Antigone is an ancient Greek play believed to have been written over two thousand years ago at a place which is considered to be the origin of democratic organizations. One of the greatest Greek authors, Sophocles, wrote about some of the momentous happenings that were experienced during those ancient times.
Traditions and gods were particularly vital in shaping the lives of the Greeks’ lifestyles. This influence is reflected in the themes brought out in this play including pride, tragedy, fate, gender, betrayal, and love and sibling rivalry among others. These issues have made Antigone, a consistent story, to be relevant to the audience of all times, because these issues are remarkably vital for human existence.
It is obvious that Pride is highly expressed in Antigone as well as many other works by Sophocles. It is apparent in most religions that gods do not like people who are full of pride (De Quincey 364). They, in fact, despise it and the repercussion for this is dealt with mercilessly.
In the play, it is evident that pride is used by people to create laws that challenge the divine law from gods. Antigone is clearly a threat to the status quo since she challenges authorities by invoking the divine law in her defense (De Quincey 364). However, implicit in her stance is the belief in the discerning power of her personal conscience.
Antigone sacrifices her life because of devoting to divine law instead of human law. She adheres to the divine law, the gods for the sentence he imposes on Antigone harshly punish Creon. The need to defeat Antigone seems to be a personal issue that Creon seems to be determined to achieve (Kallendorf 118).
As a result, he puts the order of the state at stake as well as his position as king (Sophocles, “Literature” 605). In other words, the laws created by Creon are put in place because he feels his law should also be divine. Because of pride, Tiresias is sent to bring the message claiming that the king will suffer.
Besides realizing that he made a mistake, Creon still refuses to admit and correct it because of pride (Kallendorf 118). He then alters the prophet’s summon to preserve the status quo, his life, but not because he is sorry. Therefore, he has to suffer punishment for that.
While talking to his son Haemon, Creon is seen to question him, “Should I stand here and listen to your lecture? A highly experienced man, at my age…” (Sourvinou-Inwood 134). This situation shows that, pride stood in the way of Creon’s actions, and as a result, he ends up losing everything he loved and cherished.
About halfway down the play, a tragedy is announced. The tragedy comes as a perfect machine, which moves automatically and has been around since the beginning of time. At this point, there is panic. The chaotic occasion caused an inexorable protest that was just waiting for a catalyst (Sophocles, “Literature” 605).
Tragedy in this case is from somehow supernatural forces hence it realizes itself despite who is involved or any attempts to stop it. Anouilh and Freeman comment on the paradox in the suspense of this play, “…what was beautiful and still beautiful in the ancient Greek is coming to know what it means to end” (65). The chorus shows that everything that was to happen already happened.
Gender and Femininity
Antigone, being a woman, causes some intriguing developments in the story as this fact has some profound implication of her actions. Even King of Thebes, Creon, admits that he needed to defeat Antigone, because she was a woman (Johnston 12).
Greek women had limited freedoms and capabilities because of the rules and strictures that restrict them (Sophocles, “Literature” 605). Antigone rebels from these traditional mindsets especially threats as they offend gender roles and societal hierarchy. Antigone decides to be active and overturns vital rules of her traditions (Anouilh and Freeman 65).
The exact opposite of Antigone is Ismene who is extremely cowed by the domination of men. She also believes women needed to be subservient to men or risk facing their rage (Kallendorf 119). She argues that men are stronger, hence, they should be respected and followed. Eventually she just brings in the problematic ideas adopted by Creon.
We see that even when Creon discovers he s is wrong he changes his defense because if he would be proven wrong, he would not agree to be defeated by a woman (Sophocles, “Commentary” 234). This would be like contravening a divine law. Sophocles tries to correct this notion by allowing punishment on Creon because of this simple-minded misogynistic thought.
Another aspect of gender is sacrificing as portrayed in this play. The sacrificial suicide leading to the death of Antigone is chiefly associated with being feminine. It is also seen that Creon’s wife also commits suicide following news of her son’s death. Antique sensibility is naturally connected to femininity (Sophocles, “Commentary” 314).
The main actors in this play are able to create the sense of conflict because of their difference viewpoints in life. Antigone seems to challenge the equilibrium so that human beings can be able openly question authority. Creon, on the other hand, thinks that since he is already king, he cannot be subject to any form of punishments (Anouilh and Freeman 65). According to antigen, Creon is violating divine law.
When she is arrested and brought to the king, she does not say to him “Nor did I think your edict did have such energy, which supersedes gods’ (Sophocles, “Literature” 503-504). Antigone’s strong arguments support obedience of the gods and adherence to the laws from high above. Her sentiments are built by what she believes. For instance, when an individual dies, he or she deserves a proper burial. This is what would cause that individual to be accepted in religion (Johnston 12).
Antigone was truly religious, and she strongly wanted the gods to accept her brother. Antigone explains to Ismene that, “this is the martial law Creon despised for you and me” (Johnston 38). According to Antigone, the order issued by Creon was personally targeting her and, hence, his statute was an invasion of her family life and the gods, too.
In ancient Greek, it was commonly believed that even though the government was indispensable, it had limited control when it came to religious practices. Therefore, Creon has betrayed this concept by restricting her from burying her brother, Polynices in a proper manner. Burial was a religious practice, therefore, Creon did not have the powers to deny the dead the right to a decent burial (Johnston 38).
Since Antigone was unusually persistent, with her beliefs, this resulted in her death in the hands of Creon. She once embarrassed Creon by claiming in front of him that “these citizens would support and would praise me as well if their mouths were not locked by fear you instilled in them” (Sophocles, “Literature” 565). Clearly, she never stopped fighting for what she believed in.
When Creon orders her death, Antigone cries out feeling that she feels she is his prisoner… ‘And now, he takes me away as a captive in his hands’ (Sophocles, “Literature” 1008). She takes this personally as if the king is trying to abuse his powers by going too personal in dealing with her.
Creon’s actions are driven by his ego and belief that man is the determinant of everything as the chorus puts it, ‘Man [is] the master, ingenious past all measure/past all dreams (Sophocles, “Literature” 407). Accordingly, he believed that, the good of a man preceded the gods. He asserts to himself that, “never in his hand will a traitor be dignified” when referring to Polynices’ unburied body (Sophocles, “Literature” 407).
Antigone has endured many centuries as relevant literature. The story has undergone numerous interpretations and adaptations since it has addressed difference cultural resonances over time. It is, hence, constantly reinterpreted when addressing humanity, existence and the theme of death.
In the end, it appears that all the themes in the play help bring out the play as timeless and highly sensitive attracting attention of a great audience. Everything in the play seemed to happen because of destiny or action and subsequent consequence of those actions. In the play, the uppermost argument is a moral law. Man should reconcile his obligations with room for compromise and social contract. This would allow harmonious existence with everyone in the society getting some justice.
Anouilh, Jean, and Ted Freeman. Antigone. New York: Bloomsbury A&C Black. Print.
De Quincey, Thomas. The Antigone of Sophocles, as represented on the Edinburgh stage (1845): The Collected Writings of Thomas De Quincey. New York: A. & C. Black, 1897. Print.
Johnston, Ian. Sophocles Antigone 442 BC, Nd. Web. 2 Dec. 2011.
Kallendorf, Craig. A Companion to the Classical Tradition. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, 2007. Print.
Sophocles. Antigone. Trans. David Franklin, Commentary John Harrison. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.
Sophocles. Antigone. Trans. Robert Fagles, Literature and the Writing Process. 6th ed. Elizabeth McMahan, Susan X. Day, and Robert Funk. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice, 2002. Print.
Sourvinou-Inwood, Christiane. “Assumptions and the Creation of Meaning: Reading Sophocles’ Antigone.” JHS 109.6 (1989): 134-48. Print.