Book Review: Antigone

antigone

Theater geeks are over two thousand years old, yet back in Ancient Greece they were considered cool. Electronics were nonexistent, and books weren't commonplace. Theater was an event that even the guy with best togas or the fastest chariot attended. Sophocles probably got more buzz as a playwright than J.J. Abrams does as a director.

Sophocles wrote the three Theban plays, a collection that has survived centuries, and for good reason. One of the plays, Antigone, follows the struggle of a young woman as she battles her city's leader (who is also her uncle) about war practices, disobedience to the law, and ultimately capital punishment.

What it's about

Serious family drama. Antigone is the main character, who is first seen talking with her sister Ismene. The audience learn that their brothers fought over who would inherit control of their city Thebes. Eteocles fought with the city's army while Polynices tried to bring a foreign army in to take over and give him control. In the end, they both killed each other and Antigone's uncle Creon took control.

Since Polynices betrayed his city, Creon did not allow him to receive a proper burial. Yet Antigone is more devoted to her sibling than her city, and she defies the decree and buries her brother herself (gross but considerate). When Creon discovers Antigone is behind the secret burial, she doesn't deny his inquiry. The two soon get in some heated arguments where neither will retract their stubborn stance on what is right.

Creon pretty much has all the power in this situation, and despite pleas from his son (who is also Antigone's cousin/fiancé), the ruler will not back down. Here a situation of government vs. religion ensues. The Greeks in the play (and in the audience of that time) believe that the gods want everyone to have a proper burial. Creon, however, is a little too into his power and will not resist. Antigone will also not back down, believing that what she did was correct despite the law. Both are prideful, which eventually brings about their downfalls.

Eventually after a lot of people begging him to stop, Creon finally listens to Tiresias, a blind prophet who scares the tyrant with stories of how he'll be smited. Worried about himself and the condition of the city that he rules, Creon agrees to back down.

Too late! Antigone has killed herself to avoid execution, and Creon's son and wife subsequently take their lives too. This leaves Creon with almost no family left, and his agony makes him regretful and distraught.

Your favorite part will be

Even 2500 years ago, people had unbearable relatives. Antigone finds her sister Ismene to be a coward for not helping her bury her brother, and Creon now not only being the patriarch but also the ruler of the city, thinks he can intimidate Antigone into doing what he decrees. Really the only unfamiliar behavior - it was no biggie to marry your cousin.

The cause-y angles

Human Rights

  • The audience member is challenged with deciding whether or not a person who betrays his city should be offered the right to a proper burial.
  • Antigone believes that the law violates her deceased brother's rights, and she disobeys based on that strong belief. The law is not immune to error, and the reader must decide whether Antigone was correct in this situation.
  • Creon threatens those who defy him with capital punishment. And when Antigone makes him mad, he escalates the punishment to walling her up in a tomb while she's still alive.
  • Antigone has no trial regarding her crime. She confesses, and Creon simply determines her fate.

Tyranny

  • Thankfully we vote in America, so we can avoid this family drama. Creon is so affected by his pride and the authority of his position that he doesn't back down from his sentence of death for his own niece. Only upon the advice of Tiresias, who scares him with stories of the gods smiting him, that he selfishly rethinks his stance.

Women's Rights

  • Antigone is no damsel in distress. She thinks for herself and stands up to those who believe she disobeyed foolishly, even if they are men. One might even wonder why Creon inherited the throne since Antigone is the direct descendent of the former king.