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“Fortunate is the man who has never tasted the God’s vengeance! Where once the anger of heaven has struck that house is shaken. For ever: damnation rises behind
Many writers have been interested in the theme of loyalty and betrayal, from ancient Sophocles and his masterpiece “Antigone”, to Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” , to Carmen Taffola’s “Marked” and finally Josephina Niggli’s “The Ring of General Macias”. Each one of the mentioned works relates to different aspects of the stated theme. Yet, the most critical question comes when loyalty and betrayal are accompanied with issues of life and death. At this point, the real question is dropped: “Is pride or love a deadly sin to cause the downfall of a king and the loss of the beloved ones?
Part: One Analysis of Antigone
1- About the Author
Sophocles, the son of Sophillus was born in Attica in 490 BC. Some historians say that his date of birth was a couple of years before the great Battle of Marathon. The truth to be told that his date of birth is rather unclear, yet most studies imply that he was born in 496/497.
Sophocles wrote more than a hundred and twenty plays throughout his life. This is an implausible achievement. Unfortunately, only seven of his plays including his Theban plays have survived time. The Theban plays include Antigone, Oedipus the King, and Oedipus at Colonus.
Throughout the Greek history of drama, Sophocles was one of the most prominent playwrights ever excluding Aeschylus and Euripides, who came rather later. His career as a playwright came to life after he won his first prize in the Dionysian theatre competition over Aeschylus. Right after his amazing victory, he became one of the important figures in ancient Athens as well as in theatre. Throughout fifty outstanding years, Sophocles entered 30 competitions winning twenty four out of them and never taking less than second. There is no doubt that he is given credit for adding a third character on stage, which will shape in the near future the history of theatre. In addition to that, Sophocles had a great sense of creativity when it came to developing his characters and this will be discussed later on.
2- Background Check: Importance of Burial in Ancient Greece
In Sophocles’ play Antigone, the main reason behind the rising conflict is the right to bury Polyneices who had betrayed his country, escaped from exile and brought fire and death to his own people. Sophocles has articulated the importance of the burial, thus, giving us a glimpse into their beliefs back then.
The ancient Greeks used to believe that if a soul was left unburied for a long time it wouldn’t be able to cross over and find peace. Erwin Rohde the author of Psyche states that in wartime, “The duty that the survivors owe their dead is to bury the bodies in customary manner. Religious requirements, however, go beyond the law.” This is exactly what is depicted in Antigone. Creon is punished by the gods because he left Polyneices’ body unburied. Antigone for example says that, “There is no guilt in reverence to the dead (scene two- 106) Nevertheless, there are honors due all the dead. (Scene two 113)
Sophocles introduces his play with no further hesitation. The opening scene depicts Antigone and Ismene at Thebe’s city gates, right in the middle of the battlefield. Antigone was confiding with Ismene. She decided to bury her brother regardless to the death penalty. All the events take place in Thebes, a prominent city in ancient Greece. Sophocles creates a dense vague mood since Antigone and her sister have lost two brothers and their parents due to the curse on Oedipus. This scent of death makes the reader wonder if the play will end with death as well. And as mentioned before, the time frame makes loyalty and betrayal a key issue. Antigone was waiting to see if Ismene would be loyal to her family, the law of the Gods or would rather abide by Creon’s law.
Antigone, the oldest daughter of Oedipus has decided to bury her brother Polyneices regardless to Creon’s decree and the death penalty. She heads to the field, performs the burial rituals, and sprinkles dust on his body. Later on, she is captured and faces Creon who is ready to spill her blood to preserve his honor. She is then taken to a stone grave to rest there until her death. Haimon, the king’s son enters and tries to plead Antigone’s case. His father is determined not to listen and threatens to kill her in front of him. Teiresas, the blind prophet enters and tells Creon that the Gods are furious. He and Creon head to the field and bury Polyneices. Unfortunately, when it was time to free Antigone, the latter has hung herself using her bed sheets. Devastated Haimon kills himself and joins Antigone in death. Eurydice, the queen hears the distressing news, kills herself and damns Creon. The king is left alone crammed with feelings of regret and remorse. The chorus states that the gods vigorously punish the proud, yet punishment brings wisdom.
Between all the plays that have been written, Antigone stands as a proof of Sophocles’ acumen. His words were able to intrigue the readers as well as the audience into the ancient world of Athens. And it seems that most of Sophocles’ characters develop throughout the course of the story. Creon for instance was a proud stubborn man, yet he finally learns that, “No pride on earth is free of the curse of heaven.” (ode2) and that, “There is no happiness where there is no wisdom; no wisdom but in learn to be wise. (Exodus 139-142)
a- Antigone: She is the oldest daughter of Oedipus, the former king of Thebes. Her name in Greek means “the one who goes against”. And it is true that her name really fits her, for she has never learned to yield, just like her father. She is determined to bury Polyneices regardless to whether he is considered a traitor or not. “There is no guilt in reverence to the dead (scene two- 106).”Antigone believes that if she had left her brother like that she would have suffered for eternity. She is as motherly and sisterly as any person could be, “This death of mine is no importance, but if I had left my brother lying in death unburied I should have suffered now I don’t. (scene 1 70-73) Yet, when Ismene reacts with disapproval to her request, she is cold, bitter and distant. Also, her determination is remarkable, “Creon is not strong enough to stand in my way.” Her words show great courage, tenacity, and foolishness at the same time since she knows that getting caught will get her killed. She speaks to Creon in a way no one would dares to, as an equal. And above all, she was ready to plead her case fearlessly regardless to her previously determined fate. And so, her bravery flows into the readers pushing them to keep on going, to follow up every twist and turn. Every scene foreshadows her death. Again when she is lead to her grave, she argues, pleading her case. She is not scared of facing death, yet she is shaken by the choragus’ bitter words.
b- Creon: Jocasta’s brother and the new King of Thebes. He is introduced at the beginning of the play when he gives his long touching speech that demanded from his people complete obedience. At first, the reader is tricked by his words and considers him a great leader since he values nothing above his state, “I call God to witness that if I saw my country headed to ruin I should not be afraid to speak out plainly (scene one 70-73).” He has made his verdict public concerning Antigone’s brothers. The latter was to be buried with complete honor while the other lie in the field unburied with eternal torture. This same verdict which Creon believes to be the only right and wise thing to do raises a conflict between him and Antigone, Haimon, his wife, and most importantly the Gods. His ego and pride are responsible for his downfall. “I beg you don’t be unchangeable. Don’t believe that you alone can be right (scene three 73-74).” In addition to that, Creon looks down on women and believes that no woman has had nerve to break his laws. His obsession has pushed him to threaten to spill Antigone’s blood in front of Haimon regardless to the emotional, physical, and psychological pain it might cost him. And as a result, his downfall is due to excessive pride, ego and stubbornness. He loses his son wife and niece as an outcome.
c- Haimon: Creon’s only living son and heir. He is Antigone’s fiancé and soon to be husband. Haimon is reasonable and speaks to his father with complete respect and dignity. For example he articulates that, “Reason is God’s crowning for man.” Initially, he shows great submission to his father, but when he sees his father’s course deviate to injustice he tries to find for him the path. And so reasoning clearly is his gift. He is in more control of his temper than his dad and tells his that people fear his rage and irritability. Haimon contradicts his father and argues that people can reason out too and it is not weakness to listen. “It is no city if it takes orders from one voice” (scene three- 106). He finally commits suicide when he discovers that Antigone has killed herself and left him alone. This is really tragic, because the father-son dispute ended up with the son’s death though Creon’s concern was his son. Neither Creon nor his law could stop Haimon from joining Antigone is death. “Love unconquerable waster of rich men keeper of warm light at the night vigil in the soft face of a girl (ode three 1-4)
d- Ismene: She is Antigone’s younger sister. He name means the one who lingers toward. Initially, she doesn’t want to help Antigone when it came to breaking the law. She is terribly afraid to lose her life. Yet she is ready to share Antigone her death after she is caught. “I am here to join you to take my share of the punishment (scene two 133-134). She is devastated to hear that Antigone is not ready to share her death.
e- Teiresas: The blind prophet who foresaw that the Gods’ anger and the destruction that will fall upon Creon’s house. He has seen that the Gods are no more accepting sacrifices from the people because the birds have eaten from Polyneices’ corpse. He is initially accused of corruption by the new kings and finally persuades Creon to bury Antigone’s brother and set her free.
f- Eurydice: The mother of Haimon and Creon’s wife. She has blamed Creon for the loss of both her children (one in the battlefield and the other by his own hand). She damns him and wishing the Gods would avenge her loss.
g- Sentry: A messenger and a soldier who is fearful of the king’s reaction when he knows that someone has dared to break the law. He was unlucky to be the one who would bring Creon the bad news. Sentry is also accused of corruption by Creon and finally proves his loyalty when he catches Antigone.
Antigone is an extravagant play written to be performed on stage in front of an audience. It contains all the main elements of drama and is so suspenseful that the reader can’t stop to take a break. Suspense builds when the reader realizes that the major conflict between Creon and Antigone segregates into numerous minor conflicts. The readers finally realize that the tragic end is inevitable. The conflict will end with the death of either character. Sophocles decides to wrap things up with Antigone committing suicide. In no time this is followed by Haimon’s. Euripides is left with no one and decides to take her own life. She blames Creon for the loss of both of her children. The Gods have destroyed Creon’s pride and he is left with nothing. Each of those he thought he was protecting has died and he is left empty handed.
Surprisingly in Antigone, Creon is left with nothing due to his unwarranted pride. His conflict with Antigone developed and emerged to touch all of his family. Soon, Haimon would run to his dad asking him to be reasonable and spare Antigone.
Sophocles introduces one of the minor conflicts at the beginning of the play between Antigone and Ismene. The latter is determined not to break Creon’s decree in order to save her life. The prior on the other hand believes that no law or decree will stop her from burying her brother. “The immortal unrecorded laws of God, they are not merely now, they were and shall be operative for ever beyond man utterly”. The sister bond is shaken due to the difference in perspectives. So when Ismene tries to share Antigone her death later on in the play, Antigone drifts away stating that sharing her death won’t make it easier, for she belonged to death now. “Do you refuse me Antigone? I want to die with you I too have a duty that I must discharge to the dead/ you shall not lessen by death by sharing it”. (Scene two 137-139)
Above all, one of the major yet obvious conflicts revealed to us in an early stage of the play is the between Creon, the king of all Thebes, and Antigone, the woman who dared to break his law. She refuses to abide by the law for she believes it goes against the Gods’ proclamation. She is only submissive to the laws of the gods and nothing else. On the other hand, Creon can’t believe his eyes that a woman, a dreadful creature like that had the nerve to break his decree. If it were a man it would be easier, but a woman that was out of question! Thus, she must be punished, and so Creon punishment is iniquitous in order to set an example out of her. Antigone pleads innocent in front of Creon. She isn’t hesitant when it comes to addressing the king. Antigone’s argument with Creon grows into an intense fight and challenge.
This fact brings up another conflict. This time the enemies share the same blood. Haimon comes to his father determined to bring him back to his senses. He believes in such situations reason must be the key to resolve an intricate issue like that. He asks his father to alter his decision. Yet, the conversation turns into a huge fight where Haimon threatens his father to take his own life.
Antigone, being a female shed some light on the condition of women in the Athenian society. Women were inferior and had no right to judge a men’s authority. Sophocles portrays for the reader images of his own society.
Due to Creon’s excessive pride, the Gods have been offended and decided to focus their anger on Creon. The choragus states that, “Fortunate is the man who has never tasted the God’s vengeance where once the anger of heaven ahs struck, that house is shaken (Ode two 1-4). No pride on earth is free of the curse of heaven (Ode two 20). The God’s fury has struck Creon’s house claiming Antigone, Haimon, and Eurydice at the same time. The conflicts in the story are one loop leading to another. Just like a chain one disaster following the other.
The theme is rather essential and complicated in the play. Sophocles has added various encrypted messages that the audience including the reader might follow during the course of his life.
1- Pride and stubbornness: Pride is a deadly sin. This is implied by the downfall of Creon and the death of his loved ones. The chorus state that, “No pride on earth is free of the curse of heaven. This applies to Creon’s ego and stubbornness. Creon states, “If your birds- If the great eagles of God himself should carry him stinking bit by bit to heaven I would not yield. Creon’s flaws have cost him a lot of people. Sophocles portrays this so that the reader and the audience as well would learn some modesty.
2- Reason and forgiveness: Haimon tells father that, “Reason is god’s crowning for man!” Yet he had to learn that thing the hard way. “There are no trifles! Think: all men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride!” (scene three 33-35)
3- State and Democracy: Haimon the young son suggest that there is no state if it takes orders from one person. It is no weakness if a person is wrong. The only evil is when you know your course is wrong and you abide to it due to excessive pride. The collision between the two perspectives portrays to different ways of ruling: Dictatorship and Democracy.
4- Superiority of Laws: The theme is introduced at the beginning of the play. Antigone sides with the God’s proclamations while Ismene is obligated to follow Creon’s law.
5- Loyalty to Family and State: Sophocles has given loyalty a great aspect. He states that loyalty to family is an important issue and so is loyalty to country. But when the reasons are evil or wrong loyalty means nothing.
- Sophocles introduces Antigone at the opening of the play asking Ismene to help her with burying her dead brother.
2- Rising events:
- Antigone is caught by sentry and the soldiers in the act of burying Polyneices.
- She then stands in front of Creon pleading her case.
- Haimon enters and argues with his father stating that it is never reason never to yield to reason.
- Creon and his son get into a major fight and the prior threatens to kill Antigone in front of his son’s eyes.
-Teiresas tells Creon that the Gods are furious and are not accepting any offerings or sacrifices due to his wrong judgment.
4- Falling Events:
- Creon finally yields and decides to bury Polyneices and free Antigone.
- Meanwhile, Antigone has already committed suicide and is followed by Haimon and his mother.
- Creon is lead by his servants broken and devastated by what his own hands have brought to him. The Chorus suggests that the gods punish the proud and yet punishment brings wisdom.
6- Author’s Purpose:
Sophocles has woven his play in such an intricate manner. He has leaded the reader from one maze into another leaving the audience dazzled by every twist and turn. This makes his play a prominent tragedy and put him on another level of perfection. The play is entertaining and amazing in the details it provides for the reader. And so, there is no doubt that the play has left the reader with different aspects of the Athenian society. It articulated the importance of loyalty, wisdom, and good reasoning. The play presents the reader with all the qualities that a bad leader might have.
-Now the long blade of the sun, lying level east to west touches with glory Thebes of the Seven Gates. Open unlidded eye of the golden day!
-He the wild eagle screaming insults above our land his winds their shields of snow his crest their marshaled helms.
-The spears of winter rain: from every wind, he has made himself secure from all but one in the late wind of death he cannot stand. (Ode one 16-18)
- Is brazen boasting of barefaced anarchy?
Part: Two Antigone versus Creon
There is no doubt that the conflict between Creon and Antigone is due to the difference in their perspectives and points of view regarding the law, reverence to the dead, loyalty and betrayal. Yet, at some point the reader and the audience as well question their mystical motives behind their actions. Did Creon really have to execute his order? And why did Antigone have to suffer that much? Isn’t enough that she lost two brothers in the same hour?
As for a start, Antigone seems to defend her actions with no hesitation. Her intentions were as pure as dew. She couldn’t bear see her brother’s body and soul suffering like that in the open field. She says, “If I left my brother lying in death unburied I should have suffered now I do not.” Her love for her brother is logical. Seeing her brother’s body corpse being eaten by the scavengers brought her lots of pain. And so, Antigone being such an emotional person was struck with pain and remorse by standing still and watching. She has told Creon many times that she broke the law because it opposes those of the Gods’. There is no law superior to the gods’. “It was not God’s proclamation .That justice that rules the world below makes no such laws (scene two 58-59). Her loyalty to her family is unquestionable. Polyneices died with no honor and she couldn’t bear seeing him like this. It is simply degrading. And maybe her actions were to bring him some honor and dignity.
Creon on the other hand is forced to preserve his face in front of the people. If he lets Antigone go free without punishment, people wouldn’t abide by his laws. Creon believes that a traitor such as Polyneices has no right to be honored with a brave loyal man. “As long as I am king no traitor is going to be honored with the loyal man.” In addition to that, his excessive pride and arrogance has made it very hard for him to yield to reason. Creon looks down on women and this makes it really hard for him to forgive Antigone “Who is the man here she or I if this crime goes unpunished. (Scene two 82-83)” Antigone’s extreme boldness has pushed Creon of the edge. He has found it vital to penalize her for her insolence. “This girl is guilty of double insolence. Breaking the given laws and boasting of it.”
As a last thought, there is no doubt that both characters are pushed to an extreme. And whether or not the reader sides with Antigone or Creon wisdom is all what is gained.
As a conclusion, Antigone is one of a kind, a play that will withstand time. Sophocles was able to intrigue the hearts of the readers and the audience of all ages and genders. The themes conveyed in the play are ones that we as humans can relate to in our daily life: Pride is a sin and there is no happiness but in the submission to God. It is unquestionable that Antigone is a masterpiece and even after centuries of work, no rival has been found.
Δīℓεηт тέâяδ = SMK 666