Summary: One important aspect of the story Antigone is the importance placed on family; Antigone's rebellion against Creon's orders by giving her late brother Polyneices a funeral with military honors shows that she valued family more than anything else, even the law. Although family is not taken very seriously in today's society, it is no less important to keep one's promises, especially to family; Antigone's actions serve as a special example of that.
In the first lines of Antigone, you can sense the importance of family in the ancient times. Antigone is willing to sacrifice her life for giving his brother, Polyneices, a soldier's funeral, with military honors, like her other brother, Eteocles had. This rebellion of Antigone shows that family is more important than everything, even more important than law. Antigone loved her brothers and she wanted both to die with dignity. She knew that Creon was doing wrong by giving preference to Eteocles. Antigone's beliefs were so strong that she went against Creon's orders.
Ismene, Antigone's sister, thought that she was mad. Although she loved her brothers very much, she knew that disobeying Creon's rules was going to bring consequences.
I wanted to reflect about this special part in Antigone because nowadays family is not taken very seriously. You see a...
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Betrayal of Family Loyalty In the play Antigone, written by Greek playwright Sophocles, loyalty to family seems to be a recurring theme. We first see it when Antigone defies King Creon’s order to keep her brother, Polynices, unburied as a punishment for his betrayal of their country Thebes. We also see how Antigone’s sister, Ismene, accepts partial blame for the burial (even though she refused to actually do it) in an affectionate, loyal act. Creon is also family (their father’s brother), but he, however, betrays this family trust and loyalty when he sentences Antigone to death for disobeying his law.
There are, however, repercussions for this death sentence, that prove that there are two central tragic heroes in this play. She is justified in disobeying this law because everyone deserves to have a proper burial, no matter what they have done, and Antigone is not afraid to face the consequences of her actions. In fact, she publicly declares what she has done. We see that while her act seems brave and noble, there might be alternate motives for burying him, and that it could be considered a self-righteous act. Antigone is justified in burying her brother because no person should have to rot in the sun and be eaten by animals.
Furthermore, the Greeks believed that a person who remains unburied cannot properly rest or enter the afterlife. Creon, the King of Thebes, made a very clear decree that anyone caught burying this body would be punished with death. Antigone knew of this law and still decided to break it. At first, the audience might question whether or not she was justified in breaking the law. C. M. Bowra writes in Reading On Antigone, “The Greeks, whose political liberties were intimately associated with the existence of laws, prided themselves upon them, with reason.
It was the possession of laws that distinguished Greece from barbarian countries? Antigone, in defiance of? this established sentiment, sets herself above Creon’s law and claims to know better what is right”(64). Once we hear how Antigone defends what she did, however, we understand why she did it and that she was right in doing it. She says to Creon, “Who are earth, alive in the midst of so much grief as I, could fail to find his death a rich reward? So for me, at least, to meet this doom of yours is precious little pain.
But if I had allowed my own other’s son to rot, an unburied corpse? that would have been an agony! “(Robert Fagles1435). So, we can see that for Antigone, who has lived through a number of tragedies involving her immediate family, would easily take the risk of dying in order to bury her brother, which would allow him to rest in peace. She felt that she had nothing else to lose. Antigone does do a noble thing by burying her brother, but her actions seem slightly selfish because she receives the reward of having a noble, righteous death (in her mind).
So, we see that she tries convincing herself that it is a worthy death, and she wants all the glory that goes with it, and does not want to share it with anyone. She seeks recognition for the burial in order to feel like she performed a righteous act. In the book, What Really Goes on in Sophocles’ Theban Plays, Charles B. Daniels and Sam Scully comment that “She is not willing just to give Polyneices a proper funeral. No, as we have seen earlier, Antigone wants to be known as the dutiful sister who defied the King’s wicked decree and did what was right and proper at the cost of her life”(111).
She further glorifies her own death by comparing herself to Gods and tragic legends. When she refers to Niobe, a Theban Queen, the chorus mocks her by saying, “But she was a god, born of gods, and we are only mortals born to die. And yet, of course, it’s a great thing for a dying girl to hear, even to hear she shares a destiny equal to the gods, during life and later, once she’s dead”(Fagles1469). This leads the audience to believe that Antigone really is afraid to die, and is only glorifying her death to comfort herself. In Readings on Antigone, William N.
Bates writes, “Life is as dear to her as to anyone, and she is convinced now that she never could have done what she did for any other than Polynices”(95). That is backed up by Antigone saying, “Never, I tell you, if I had been the mother of children or if my husband died, exposed and rotting? I’d never have taken this ordeal upon myself, never defied our people’s will. What law, you ask, do I satisfy with what I say? A husband dead, there might have been another. A child by another too, if I had lost the first. But mother and father both lost in the halls of Death, no brother could ever spring to light again”(Fagles1471).
This statement proves the real reason Antigone chose to go through with this act, and that is that she could never have another brother. This adds a more human-like quality to Antigone, who before seemed almost godly, because she was unafraid of everything. We can now sympathize more with her. Her fear of death is even more apparent when she says, “I go to them now, [her dead family] cursed, unwed, to share their home? I am a stranger! O dear brother, doomed in your marriage? your marriage murders mine, your dying drags me down to death alive! “(Fagles1469-70).
We can see that she is scared, now that death is approaching her more closely, and that remark almost seems as if she is resentful that she had to carry out this duty. Earlier, when her sister Ismene, admitted to helping with the burial, Antigone became furious, saying, “Never share my dying, don’t lay claim to what you never touched. My death will be enough”(Fagles1457). So, we can see that Antigone wants all the credit, even if it means facing death alone. Antigone has no way of knowing what is going to proceed her actions and her death. She has no idea how important she really is.
She changed the Theban Empire forever and made Creon realize how unfair he had been. She never could have guessed that Creon would have this revelation and come to rescue her, only to find her dead (along with his own son Haemon). In Readings on Antigone, we read “In a very real way, then, even if Creon’s decree and condemnation of Antigone are morally wrong, his mistakes and the punishment he subsequently suffers for them make him as much a tragic figure as she”(Bates24). Antigone’s death is necessary in order for Creon to understand her loyalty to her family because her death is a precursor to his wife and son’s deaths.
After seeing the ones he loved dead, he realizes the mistakes he has made. He feels responsible and says “Take me away, I beg you, out of sight. A rash, indiscriminate fool! I murdered you, my son, against my will? you too, my wife? Whatever I touch goes wrong? once more a crushing fate’s come down upon my head”(Fagles1487-88). The story of Antigone is a tragic one that shows how deep family loyalty runs. It’s true that Antigone absorbed all the glory and attention possible, but maybe that was just a cover because she was really afraid of dying.
Either way, Antigone is a very brave woman, who looks death in the face, and willingly takes it on. Her braveness is also the cause of Creon’s downfall, where he ultimately realizes how wrong he’s been, and is forced to face the consequences, which are his dead son and wife. Tragedy has struck these two characters, and while Antigone died with glory, we are not so sympathetic to Creon, but at least he realized that he was wrong in the end. Antigone was justified in burying her brother, and it proves that she is a very loyal sister who is willing to pay the ultimate price for another person’s peace and happiness.
1. Fagles, Robert. “Antigone. ” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. X. J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 8th ed. New York: Longman, 2001. 1435-1488.
2. Daniels, Charles B. and Sam Scully. What Really Goes on in Sophocles’ Theban Plays. Maryland: University Press of America, Inc, 1996.
3. Bowra, C. M. “The Community Stands or Falls on the Rule of Law. ” Readings on Antigone. Ed. Don Nardo. California: San Diego, 1999. 64
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4. Bates, William N. “A General Breakdown of the Characters. ” Readings on Antigone. Ed. Don Nardo, California: San Diego, 1999. 24, 95.
Author: Christen Curtis
Antigone – Theme of Family Loyalty
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