Week 5

Before we talk about Antigone, I want to salute the three of you who are celebrating your birthdays this weekend. I hope they’re the best birthdays imaginable. The rest of us will think of you this weekend and sing: happy birthday to you!

And we all get a present: We get to read Antigone this week.

I love this play so much– and it’s ok if you don’t love it as I do, because we can disagree. Besides, l will have time to persuade you of its merits when I see you next week.

And I love this play particularly in light of the historical context that Vernant and Naquet describe.

They tell us that ancient tragedy (they call it “Attic tragedy,” meaning, from Athens) was performed during a liminal period, when the Greeks were losing their faith in myth and just beginning to think of themselves as citizens. Strangers to each other, for the most part, the spectators who watched tragic heroes suffer much more than anybody should were coerced into an experience of agreement they might have found elusive other wise. And those spectacles of violence on a massive scale helped them construct the kinds of bonds among themselves that would enable them to belong to each other, democratically.

How do you read Antigone in this light– and what does it tell us or invite us to ask about the political good that literature might do?

I’d love to look at some specific passages that seem striking to you in some way– illuminating, perplexing, moving, whatever you like. Things we might discuss include: the role of the Chorus; the characterization of Antigone; the politics of her refusal of Creon’s edict; oh so many things.

On this rereading of the play, I was particularly struck by the dialogue between Antigone and Ismene. The more placating sister just wants everybody in the polis to get along, so she urges Antigone to bend to Creon’s rule, chiding her for being “in love with what’s impossible” (90):


Ismene: Oh, poor Antigone! I’m frightened for you.
Antigone: Don’t fear for me. It’s your life you should put right. (81-82)



All of this seems resonant to me today with the dynamics of our own polis, while this horrifying political drama is playing out on tv. And this is a classic move: Every age has a tendency to reread Antigone as a drama about its political dramas. Extending that tradition, a theater in Harlem is also staging Antigone to reflect on the culture and politics surrounding police violence in the contemporary U.S.

I’m excited to talk to you about it all.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email

14 Responses to Week 5

  1. Sophocles’s “Antigone” discusses what happens to the protagonist, Antigone, when she disobeys Kreon’s orders to not bury Polyneices’s lifeless body. Sophocles writes, “This girl here is the one who buried him. We caught her at it” (36-37). It appears that one of Kreon’s guards turns Antigone in to Kreon, since she is the one that went against Kreon orders. When I read this, I started to think about how Kreon’s guard is like the police officers in our society, while Antigone is like a criminal standing before the judge. As the text proceeds Antigone declares, “No, I do not suffer from the fact of death. But if I had let my own brother stay unburied” (39). It surprised me how brave Antigone was, even though she knew she was going to die. She also appeared more concerned about her dead brother being buried than her own life. This part of the text showed me that characters in the text had laws in place, and they would have to be prosecuted if these laws were broken. That being said, I found Kreon to be more of a dictator than a fair ruler.

    However, Kreon’s treatment towards Antigone did not go unpunished. Kreon proclaims, “Take me away, a poor fool. I killed you both, son and wife” (72). We learn that Kreon’s wife and son has died along with Antigone in this tragic text. Kreon is grieving, while the chorus is the last to speak in this text. When the text ended Kreon’s actions showed me that these characters were still working on their justice system; something we too need to work on. When I read Ben Brantley’s “A Chorus Remembers Michael Brown in ‘Antigone in Ferguson” it showed me that good can come out of a justice system that is flawed. He writes, “The chorus that first mourned the doom of the titular heroine of a deathless work by Sophocles in Athens some 2,500 years ago has been reincarnated on Convent Avenue in Upper Manhattan, where Theater of War’s “Antigone in Ferguson” opened this week at Harlem Stage” (Brantley’s “A Chorus Remembers Michael Brown in ‘Antigone in Ferguson”). The death of Michael Brown was one that made headlines, however this tragedy has been made into a theatrical production using Sophocles’s text as inspiration. Both Antigone’s death and Brown’s death were unjust tragedies, but we see how good can come out of a bad situation. This production about Brown’s death and Sophocles’s text makes me wonder what other theatrical productions can be created using literature and a current event?

  2. As the article I read about the Harlem staging of Antigone puts it, this play is extremely relevant right now. It asks us the question of “is everyone on a journey to find a shared humanity or are we always going to be in a state of war which will ultimately end in violence?” In today’s society there’s so many “Kreon’s” to answer to, both politically and socially, it’s startling to think how Antigone resonates with today. Race, gender, sexuality, mental illness and disability are all things that can be disputed unfairly in a court, but also get someone killed while walking on the street. It’s easier to say “It will happen to someone else, not me,” and also to say “don’t draw attention to yourself, do you want to wind up like they did” and yet both of these sentences are allowing subordination to the fear and dictatorship of an unfair system.

    Ismene isn’t necessarily blind to the unjust reign off Creon, but she knows trying to honor polyneices is going to have consequences, (and to put it modernly, she’s keeping her head down.) Even though it should be a private action, a personal grievance, by simply mourning the dead and allowing them to be honored as a person is seen as a challenging action. Antigone, while a hero, is putting herself in a dangerous position and she knows it. “You choose to live. I choose to die. You argue well and I did; and to those that agree with each, each of us was right” (pg. 43). While the first part of her statement talks about her self-awareness of the political state, it’s the second part that makes me think even deeper about the play.

    This is a personal matter and the people closest to the dead are grieving, they’re also put in a dangerous position because they refuse to back down. Antigone knows people are going to skew it as something else, making more out of something she should have a right to do anyways and try to vilify her for it. Many times when there’s a shooting or hate crime on the news, it’s skewed so many ways, people arguing back and forth and back and forth…and how many Antigone’s are there in the middle of it, trying to be strong, trying to do the right thing and know the inordinate amount of hate and oppression they’re going to face for it? Reading it left me feeling like, even if the “Kreon’s” of today are punished for their actions, their punishment may come too late and in the wake of far too much tragedy which no amount of remorse can redeem-and for what, what good did all that haggling for “justice/what’s right/etc.” do, when the people at the center of it were made to suffer even more because of it?

  3. Deepika Khan says:

    Keeping in mind Jean Pierre-Vernant and Pierre Vidal-Naquet’s scholarly article, “The Historical Moment of Tragedy in Greece: Some of the Social and Psychological Conditions,” I would consider Sophocles’ “Antigone” a tragedy that conveys “unrecognized aspects of [the] human experience[s]” of love and death (Vernant and Naquet 23). It would be easy for a reader to forget that all of the events of “Antigone” take place within the structure of a family. The main conflict is between the titular character and her tyrant of an uncle, Kreon, the king of Thebes. After making the bold decision to disobey the king and bury her slain brother, Polyneices, Antigone becomes an enemy and rebel in the king’s eyes. Kreon’s clearly misogynistic and sexist view toward Antigone comes back to haunt him at the end, which was satisfying to read (to be honest). With a bit of summarizing out of the way, I’d like to tackle the question of what “Antigone” tells us or invites us to ask about the political good that literature might do. I’m not sure about the ‘good’ Sophocles’ “Antigone” brings to politics but it sure does have a lot to say about the ‘bad’ in politics, which leads me to discuss a specific passage. During his tense conversation with his son, Haimon, Kreon declares, “Anyone who’s a good man inside his house is a just man where the state is concerned” (Sophocles 47). If Kreon’s belief is supposed to be true, then why is Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a potential Supreme Court member, currently being accused of sexual assault? He had a ‘good’ Christian family-man image that is now tainted by his possible (and believable) misconduct against women. According to “She Said. Then He Said. Now What Will Senators Say?” by Peter Baker, the televised trial of Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford has only “reinforced those divisions at the intersection of sex, politics, power and the law.” Comparing Judge Kavanaugh to King Kreon, I think they would be the best of friends since their twisted outlooks on right from wrong seem to match. On the brighter side, I thoroughly enjoyed reading any scene that involved Antigone and Kreon fighting with their words. A favorite line of mine, which I believe sums up the story perfectly, is Antigone’s remark, “you may be fool enough to convict me too” (Sophocles 39). OH WAIT. I JUST REALIZED THE LAST TWO WORDS OF THIS QUOTE! I DIDN’T EVEN MEAN TO DO THAT! THE POWER OF LITERATURE LIVES ON!

  4. Emily Abrams says:

    In the wake of the Ford-Kavanaugh Senate Judiciary hearings this week, I found reading Sophocles’ Antigone particularly disquieting with regards Kreon’s unwavering contempt for those disobey him. His fury at Antigone’s refusal to heed his edict and her willingness to accept the consequences are particularly illuminating of Theban politics and treatment of women. His statements to the Chorus—the Theban people at large—arguably leaves external readers musing whether or not hell hath no fury like a Kreon scorned (or, maybe, as the Washington Post aptly put for Kavanaugh, an “entitled white man denied”*). Of course, I offer this quip in the most negative, non-empowering light one could think of.

    Readers ought to consider the legacy of a text, both by gauging author’s intentions (when their definitive commentary is absent) and what character speech may lend itself to a particular abstract message. For instance, Sophocles uses the convention of tragedy—the suicides of both Antigone and Haimon— to underscore Kreon’s tyrannical hubris. What I mean by legacy of the text, I am most apprehensive towards Kreon’s lines prior to the play’s climax. Is it possible that some readers misconstrue about this text with regards to the intersection of sex and politics? Could Sophocles’ cautionary play be alternatively misinterpreted? I would hope not, but this is most often what I worry about texts nowadays.

    Consider Kreon’s tyrannical fury towards Antigone upon learning of her defiance of his edict forbidding Polynices’ burial. Kreon declares, “…no woman will rule me,” and soon after, without hesitation, implies to Ismene that Antigone is “worthless” as a wife to his son because of her defiance (646, 705). If that’s not convincing enough of Kreon’s misogyny(?), consider his words to his son, Haimon, where he advises, “Never let a woman get the better of us. If we must fall, better to fall to a real man and not be called worse than women” (822-824). I understand the general consensus from readers would see the lines deliberately negated by Sophocles insertion of tragedy at the end of the play, but there is surely a possibility that some reader may mistake Kreon’s lines as Sophocles’ own beliefs and/or adopt such lines as guiding principles for a society. It is at least unsettling, if not alarming. Could a fictional tyrant’s words unintentionally undermine the potential “political good” of a text? Even for a text like Antigone, one which clearly uses tragedy to warn against tyranny, I wonder how fiction could misguide a few individuals in reality. In such a case, would the legacy or contributions of a text change altogether?

    * Link to that WP opinion article:

    Also, here are two “illuminating” lines from Teiresias that I think we should revisit this week in class, and my answers to the inevitable ‘why even revisit’ question:
    – TEIRESIAS (to Kreon): “Your state is sick. You and your principles are to blame.” [1170-1171, pp. 60]
    o Though specific to Kreon’s tyranny, it might be interesting to consider how Teiresias’ line may apply to America today, where “you” could be interpreted as our society. Kavanaugh hearings, the #MeToo movement, and this week’s ‘Antigone in Ferguson’ article come to mind.
    – TEIRESIAS (to Kreon): “And tyrants love to have their own way regardless of right and wrong.” [1224-1225, pp. 62]
    o Again, reading these lines as applied to contemporary political/social issues, there’s a lot that can be discussed here, with a variety of topics such as the treatment of women, #MeToo, and our political leaders.

  5. Venessa says:

    In Antigone, the effects of politics play an important role. The main character Antigone is reprimanded for deviating from society’s rules. She wants to bury her brother who has been deemed a traitor by King Kreon. By going against the laws of the king, she is subjected to the penalty of death. I love how defiant she is and how she feels no regret for what she’s done, and why should she? She wants to bury her brother, her family. I see no reason why she should be put to death. However, her actions are what make her the heroine of a tragedy. Vernant says, “…the chorus, an anonymous and collective being whose role is to express through its fears, hopes, and judgments, the feelings of the spectators who make up the civic community, on the other the individualized figure whose action forms the center of the drama and who is seen as a hero from another age, always more or less alien to the ordinary conditions of a citizen” (24). Antigone represents the individual who is deviant from society, while the chorus makes up the rest of society, who represent “democracy.” However, to be a hero is to question unjust laws, and stand up for what you believe in, as Antigone does. In Antigone, when Kreon says to Antigone that society agrees with him upon her execution, and asks her isn’t she ashamed to try and sway their view, Antigone replies, “No they keep silent to please you. Why Should I be ashamed to loyalty to my brother” (41). The chorus feels for Antigone’s plight. They sympathize with her, however, those bonds of society to keep “democracy” in order, keep them from trying to spare her. Because she is deviating from the norm, the ripple effect that that might have, keeps the chorus from speaking up on her behalf. However, from these tragedies, it is evident that the hero that is brave enough to defy unjust laws and rules does not suffer a fate worse than those that impose those tyrannical laws.

  6. This weeks readings, I think, were especially poignant. After listening to Dr. Ford’s testimony and Kavanaugh’s unhinged tirade in response, I went into this reading thinking already about the intersection between gender, politics, and power. I didn’t expect the text to echo our moment so much, but in a way it drew me into the reading further.

    Antigone is the perfect example of what good literature can do in our society. This is a text that defies temporality; The specifics of its readings may vary over time but they are applicable everywhere and anywhere. The themes of this play are timeless and especially relevant in how we look at our political leaders. The plight of Antigone show the power of one voice, especially a grieving one. She flies in the face of the norms of her time, defying Creon’s rules and putting forth the bravery of a warrior of myth. She does not stand back and stay silent, as her sister would have liked, but spoke proudly of her actions and argued her merit with wit and passion. She never angered, only explained herself and her actions. While Kava-I mean Creon- lashed out at any and all who questioned or dared attempted to defy his rule. He would not be swayed by words, especially those of a woman. The familiarity is downright scary. Dr. Ford delivered her testimony with passion and grace, even after hours and hours of questioning one of the darkest and most painful moments of her life, constantly offering to delve deeper and deeper if it was necessary. She cited her drive as a citizen, a representative of the will of the people to have the truth come out. Much like Antigone performing her own duty to her brother, appeasing both the gods she worshipped and the will of the people, against the decree of their King.

    I read most of Creon’s outbursts in Kavanaugh’s voice. Refusing counsel, throwing away any and all dissenting opinions, even from those closest to him. I kept waiting for someone to question whether or not Creon liked to drink for him to respond with “Yeah, I like wine, don’t you?” The arrogance and blatant misogyny of Creon, as Emily pointed out, highlight his tragic flaw of hubris, inevitably causing his downfall. We can only hope the Creon’s of our moment meet the same fate.

    Going back to the question of what is the good of Antigone, I believe the answer is that this text, and others like it, remind us that it is imperative to question and analyze those in power. And when that power is abused, to fight against it, even as one voice. As the chorus showed, there are always more dissenting voices among the people, waiting for their Antigone to rally behind.

  7. Jude Binda says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but I have a sneaking suspicion that everyone reading this also can’t read a book or watch a movie without thinking about its political structure on some level. What I mean by that is thinking about things like socioeconomic gaps, the inclusion/exclusion of certain groups, the way in which different genders are treated, etc. One, or all depending on the day, of those cross my mind whenever I’m exposed to something new because what’s the point of being an English major if you can’t endlessly ponder the role of that secondary character even though they only had four lines? All this is to say that you can find a message in any piece of media if you look well enough.

    There is a reason literature is the most utilized vehicle for political commentary. For millennia, literature has been a place where people are able to bend the rules, and Antigone is no exception. Antigone spits in the face of Kreon’s authority and stands her ground when faced with the consequences. I’m glad to see that a few people have made the same connection I did between Kreon and Kavanaugh. I do think it’s funny that this whole Supreme Court issue is happening while we are covering a play where powerful men try to get away with unjust actions but are challenged by bad-ass women. And that is where this week’s central question comes in: what does Antigone tell us or invite us to ask about the political good literature can do? Literature transcends the world it is set in; it mirrors real life. Teiresias sums up the active problem in both Antigone and modern America when he says, “The state is sick. You and your principles are to blame” (1170-1171). Ideology dictates the way in which people live, and the state informs it. What better way to fight back than to read/write narratives about the downfall of corrupt institutions.

    Also, I find it interesting that even after thousands of years, a narrative about standing up to corrupt leadership is still relevant. What does that say about human nature? Perhaps greed and tyranny are just unavoidable features of humanity? Or perhaps people just need to stop giving nefarious people power.

  8. Kaitlin Margaret McDermott says:

    I appreciated the historical context on Antigone provided by Vernant and Naquet’s article. Like many of my classmates, I have encountered Antigone in an academic setting before. For me, it was in a high school English course, and alongside Sophocles we discussed also other “classics” – Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird, various Shakespeare plays, etc, etc.

    Rereading this play over the weekend, I thought back to that original reading, seven or so years ago: What did I think about it then? What was I most struck by? What was happening in my own political moment that intersected with this reading? Did I see then the political value of the play? Or, was it read for the cultural and historical value instead? Further, can these values be separated from one another?

    Quite honestly, I don’t remember being particularly affected by this text when I first read it. In contrast to reading Shakespeare, I do recall appreciating the relative ease – apart from the Choral interludes— with which this text could be read. This same impression stayed with me on my reread; however, this time around I noticed more acutely own evolution as a reader and as a student. In particular, I found Antigone’s strikingly straight-forward, motherly and yet cold, nature profoundly resonant, I think, in this political and cultural moment. Many of my classmates have ventured down this path regarding the current state of SCOTUS and any number of other current political events, so I won’t dwell too long. But, the sacred, almost self-sacrificial image of Antigone’s hanging body – “at the tomb’s end, hanged by the neck, a noose made from her linen robe” – deserves, if brief, special mention (1414-1416). Throughout, a discord between state and ruler, citizen and the ruled, pervades the very essence of action. The opening dialogue between Antigone and Ismene is as good of an example of this as any: Antigone establishes herself the sole protector of her disgraced fallen brother. She stands alone in this role until her solitary, tragic end, casting off the influence of her sister, as well as that of her bridegroom, whose own spilt blood falls on her in a most unnatural way (1435).

    In Antigone’s example, the solitary figure is the admirable one. Rather than accepting Kreon’s edict, which she knew to be a divine wrong, Antigone does what others cannot bring themselves to do: She resists. She, our titular character, is a fallen heroine, whose sacrifice can be a lesson for all. She is not, however, the sole character acting alone within this play. Kreon’s characterization, and indeed his dialogue with other characters, warrants sustained attention precisely because of this shared attribute. “I believe that he who rules in a state and fails to embrace the best men’s counsels, but stays locked in silence and vague fear, is the worst man there,” proclaims Kreon in his first declaration (217-220). And yet, through the entirety of the text, he is shown as a solitary actor uninterested and indeed, threatened, by the input of others. In this, I see a timeless attempt by the author to communicate, across the ages, the power held by the individual. Kreon, who ruled the state singular and without counsel, fell with the action of a single woman guided by her idea of what is good and what is right. If that isn’t a relevant takeaway in this political moment, I don’t know what is.

  9. This week’s reading of Antigone has definitely caught our attention, especially with what’s going on in our political climate. The case of Dr. Ford and Kavanaugh clearly creates to this, as we see just how gender, sexuality, and social definitions play a role in their case. As we’re followed this case in the media, it’s clear that many Republicans would want to vote Kavanaugh and grant him the position he’s been nominated for. With this, we see that gender, male v. female, and that dominance has played a significant part of their case and how its played out so far. But we’ve also seen this occur through the recent #metoo movement, with many women coming out against powerful industry men who used their power against them. So at this point in time, Antigone is really reflecting what is going on, and it encourages many to fight back.

    That’s probably what I truly enjoyed about Antigone, the fact that she stood up for herself, and her brother, and she chose to do what she believed was right. She didn’t care about her the social norms, or defying Kreon, she did what she felt was appropriate, and for her that was burying her brother. In the text, we see that social rules are the reason which Antigone feels that she must stand up for her brother and bury his body. But even their own sister Ismene is unwilling to help her, due to her fear of them possibly facing death if they were to be caught. In Antigone the text states, “Ismene: I won’t dishonor anything; but I cannot help, not when the whole country refuses to help. Antigone: Then weakness, will be your plea. I am different. I love my brother and I’m going to bury him, now” (24). From this, it’s clear that the social constructs that are in place, is why Ismene feels as if she can’t do anything. Instead, her concern is not about giving her brother a proper funeral, but to save herself, and not get caught up in Antigone standing up for her brother, Polyneices.

    Much like today, there is a difference in power between men and women. Men, ultimately, are still very much dominant in society, often taking advantage of that power for their own personal use, or to degrade others, especially women. We’ve seen that recently with the cases of the #metoo movement and Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford’s case. But throughout it all, we see that gender has played a significant role. All these cases have the similar fact that the male, more dominant and in power, whether in an industry or within a moment, often took advantage of the situation. Instead of playing fairly, these males chose to make their own rules, and with these cases of sexual abuse, these women were silenced. This is what I see in Antigone, with her sister Ismene. Ismene, had Kreon not been the King of Thebes, or even had so much power and control as a male in society during that time, may have been willing to help Antigone. But because she was very conscious of that male vs. female power dynamic of her time, it’s clear that her avoiding her own humiliation, and not assisting Antigone, she was also a female who was silenced during her time.

    So if we look at what the political good is, in terms of Antigone, we could see the range that it covers. Antigone, is significant today, which is quite clear. It truly discusses how socially these ideas of gender and sexuality all still play a role in our society even today. The fact that this play can withstand time, and still define it, it’s amazing. It really is, because it still is able to reflect on the real world. But the political good that literature could do is to allow readers to question things. Question ideas, why was there a male vs. female struggle during that time? And what are we still doing wrong that it still hasn’t seemed to change? The political good that literature does is allowing us to take a step back, from the real world, real life, whatever it may be, and to really allow us to use the texts around us to figure out what is really going on. And to question that, why ? Also, literature could also be a political good because you can use it as an outlet or a voice to say what is going on.

  10. Khurram says:

    There’s a conflict in Antigone (the play) between divine/natural law (which later I’ll call moral decency or morality because I think that’s a better stand-in for Antigone’s side of the aisle then literally godliness), and state law. Antigone and Kreon represent complexities in both—perhaps even extremes—so I don’t know if the play is taking a stance, and the introduction to the Richard Emil Braun translation suggests it’s unclear if Sophocles was more than just aware of the tension between custom and nature (4).

    (A quick aside: for this post, I’m reading custom as mostly meaning natural/divine/moral obligation instead of “the way things used to be,” though Kreon does lament, defeated, that maintenance of established law is a steady way to do things [1290-1292]. Read Antigone as a play about established law vs. new law, and that’s an entirely different—and worthwhile—exploration. Might make your moral code go haywire. I, too, like this play.)

    Antigone, who makes her tragic moves motivated by divine responsibility, runs into conflict because the divine/natural law/custom doesn’t blend cleanly with a state custom. For Kreon, the trouble he courts with his new state-first laws comes when those laws contradict divine decency (for lack of a better term) as in his punishment for Polyneices’s body, his execution method for Antigone (934-941), and I think, if the role of an unseen punisher is to be considered real, in the way he dismisses the affront his treatment of Polynecies’s remains is to the gods (1201-1205). Moreover, the complexity of Kreon is that he is a state-first man who becomes a tyrant, which puts the state second to himself.

    Sure, Antigone the play can be seen as prescient. Or we could call civilization cyclical. I think the contemporary importance isn’t just a question of, say, moral decency or practiced custom versus nationalism. It’s more like whom do you sympathize with when the representations of a stance are flawed, perhaps even extremes from a central compromise? If nationalism is marked by tyranny, is that version of nationalism supportable? If morality is applied to a situation that isn’t apparently good or bad, does the code still take precedent? Is it possible to see everything as clear-cut, one side or the other, without nuance, or is that a construct of partisan blinders? Even more of a contemporary question: could you audit different parts of a collective stance, ideology, law, even of a people, or are you bound to support or reject the sum?

    Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford parallels pop up in different themes of Antigone with sturdier connections than the one I’m focusing on here (although, thematically, the idea of natural morality or even known custom vs. the prioritization of the state is, of course, a part of Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings and everything related to it). To me—and this might seem like low-hanging fruit because of the obvious parallels—the cases of Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning come to mind, where both Snowden and Manning disclosed information unlawfully, information that was arguably detrimental to the state, but the information they revealed was significantly more abhorrent than their methodology or their criminality. If you take a wrong action for the right reasons, or the right action for the wrong reasons, the degree of difficulty in judging both the action and the reason is exponentially higher.

    I also want to quickly mention the chorus in Antigone, which works like a stand-in for a, let’s say, flexible majority whose at-the-moment opinion is shifty. Vernant & Naquet cover the role of the chorus in the Attic tragedy deftly, particularly its role in representing the views of the “civic community” (24) and expressing its “anxiety and uncertainties” about the traditional narrative hero (25). The chorus seems deeply religious, and their opinion changes with which action is more atrocious to their collective sensibility. One moment they fetishize war (and presumably its heroes); the next, they agree that the state is sick from Kreon’s actions. They pity everyone, even people on opposite sides of a pitiable flashpoint.

    I found the chorus compelling for two reasons: first, Antigone and Kreon seem characterized apart from the collective representation of the citizen (elevated or underneath, you choose), which opens up a bunch of questions, including if the people who represent you (if not democratically, let’s say narratively, as in with historical consideration, people who are singled out/elevated in retellings) actually represent you or themselves/their politics/morals; and second, the opinion journey the chorus takes (remember that the lens of divinity and justice remains the same, but the actions they scrutinize change over, what, a very long day?) shifts quickly, which I found interesting in a time when we’re so hunkered down in our public-opinion trenches.


    I read Antigone as a representation of the emergence of citizens speaking up. The integration of the chorus signifies the voice of the city-state, one that may have otherwise not existed or simply kept quiet in other tragedies. The chorus calls attention to the tensions between public thought about law and religion, responsibility and honor.

    In a nation with so much history, and one intended on keeping order, enforcing laws, and on wining against whosoever opposes, sides are taken, ideologies are debated, egos are bruised, lives are lost. Chaos awaits us, and indeed ensues. There are matters of law and matters of humanity, and I think this ironic divide has always been, and will continue to be about less important things than what most matters.

    “The chorus is always with us” demanding recognition, answers, retribution, reparations, and justice. The chorus is two-fold, a blend of two sides and everything around and outside of the two. As Vernant and Naquet point out, “The chorus, an anonymous and collective being whose role is to express, through its fears, hopes, and judgments, the feelings of the spectators who make up the civic community” (24).

    Antigone is the condensed performance of laws vs. humanity. Are we to believe that we all have a universal moral compass? Someone as Kreon, who wields much power, more often goes to order than to justice, which are not the same, but which should be handled with better care. Justice is not the enforcement of laws and the punishment of those who rebel against those laws; justice is in relaying a message, over and over again until any necessary party understands the consequences for their own or anyone else’s actions. Justice is at times mercy, and at other times believing in that universal moral compass and heeding to its absolute directions.

    Justice is objective but carried out against the background of a public domain. The current climate of politics today is such that, more than find any middle ground, the public domain is rooted in difference, out of fear. Consciousness shifts quickly, but we are all predisposed to our directional pulls. Where is the universality that we’d like to believe exists? Reason trumps reality and regard. Facts trump emboldened raged. Stubbornness trumps life and loss, too. Leaders do not divide. Leaders do not take up their pride above the interests of its citizens. Leaders must not embolden a nation to tread upon its weakest and dismiss its most valuable people and lessons. Leaders must neither repeat dangerous rhetoric, nor instill pride and power disguised as fear.

    Some prefer the order of a nation before the justified crusader(s), and one crusader gone unpunished, is one too many questions to deliberate in the future, and one too many exceptions to the rule lead to one too many rules to change. Antigone’s stance of loyalty and dignity represent the moral universality that can never exist among people who were taught to fight for what they want no matter what they are fighting for, and no matter if they truly believe what they want is just or otherwise.

    There are so many thoughts on silence, yet one will never understand another’s silence if it goes unexplained. Those who are silent represent various distinct reasons. One thing is for certain, for whatever the reason for silence, it seems that it cannot again turn into action or rage in the hour when it matters. Is the silence worse of one who knows truth and retreats, or one who knows not in the moment, but comes to see the truth at another time? As for Ismene, her silence or decline to break the rules for a just cause, but coming forward in the hour of Antigone’s sentencing, can be thought as disingenuous.

    Literature slows down political issues; it records and highlights its conflicts and implications. The good is in the ability to organize and perhaps reconcile the patterns and limitations of the differing sides of an issue.


  12. Stacey McDonald says:

    As I have mentioned in previous posts, there is much that can be done, politically, through the use of literature. Literature is a tool that can not only inspire minds to ignite the change that they believe is possible, but to open the eyes of a generation that may believe their voices are powerless, and help them to realize that such is not the case. Sophocles’ Antigone is a powerful drama that exemplifies what an incredibly powerful tool that literature is capable of being.

    There are so many things that I want to use this blog post as a platform to talk about, but, for now, I’ll try to limit myself to the topics outlined for me in this week’s description.

    First and foremost, I believe that if only one line of the play can sum up the state of our nation in its current moment, it would be “The state is sick” (1170).

    What other explanation could there possibly be for the way that our country has somehow managed to move backward in time? To me, it is an illness, a cancer, if you will, that is slowly creeping its way through our nation’s capital, and into our homes. A cancer that requires some extremely aggressive treatment, immediately, if it ever hopes to be cured. Our polis is broken.

    In relation to this, the exchange between Haemon and Creon that occurs between lines 887-889 is mind-blowing in the sense that it could easily be a conversation that takes place today.

    Haemon: No country belongs to just one man.
    Kreon: Nations belong to the men with power.
    That’s common knowledge.

    I really feel that “just one man” covers so many areas; the literal sense, the racial or religious aspect, the border debate, etc. Haemon seems to speak to everything at once, as he tries to protect Antigone from his father’s wrath, and it is here that I believe Antigone can stand as a symbol for our country. As we, desperate citizens, work tirelessly to put an end to the joke that our ruling government has become, we are ultimately putting ourselves on the line, willing to put our own well-being at risk for the sake of a good that is much greater than our own.

    The Vernant excerpt included a quote that I find appropriate to aid in my quest to tie up my rant, stating that “The tragic sense of responsibility emerges when human action becomes the object of reflection while still not being regarded as sufficiently autonomous to be fully self-sufficient” (Vernant, 27). We are failing as a society because, whether consciously or subconsciously, we refuse to accept that we have a responsibility for our own actions. There is always a choice, we make hundreds of them without thinking every single day, but somehow we would still rather believe that we are merely puppets dancing along to the commands of our puppeteer than accept that we are in the state we are in because we refuse to change our course. Whether this is because we as a society are terrified of change or because we think the storm will pass is an entirely separate question, but it is one that we must look up from our distractions to answer. And more likely than not, that answer will be inspired because someone started reading.

  13. This was actually the first time that I had ever read Antigone, and I was pleasantly surprised with how easy it was to read. This fluidity in part has to do with the Braun’s translation, but coming from a background where Shakespeare dominated my knowledge of plays, I didn’t know what to expect.

    As I read the play, an aspect that I honed in on was Antigone’s placement within her society and how her actions affect the people within her life.

    Understanding that this play begins post-war with Antigone and Ismene being the only living members from their immediate family is crucial to understanding Antigone’s actions. Being one of the only living members of her family, she takes on the responsibility of ensuring that the memory of her departed family members (Polyneices in particular) will be respected; challenging not only the law of the King, but additionally, her place within society. Comprehending the danger of her choice, Antigone sticks with her choice:

    ANTIGONE: I’m ready to suffer for it and to die.
    Let me. No suffering could be so terrible
    As to die for nothing.

    Although her sister is willing to die for her cause, Ismene takes the more passive approach, agreeing to join her sister’s cause “in secrecy” (106) rather than play a part in her brother’s burial, displaying the effect that social norms have on individuals.

    Furthermore, while reading the scene in which Antigone walks to her sentencing I focused in on what Antigone and the Chorus:

    ANTIGONE: Niobe, a stranger, once queen of our country…/ mine is like her death night (979,985)

    CHORUS: But, she was a god, descendant of god…/Still, your doom is worth grand fame; …/ you share the heritage of the gods’ equals (986, 988-990)

    I understood this moment to be Antigone finding comfort in the similarities between her and Queen Niobe. The fact that the Chorus is in agreement, and goes a step further to claim that Antigone shares a connection to a god demonstrates the importance that Antigone has to her world. Just as Queen Niobe weeps for the loss of her children, Antigone took her grief for Polyneices death and acted on it, doing all in her power to ensure he had a proper burial. The fact that Antigone is considered an equal to the gods, proves her decisions to be just and puts her in a position above King Kreon.

  14. Zara Diaby says:

    Understanding the role of a tragic figure is key to understanding the elements in which a person functions within Greek mythos, Antigone is a heroine to end all heroines, her death was a tragic yet politically poignant one.
    Ismene: Thou wouldst bury him, – when ‘tis forbidden to Thebes?
    Antigone: I will do my part, -and thine, if thou wilt not, – to a brother. False to him will I never be found.
    Faced with an impossible dilemma, defy law and ruling and bury her brother anyway and face the possibility of death or allow her brother to face unjust punishment and defy the law of the gods?
    Antigone in the opening of the play recounts to her sister the laws that are laid out by the gods rather than man and she believes she remains “sinless in my crime,” because she upholds honor and tradition. I read this play last year in one of my 240 courses and it always stayed with me, the fever and diligence Antigone had and displayed was spell binding, she remained true to herself though at every turn she was undermined. I loved her for being herself without compromising her morals or values, she feels no guilt for living her life the way she wishes it to be lived. In the realm of tragedy, she is one hero I wholeheartedly sympathize with. Much like the role of all the women who stood up and called out all of their attackers in the #metoo movement, while many of them are believed, much of their integrity is called into question and they are forced to either shut up and lose what they have worked for or continue on pointing out the hypocrisy in our system.
    As others have pointed out in their response to Antigone, Dr. Fond came to mind when reading this play, she was brave and admirable in disemenating to the public the information that someone who had the potential to be a supreme court judge was someone who was a sexual assaulter, she was called everything but a child of God throughout her trial and ordeal but she was resilient and never backed down, much like our own Thebian heroine Antigone.

Comments are closed.