Antigone by Sophocles (trans. David Greene)

(Originally read and wrote this post on September 29, 2008)

“The Time in which I must please those that are dead is longer than I must please those of this world. For there I shall lie forever. You, if you like, can cast dishonor on what the gods have honored.” – Antigone.

Antigone holds a special place in my heart as my favorite play by Sophocles. In the play, Antigone defies her uncle, King Creon’s orders to leave her brother unburied, on pains of death. Creon’s stubborn adherence to authority in order to look like a strong king leads to his undoing. The play deals with a number of interesting issues such as the struggle between secular and divine law, a sister’s duty to her family versus a citizen’s duty to the Polis (community), the problems that arise from the tyrannical rule of one man versus the will of the people, and Antigone’s “feminist” rebellion against patriarchal authority.

I personally think this story which loosely continues the Oedipus drama (although written earlier than Oedipus at Colonus) embodies the very definition of the word tragedy; far be it for me to disagree with Aristotle, but I think this play embodies what tragedy should be even more than Oedipus Rex, coming close to perfection with how smooth the themes, plot, and characters intertwine. Still, I think the real draw of the play is how modern some of themes and issues feel compared to other Greek tragedies.

I’ve met people like Creon who let their own arrogance and megalomania destroy their relationships with their families, only to repeat the same mistakes over and over again as it slowly drains the happiness from their lives. If current religious affairs are any indications, a crisis still exists today for many within these groups between secular and divine law. The most interesting theme to me, of course, is Antigone’s central problem; should one honor their family at the expense of the community? If your brother tried to destroy the city you live in would you give them a proper burial with all the honors deserved of a close relative and loved one? Does one owe more respect towards one’s community or one’s relatives?

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