The Sophocles’ play Antigone depicts the characteristic wisdom of the central character Antigone and suggests the different levels and types of wisdom which are illustrated in the motives of secondary characters of the supporting Ismene and Haemon, and the legal-wise Creon and his Chorus of Elders.
Antigone was written by the Greek tragedian, Sophocles, in 442 B.C. as a part of the three Theban plays (commonly known as the House of Thebes). The play illustrates Sophocles’ style of writing, which reduces the influenced of the Greek choros through the addition of secondary characters. Such style differentiates him from his predecessors who utilize the Greek choros to mapped out the story for the audience clearly.
Antigone as a tragedy follows a ‘fatalistic’ mode for the characters; as in all tragedies, all or almost all of the central characters suffer a reverse of fortune due to some mistake or flaw. An important element explored by Sophocles himself, is the depiction of true wisdom which is depicted in the clashes of differing central and support characters found in the story.
In the subsequent paper, a comparative analysis will be constructed based on the ‘wisdom’ of the different characters Antigone, Ismene, Creon, Haemon, and the Chorus of Elders. Additionally, the characters will be ranked according to the importance of the ‘wisdom’ suggest.
Following the Theban Civil War, Creon admonished the traitors, those who attacked Thebes the Argive Army and Polynices and delivered a decree on their burial refusals. Naturally, Antigone, went against the order and buried her brother and when she was questioned by the King, her stand on the ‘illegal’ act was untenable:
…And should I seem to thee
To have done a foolish deed, ’tis simply this,—
I bear the charge of folly from a fool.
Clearly, two types of wisdom were manifested by the Antigone and King Creon’s concept of justice. King Creon cannot be faulted with creating suitable punishments for the traitor Polynices and the other instigators of war; civil wars naturally left the Thebes in a state chaos and damage and the ‘criminals’ must be penalized for their crimes. As the new King, his act was ‘legal’ but the terms of punishment he welted out, slashes and opposes the moralists (God and Goddesses) side.
Old Greece considers burying the dead as a ‘sacred’ and moral duty; it is a right bestowed by Gods and Goddesses to the mortals. The unburied becomes desolate, unrestful and lost souls. Thus, burials are not just practical or ritualistic but are theologically important. King Creon’s punishment the anti-burial rule henceforth, questions not only the Gods (and Goddesses)’s edicts but also the moral rights of any human.
And this is what Antigone is aiming at the moral justification for her so-called illegal act. In a city that is governed by polytheism and the mandate of Gods (and Goddesses) over men, their words are Supreme and in effect, the humans display fatalism in their behavior. Antigone’s wisdom of act is moralistic and fatalistic and the story tells of how the clashes between the moral, the legal, and the passive roles of women will define the point for the story.
Unlike most Greek stories, Antigone has females as central characters. Sophocles portraits women and their passive roles in the old Greek society. Traditionally, women have acquiescent roles and are merely subjugated under the ‘powerful’ men and the State which is governed by ‘men’ again. A line from Creon’s dialogues suggests the subjugation of women and the anti-feminist attitude of male characters like Creon during those times:
No more delay,
Ye slaves. Our women henceforth must be kept
As women—suffered not to roam abroad;
This is further demonstrated by the interplay between the two sisters, Antigone and Ismene. Feminism is displayed in Antigone’s blatant refusal and her State rebellion whereas Ismene played the passive role to the hilt by her fear of burying her own brother and refusing to be an accomplice to the act. Ismene’s thoughts ran on the line, “she is merely a women” and “she has no power over rules mandated by men”. While she was the dutiful follower of the Theban regulation, one cannot demerit her role as a dutiful sister to Antigone.
During Antigone’s trial, she lied saying that she was an accomplice to the burial act. Her act, in this case, indicates familial dedication. Antigone naturally denied her sister’s claims; her case borders on conscience. What is Sophocles is trying to point out here is that Antigone, was a virtuous woman with characters such as dead-end honesty, familial dedication, and high morale. Antigone was Sophocles epitome for virtuosity and feminism which he meaningfully contrasted with Ismene.
Like Ismene, Haemon’s role was support. He contested against the case of punishment of Antigone because of love. Recognized that for his case, Sophocles attempted to show the biases due to personal motives associated with judicial procedures during those times. Haemon was, after all, the King’s son and his blood-relation may affect the stand of his father-King.
Unfortunately this was not the case. Creon’s refusal to condone his son’s request is equivalent to the present-day anti-Nepotism in the political system. Unfortunately, Haemon killed himself because he thought that his lover, Antigone, was already punished to death. This demonstrates two things; either this may indicate extreme love or men being a weakling.
Why commit suicide, in the first place? Haemon is worse than Ismene because he cannot bear the pressure of losing his love. Additionally, he should have acceded to the decree of Fate, which runs in Oedipus’ genealogy and includes the sacrifice of Antigone.
As previously mentioned, the role of the Chorus of Elders was kept low-key until the end. During the burgeoning, of the story, they sided with King Creon and his legal decree on anti-burials on those who are considered State traitors yet in the end they acknowledge the importance of morality over the legal tomes.
Their commentator-character role runs throughout in the story and at the end, it they, the Chorus of Elders, delivered the morale or the insight behind the story. The Wisdom, as they intentionally calls, was reflected on King Creon’s lament for his loss and his acknowledgement of Fate and the role of the Gods.
Man’s highest blessedness
In wisdom chiefly stands;
And in the things that touch upon the Gods,
’Tis best in word of deed
To shun unholy pride;
Great words of boasting bring great punishments;
And so to gray-haired age
Comes wisdom at the last.
Often times Antigone was exaggerated but the exaggeration depicts the striking differences between the characters. The ranking for wisdom is as follows: Antigone, Creon, Ismene, the Chorus of Elders, and. Haemon. Wisdom was the de-acknowledgement of pride but the story reflects more than just this statement. Wisdom is finding the balance between what is legally right and what is morally correct.
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Kitto, H. D. F. Greek Tragedy: a Literary Study. NY: Barnes ; Noble, 1961.