Sunday, January 1, 2012

Sophocles' Antigone

Sophocles (496-406 B.C.) wrote Antigone no later than 442 B.C. It was the third in his series of Theban plays.

Antigone and Polyneices, 1865, Nikiforos Lytras (1832-1904)

Antigone’s determination to fulfill her familial duty to bury her brother, killed in war, puts her at odds with Creon, the ruler of Thebes.

The brothers Eteocles and Polyneices, fighting on opposite sides of a Theban civil war, both died in battle. Creon ordered that Eteocles be given a proper burial, while the body of Polyneices should be left in the field. The play opens as their sisters discuss what to do. Antigone vows to bury Polyneices even if it means her life, while Ismene pleads that she not to put herself in such jeopardy.

Subsequently, Creon seeks the support of the chorus of Theban Elders regarding the disposition of Polyneices' body, and the elders agree. A sentry then reports to Creon that the body had been buried. Creon orders the sentry to find the responsible party or face death himself. The sentry returns with Antigone, who does not deny the act, and who tries to convince the king that his edict was unjust. Creon orders her imprisoned.

Making his appearance next is Haemon, son of Creon and fiance to Antigone. At first, Haemon pledges submission to his father’s will, but cautiously attempts to convince his father to have mercy on Antigone, adding that most of the citizens of Thebes feel that Antigone is being punished unjustly. The confrontation escalates in bitterness until Haemon vows never to see Creon again, and exits.

Creon stubbornly clings to his original edict and orders that Antigone be buried alive in a cave.

The blind prophet Teiresias enters, warning Creon that Polyneices should be buried respectfully, or that Creon would lose a son as a consequence. The chorus echoes the message of the prophet, and Creon finally relents, ordering burial for Polyneices and freedom for Antigone. He exits to oversee those tasks.

A messenger then arrives, telling Creon’s wife, Eurydice, that her son Haemon has killed himself after discovering the body of Antigone, who had hung herself while trapped in the cave. Eurydice retires to the palace.

Creon returns to the stage carrying the body of Haemon. A messenger arrives to tell Creon that Eurydice has killed herself over the loss of Haemon, and cursed Creon with her dying breath. The play ends with Creon a broken man, realizing the folly of his excessive pride.

Sophocles, Antigone, translated by Robert Fagles.

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