Antigone, Sophocles

In the spirit of reading things that are both old and sad, let’s pick something older and sadder! Antigone is a Greek tragedy written ~ 441BC. Antigone is one of the daughters of the incestuous marriage between Oedipus and Jocasta (remember the Oedipus complex from psychology class? Yeah, THAT Oedipus).

The luck of this family just gets worse and worse. When this play starts both Oedipus and Jocasta are already dead. The two sons of their marriage have just killed each other in battle. All that remains of Oedipus and Jocasta’s children are their two daughters, Antigone and Ismene. Their uncle, Kreon, Jocasta’s brother, now rules the land and has decided that the one dead brother, Eteokles, shall have an honorable burial, but the other brother, Polyneikes, shall not be buried and left for the dogs, as he is viewed as a traitor.

Antigone rebels and decides to disobey her uncle’s wishes by burying her brother. She is more fearful of the wrath of the Hades’ gods, then her uncle. She tries to employ her sister’s help, but Ismene does not want to upset the peace. Antigone is caught trying to bury her brother and is sentenced to die by being locked alive in a tomb. Her fiancé, Haimon, who is the son of Kreon, pleads with his father to show mercy as well as consider how upset the people are with how Oedipus’ family has been treated. Kreon is prideful and dismisses his son’s request as prate. He also cannot fathom being bested by a woman. Haimon, needless to say, leaves very upset (foreshadowing). 

A blind seer, Teiresias, comes to Kreon warning him that all is not well and that the gods are very upset with him. If Kreon wants to right his wrongs, he must exhume the living and bury the dead. At first Kreon, brushes him off, then reconsiders…considering this seer has never been wrong before.

Alas, it is too late, as Kreon is burying Polyneikes, he hears the wails of his son. He finds Haimon clinging to the hanging body of Antigone, just before he kills himself on his own sword. After this happens, Haimon’s mother, Eurydike, hears of her son’s death and decides to kill herself as well. Kreon returns to his kingdom with his dead son and then finds his dead wife.

I thought the story would end by having Kreon killing himself too, leaving Ismene to rule. It does not happen this way. Kreon lives in his misery. Perhaps having a woman rule was too advanced for ~441BC.

The play ends with this line:

“Good sense is the first principle of happiness. We must not act disrespectfully toward the gods. Grand words of arrogant men, paid back with great blows, in old age teach good sense.”

prate (n): empty, foolish talk; idle chatter

Perhaps if Kreon hadn’t dismissed all these forewarnings as prate, his family would not be dead.

antigone

Books Read: 10

 

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