, which law is greater: the gods' or man's. Sophocles votes for the law of the gods. He does this in order to save Athens from the moral destruction which seems imminent. Sophocles wants to warn his countrymen about hubris, or arrogance, because he believes this will be their downfall. In Antigone, the hubris of Creon is revealed.

Civil disobedience[edit]

The contrasting views of Creon and Antigone with regard to laws higher than those of state inform their different conclusions about civil disobedience. Creon demands obedience to the law above all else, right or wrong. He says that "there is nothing worse than disobedience to authority" (An. 671). Antigone responds with the idea that state law is not absolute, and that it can be broken in civil disobedience in extreme cases, such as honoring the gods, whose rule and authority outweigh Creon's.

Citizenship[edit]

The concept of citizenship appears most clearly in the values clash between Creon and Antigone. Creon defines citizenship as utmost obedience to the will of the state, and thus condemns Antigone to death when he feels that she has abandoned her citizenship by disobeying him. Antigone allows more room for individualism within the role of the citizen. The debate over citizenship, however, extends beyond just the argument between Creon and Antigone.

Creon's decree to leave Polyneices unburied in itself makes a bold statement about what it means to be a citizen, and what constitutes abdication of citizenship. It was the firmly kept custom of the Greeks that each city was responsible for the burial of its citizens. Herodotus discussed how members of each city would collect their own dead after a large battle to bury them.[15] In contrast with the Persians who would leave their dead unburied, the Greeks considered burial a sign of recognition of citizenship and affiliation. In Antigone, it is therefore natural that the people of Thebes did not bury the Argives, but very striking that Creon prohibited the burial of Polyneices. Since he is a citizen of Thebes, it would have been natural for the Thebans to bury him. Creon is telling his people that Polyneices has distanced himself from them, and that they are prohibited from treating him as a fellow-citizen and burying him as is the custom for citizens.

In prohibiting the people of Thebes from burying Polyneices, Creon is essentially placing him on the level of the other attackers—the foreign Argives. For Creon, the fact that Polyneices has attacked the city effectively revokes his citizenship and makes him a foreigner. As defined by this decree, citizenship is based on loyalty. It is revoked when Polyneices commits what in Creon's eyes amounts to treason. When pitted against Antigone's view, this understanding of citizenship creates a new axis of conflict. Antigone does not deny that Polyneices has betrayed the state, she simply acts as if this betrayal does not rob him of the connection that he would have otherwise had with the city. Creon, on the other hand, believes that citizenship is a contract; it is not absolute or inalienable, and can be lost in certain circumstances. These two opposing views - that citizenship is absolute and undeniable and alternatively that citizenship is based on certain behavior - are known respectively as citizenship 'by nature' and citizenship 'by law.'[16]

Fidelity[edit]

Antigone's determination to bury Polyneices arises from a desire to bring honor to her family, and to honor the higher law of the gods. She repeatedly declares that she must act to please "those that are dead" (An. 77), because they hold more weight than any ruler, that is the weight of divine law. In the opening scene, she makes an emotional appeal to her sister Ismene saying that they must protect their brother out of sisterly love, even if he did betray their state. Antigone believes that there are rights that are inalienable because they come from the highest authority, or authority itself, that is the divine law.

While he rejects Antigone's actions based on family honor, Creon appears to value family himself. When talking to Haemon, Creon demands of him not only obedience as a citizen, but also as a son. Creon says "everything else shall be second to your father's decision" ("An." 640-641). His emphasis on being Haemon's father rather than his king may seem odd, especially in light of the fact that Creon elsewhere advocates obedience to the state above all else. It is not clear how he would personally handle these two values in conflict, but it is a moot point in the play, for, as absolute ruler of Thebes, Creon is the state, and the state is Creon. It is clear how he feels about these two values in conflict when encountered in another person, Antigone: loyalty to the state comes before family fealty, and he sentences her to death.he says that

Portrayal of the gods[edit]

In Antigone as well as the other Theban Plays, there are very few references to the gods. Hades is the god who is most commonly referred to, but he is referred to more as a personification of Death. Zeus is referenced a total of 13 times by name in the entire play, and Apollo is referenced only as a personification of prophecy. This lack of mention portrays the tragic events that occur as the result of human error, and not divine intervention. The gods are portrayed as chthonic, as near the beginning there is a reference to "Justice who dwells with the gods beneath the earth." Sophocles references Olympus twice in Antigone. This contrasts with the other Athenian tragedians, who reference Olympus often.

Love for family[edit]

Antigone's love for family is shown when she buries her brother, Polyneices. Haemon was deeply in love with his cousin and fiancée Antigone, and he killed himself in grief when he found out that his beloved Antigone had hanged herself.

Modern adaptations[edit]

Drama[edit]

Antigone was adapted into modern form by the French playwright Anouilh during the Second World War. A version of this production with Geneviève Bujold is available on DVD. Right after the Second World War, Bertolt Brecht composed an adaptation, Antigone, which was based on the translation by Friedrich Hölderlin and was published under the title Antigonemodell 1948. The Haitian writer and playwright, Félix Morisseau-Leroy, translated and adapted Antigone into Haitian Creole under the title, Antigòn (1953). Antigòn is noteworthy in its attempts to insert the lived religious experience of many Haitians into the content of the play through the introduction of several Loa from the pantheon of Haitian Vodou as voiced entities throughout the performance. Antigone has also been re-written by Spanish writer María Zambrano as La tumba de Antígona, Antígone's tomb (1967). Puerto Rican playwright, Luis Rafael Sánchez published in 1968 La Pasión según Antígona Pérez, taking the basic premise of the play into a contemporary world, where Creon is the dictator of a fictional Latin American nation, and Antígona and her 'brothers' are dissident freedom fighters. Similarly, the Argentine playwright Leopoldo Marechal adapted the play within Argentine history during the Conquest of the Desert in the late 19th century. In 2004, theatre companies Crossing Jamaica Avenue and The Women's Project in New York City co-produced Antigone Project written by Tanya Barfield, Karen Hartman, Chiori Miyagawa, Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage and Caridad Svich, a five-part response to Sophocles' text and to the US Patriot Act. The play-text was published by NoPassport Press as a single edition in 2009 with introductions by classics scholar Marianne McDonald and playwright Lisa Schlesinger. There are two operas, one composed in 1986 by Marjorie S. Merryman and the other "The Burial at Thebes" in 2007/2008 with music by Dominique Le Gendre and libretto by Seamus Heaney, based on his translation for the normal spoken theatre. The production features conductor William Lumpkin, stage director Jim Petosa, and six singers and ten instrumentalists.[17] Bangladeshi director Tanvir Mokammel in his 2008 film Rabeya (The Sister) also draws inspiration from Antigone to parallel the story to the martyrs of the 1971 Bangladeshi Liberation War who were denied a proper burial.[18] In 2000, Peruvian theatre group Yuyachkani and poet José Watanabe adapted the play into a one-actor piece which remains as part of the group's repertoire.[19] In 2009 Australian playwright Ernest Macintyre adapted Sophocles' play for the Sri Lankan youth uprisings of the 1980s when family burial was prohibited. The play was published as IRANGANI in 2012.

Cinema[edit]

The play was adapted into a 1961 film starring Irene Papas. Liliana Cavani's 1969 I Cannibali is a contemporary political fantasy based upon the Sophocles play, with Britt Ekland playing Antigone and Pierre Clémenti as Tiresia.

Translations and adaptations[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Fagles, Robert (1986). The Three Theban Plays. New York: Penguin. p. 35. 
  2. ^ E.F. Watling, 1947 (Penguin Classics)
  3. ^ "Antigone." SparkNotes. SparkNotes, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
  4. ^ Rosenfield, K.H., Antigone. Sophocles' Art, Hölderlin's Insight. Aurora: The Davies Group Publishers, 2010. p1-22.
  5. ^ Letters, F. J. H. The Life and Work of Sophocles. London: Sheed and Ward, 1953. p147-8.
  6. ^ Letters, F. J. H. The Life and Work of Sophocles. London: Sheed and Ward, 1953. p156.
  7. ^ Letters, F. J. H. The Life and Work of Sophocles. London: Sheed and Ward, 1953. p147.
  8. ^ Rosenfield, K.H. Antigone. Sophocles' Art, Hölderlin's Insight. Aurora: The Davies Group Publishers, 2010. p99-121.
  9. ^ Else, Gerald F. The Madness of Antigone. Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitätsverlag, 1976. p43.
  10. ^ Sophocles, The Antigone note on verse 429. Sir Richard Jebb. Cambridge, 1900
  11. ^ The Problem of the Second Burial in Sophocles' Antigone J. L. Rose. The Classical Journal, Vol. 47, No. 6. (March 1952), p. 220. Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0009-8353%28195203%2947%3A6%3C219%3ATPOTSB%3E2.0.CO%3B2-1
  12. ^ The Problem of the Second Burial in Sophocles' Antigone J. L. Rose. The Classical Journal, Vol. 47, No. 6. (March 1952), p. 221. Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0009-8353%28195203%2947%3A6%3C219%3ATPOTSB%3E2.0.CO%3B2-1
  13. ^ a b Levy, Charles S. (1963). "Antigone's Motives: A Suggested Interpretation". Transactions of the American Philological Association 94: 137–44. doi:10.2307/283641. JSTOR 283641. 
  14. ^ Sophocles Antigone. Trans. David Grene. Line 48.
  15. ^ MacKay, L. "Antigone, Coriolanus, and Hegel" Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 93. (1962), p. 178. Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0065-9711%281962%2993%3C166%3AACAH%3E2.0.CO%3B2-O
  16. ^ MacKay, L. "Antigone, Coriolanus, and Hegel" Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 93. (1962), p. 179. Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0065-9711%281962%2993%3C166%3AACAH%3E2.0.CO%3B2-O
  17. ^ Medrek, T.J. (November 6, 1999). "BU Opera fest's 'Antigone' is a lesson in excellence". Boston Herald. p. 22. Retrieved March 8, 2010. 
  18. ^ "Bangla director dedicates new film to 1971 war martyrs". 
  19. ^ Yuyachkani's "Antigone" (in Spanish)

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Antigone – study guide, themes, quotes, and teacher resources