Sophocles - Antigone #
Antigone, in Greek legend, the daughter born of the unwittingly incestuous union of Oedipus and his mother, Jocasta. After her father blinded himself upon discovering that Jocasta was his mother and that, also unwittingly, he had slain his father, Antigone and her sister Ismene served as Oedipus’ guides, following him from Thebes into exile until his death near Athens.
Following Oedipus’ exile, his sons agreed to share the rule of Thebes, alternating in rule every year. However, after the first year, Eteocles refused to give up his power and drove out Polynices, his older brother, who fled to Argos,
Returning to Thebes, the sisters attempted to reconcile their quarrelling brothers—Eteocles, who was defending the city and his crown, and Polyneices, who was attacking Thebes. Both brothers, however, killed each other, and their uncle Creon became king. After performing an elaborate funeral service for Eteocles, Creon, decrees that her exiled brother Polynices, “an enemy of the state”, so his corpse is to be left outside on the hillside to be devoured by dogs and vultures, declaring him to have been a traitor.
Sophocles in Antigone poses the conflict of Natural jurisprudence and State Justice. If the state acts in an unjust way, what is your role as a patriot? Accept or resist?
Antigone is determined to obey the divine laws by giving her brother Polynices a proper grave on the simple moral point that “he is still my brother”.
When her sister, Ismene resigns with:
“It’s the law, what can we do? we have to follow it - we’re girls,”
“but I will bury him: well for me to die in doing so. I shall rest, a loved one with him whom I have loved, sinless in my crime; for I owe a larger allegiance to the dead than to the living… But if thou wilt, be guilty of dishonouring laws which the gods have stablished in honour.”
When Creon charges her for breaking his law, Antigone defiantly counters:
Yes, for it was not Zeus who made that edict…nor deemed I that your decrees were of such force, that a mortal could override the unwritten unfailing statutes of heaven. Die I must… But if I am to die before my time, I count that a gain; for when any one lives, as I do, compassed about with evils, can there be any gain but in death?
So, for me to meet this doom is trifling grief; but if I had suffered my mother’s son to lie in death a corpse unburied, that would have grieved me; for this, I am not grieved.
And if my present deeds are foolish in your sight, perhaps a foolish judge arraigns my folly.
Creon, concerned about his image of authority counters with
Now verily I am no man, she is the man, if this victory shall rest with her, and bring no penalty. No! be she sister’s child, or nearer to me in blood
Sophoclean Quotes: #
Oedipus investigating his own crime is urged by his wife/mother Jocasta to stop; defiantly insists:
“I will know who that I am”!
The final summation of the Chorus is:
“Never call a man happy until he is safely in his grave”.
“There is no greater evil than men’s failure to consult and to consider.”
“Oh, it’s terrible when the one who does the judging judges things all wrong.” Antigone
Antigone, moved by love for her brother and convinced of the injustice of the command, buried Polyneices secretly. For that she was ordered by Creon to be executed and was immured in a cave, where she hanged herself.
Chorus in Antigone #
The chorus in Antigone, expresses a submissive, if rather unenthusiastic loyalty to their king Creon and reproves Antigone as having gone to the outer most daring limit against law enthroned authority. They cannot afford to connive at disobedience.
Good drama relies on conflict. When two strong wills meet face to face, each with a stubborn loyalty to a principle good in itself, but each pressing that loyalty with single-mindedness to the point at which it breaks against the other; destroying both.
We, the audience, through identification and empathy, based on the theatre of illusion where the characters plausibly imitate real life, experience the predicaments of the characters vicariously. By identifying emotionally and psychologically, we are seduced by the actors to identify, empathise with the characters and aroused by their terror to pity and fear (Pathos) to a state of Catharsis, releasing our tension, soothing, cleansing or purging our souls. Tragedy makes us feel; comedy makes us think. Emotions can be ephemeral with no lasting consequences.
Drama or re-enactments have been central to the most primitive societies as a form of entertainment and a method of passing on traditions through story telling. At its root lies an instinctive need for narrative and impersonation, ritual expression and interpretation of natural forces illustrating the cycles of life and death. The elements of dance and song are significant features. Re-enactment has always attempted to provide a mirror to real life battles of mankind against each other or external forces that govern our destiny.
Primitive tribes tended to re-enact the day’s events after a feast, acting out the hunt or conflict with other tribes. It was their form of entertainment as well as transmission to the youth of culture, tradition and means of survival..
Modern Drama has its origins in 5th Century Greek Drama and the influence of Plato and Aristotle’s guidelines continue to this day.
Tragedies were presented in an open-air theatre accommodating about 17,000 spectators at annual spring festivals in honour of Dionysius or Bacchus. Tragedy touched the deepest centres of mankind’s individual and collective consciousness.
Lysicrates, a wealthy patron of the arts, awarded monetary prizes in the festival. Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides wrote many plays, generally tragic trilogies followed by a satyr play in a lighter vein, for a competition. Most of them have been lost to civilisation.
Initially Aeschylus had just a song, sung by a chorus with a dance, performed by two actors. The chorus, today a ‘voice over’, stood aloof as a commentator, interpreter and occasionally participant in advising the characters.