Antigone: Martyr or Egomaniac
The desire act nobly can easily become entangled with ones own sense of pride and self-righteousness. In turn, a so called noble acts can become no more than an attempt to meet one’s own goals or to “make a point. In the play “Antigone, written by Sophocles in 441 B. C. , the titular character straddles the line between noble martyr and and self-centered attention-seeker. She is the daughter of Oedipus, facing the shame of her family and the death of both her brothers.
One of her brothers, Polynices, is declared guilty and sentenced to be left unburied, meaning his soul will have to wonder the Earth forever. Antigone makes the decision to bury him anyway, knowing that she will most likely be put to death. Some would argue that her willingness to die for the sake of saving her dead brother’s soul makes her a brave and noble. Other claim that her desire to die for her crime has less to do with loving her brother and more to do with her own shame at what has come to her family and desire to “make a point concerning the strict rule of Creon, the king of Thebes.
While she does die for what she views as a noble cause, Antigone’s desire to make a spectacle of her own martyrdom is evidence of her self-centered and self-righteous attitude, making egomaniac the most accurate description of her character. Although she does express some genuine desires to die for the sake of justice, Antigone’s obsession with becoming a martyr is fueled by her own sense pride and self-righteousness. From the beginning of the play, Antigone is devoted to dying for her cause. She tells her sister Ismene that she will bury their brother Polynices no matter what.
In response to Ismene shock, Antigone proclaims “I will bury him; and if I must die, I say that this crime is holy. She acknowledges that she is breaking the law, but at the same time believes that her crime is justified, as she has the Gods on her side. This quote certainly supports the statement that Antigone is a martyr. But as the play continues on, the reader can see that Antigone’s intentions go beyond martyrdom. Once she is arrested and taken before Creon, she seems more interested in lecturing the king then professing her love for her brother.
When Ismene says that she is equally as guilty of the crime, Antigone says “You shall not lessen my death by sharing it (212). This statement shows Antigone’s desire to be the center of everyone’s attention. She not only shuts her sister down from joining her in what she considers a noble endeavor, but even expresses that her sister dying with her would some how “lessen the point she is trying to make with her own death. She wants to be the sole martyr and believes that Ismene joining in will only take away from the point she is trying to make.
She pays little attention to Ismene’s thoughts and feelings, charging on recklessly in trying to meet her own goal. In her insistence in becoming a martyr, Antigone reveals her own self-righteous and self-centered tendencies, showing that while she is a martyr, she is using that status to fuel her own ego. Antigone’s wish to die comes from more than just her desire to be a martyr. While Antigone often expresses that she wants to die for the sake of her brother’s soul, it more often than not comes down to her desire to free herself from the shame that has been visited upon her family.
Once Creon is informed that Antigone has buried Polynices, he arrests Antigone and berates her for disobeying his orders as king. Antigone is unfazed by his attack, saying “can anyone Living, as I live, with evil all about me, Think Death less than a friend (208). This quote shows how Antigone’s desire to die goes beyond bringing justice for her brother’s soul. Refer to “Death as “a friend shows that Antigone truly wants to die. By specifying that anyone who lives as “I live would want to die, she is revealing that she is not only concerned with Polynices’ soul.
It is what has become of her life that makes her want to die. She is still focussed more on herself than she is on what is left of her family. It can be argued that she is trying to protect Ismene by saving her life. But this claim is undercut when one considers just how badly Antigone wants to die. By leaving Ismene alive, Antigone is actually condemning her own sister to a life she feels is worse than death. Once Creon exiles her to a cave to starve to death, Antigone laments what has become of her life. Not only has her family been permanently scarred, she is now forced to die slowly, outside of the public eye.
She cries “be witness for me, denied all pity (226). This quotes shows that Antigone wants “witnesses to her death. She is trying to make a point by defying Creon and doing what she thinks is right. Without anyone to see her noble death, Antigone proclaims herself “denied all pity. Just dying is not enough for Antigone. She wants her death to be a spectacle of sacrifice. As a result, instead of waiting for her eventual death from starvation, Antigone hangs herself in her exile, ensuring that her death is still in her control.
Although she does sacrifice her life in order to bury her brother, Antigone’s ego fuels all her decisions and often overwhelms her arguments towards the just nature of her case. Antigone is a martyr, as she does die for what she believes is right. But her obsession with dying is feed more by her desire to free herself from the shame of her family and to keep all the attention on herself than her love for Polynices. The noble act of defiance and love around which this play is structured is muddled by the protagonist’s too often self-centered and self-righteous behavior.