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Social Issues and Gender in Sophocles Antigone

Social Issues and Gender in Sophocles Antigone

This paper will look at problems presented by Sophocles in his book Antigone. It will then analyze the tree women characters in the play.

The play Antigone presents social issues that have over the years reflected the political landscape in the Greek city states. The ancient Greek city states had important ideals that shaped the lives and destinies of its citizens. They also adapted new ideals centered on religion, science and governance. The Greeks favored a government that was ruled by people in place of Monarchy. The city states practiced patriotism, freedom of religion and believed in help of humanity. More often than not, these ideals have clashed in special ways that are reflected in the play Antigone and the political changes as discussed in this paper.

Antigone is a play written by Sophocles during the period of transition in the Greek city states. The epical conflicts between Antigone and Creon are as a result of the conflicting ideals. Whereas Antigone embodied religious beliefs and respect for the dead, Creon stood for science and believed the rule of law. The ideals of Antigone, backed up by her action, clashed with those of Creon. Antigone felt that she had heaven bound moral duties to bury her brother, Polynices and felt that Creon is ignoring his responsibility to the gods. In respect to this Sophocles quoted saying that she did not think that his edict was strong enough to overrule the unalterable laws of God and heaven, he being only a mere human (654). This clearly showed that she supported the gods and the assumption that if someone is not buried properly, that person would not go to heaven. She therefore personalizes Creon’s degree when she said that it was against her and Ismene that Creon made his order (31). The democratic Greek city states sought to clearly define the mandate of the king in respect to the individual freedom. The conflict between Creon and Antigone meant that city states should examine the extend of patriotism and religious intolerance.

Another ideal among the Greek city states was the belief that religious believes were not under the obligations of the government. This meant that the government was not to interfere with individual religious beliefs and practices. In this regard, Antigone was under religious obligations to bury her brother and according to her, Creon had no powers to deny Polynices a decent burial. As a result, she disobeyed Creon’s order leading to her death. There should be separation between religion and governance.

The issue of honor and pride is very important to the Greeks city states. According to Segal (1999) the leaders are expected to guard the cities by living above personal convictions (132). When Creon decreed that she must die, Antigone exclaimed that she become Creon’s prisoner because she honored the things that honor truly belonged (1022). This implied that Creon was not honorable. Furthermore, the decision about this decree and capture of Antigone lacked the backing of the majority and was not administrative. Therefore Greek cities are keen to avoid an abuse of power by taking tasks to personal level. They have since initiated system of checks to moderate the power of the leaders.

Patriotism which entails the defending of the Greek city states and was the responsibility of all citizens led by kings. All citizens had a moral obligation to defend the state and Creon exemplifies this proposition. The chorus in Sophocles’ Antigone stated that there was nothing beyond power of men (76). Creon was a believer in the good of man and to him this came before even the gods. Creon therefore, declared no man who was his country’s enemy should call himself his friend (77) He therefore refused the burial of his own brother as a way to show respect to Thebes. Polynices was alleged to have attempted to invade and conquer the city of Thebes and to Creon, he did not deserve the honor of the city state. To this effect, Creon’s acts are justifiable and supported by the ideals of patriotism. His plain desire was to protect the state. The results of his action made Greek city states to examine the issue of betrayal and penalties involved.

Additionally, Greeks city states believed that the population would be free from any form of oppression to include political and religious oppressions. However, Creon betrayed this belief by holding Antigone a prisoner in a cave and decreeing that Polynices should not receive decent burial. The general population sympathized with Antigone and secretly admired her heroic acts. This can be exemplified by Haemon’s comments that represented the will of the people when he said “On every side I hear voices of pity for this poor girl doomed to the cruelest death…for an honorable action-burying a brother who was killed in battle…has she not rather earned a crown of gold” (Sophocles 145). Creon was an autocratic ruler who disregarded the will of the majority. To the city states, absolute domination of political power was not allowed. Creon denied Antigone freedom of religion by interfering with burial ceremony.

The conflicting ideals would act as lessons for the Greek city states to draw from. Both Antigone and Creon had cases for their decisions. Antigone was acting in defense of her religious obligations while Creon was acting in defend of the state. It is rational to think that religious matters should not override state functions. However, individuals within the states have their freedom of worship. At the end of the play, the chorus gave a clue to the solution of this moral dilemma by convincing Creon to free Antigone. This meant that changes might be tough but one has to make a decision. At the end, the deaths of Antigone, Haemon and Megareus acted as a lesson to the Greek city states to be rational in judgment. Antigone is defiant even in death as she says “It was by this service to your dear body, Polynices, I earned the punishment which now I suffer, and though all good people know it was for your honor”(Sophocles 150).This shows that she was very faithful to her course.

Portrayal of women in Sophocles Antigone

In Sophocles’ play Antigone; women are portrayed in three distinct ways that include; the traditional woman, the non-traditional woman and the moderate woman. Antigone is the embodiment of the strong-willed women; Ismene is portrayed as submissive whereas Creons wife, Eurydice is the moderate woman. The personalities and choices of each of the women portrayed in the text affected the course of events regarding the characters involved. Antigone and Eurydice share some traits whereas Ismene is a direct contrast of any of those.

Whereas Antigone is portrayed as daring and bold enough to face Creon and his imposed laws, Ismene is reserved. Antigone hardly fears Creon and his weaknesses as she openly defied the law. Surprisingly, she is even ready to face the consequences of her acts. Greene (487) quoted that Antigone was not ready to deny her action as she said “yes I confess; I will not deny my deed” (198). When confronted by Creon over her participation in the burial of Polynices, Ismene responded, that if Antigone said so, she did ( 564). She is also brave and strong willed even though she is not consistent.

Eurydice is weaker than Antigone even though not much has been told about her. She was obedient to her husband and faithfully stood by him to the bitter end. She was also in support of his decisions until Creon’s actions led to Haemon committing suicide that went crazy. The loss of her son is so disturbing that she also committed suicide. She is brave enough to commit suicide just like Antigone.

Antigone defied gender roles for women by showing acts of bravery and her death in a way is a sacrifice for the oppressed women. Her act of defying the authority gained nationalistic magnitude as she was highly regarded by the population for her bravery. She died for a course she believed in. On the other hand, Eurydice killed herself because someone else had died. This makes her death less significant. It is clear from her death that her bond with Hameon is even stronger than that with Creon. The second messenger recounted her death when he reported that the queen was dead and that she was a true mother of the dead son. The chorus in the play is keen to observe that “yes, you go to a place where the dead are hidden but you go with distinction and praise… it was your own choice, one among mankind you will descend” in reference to Antigone’s death (Green 878-884 pp 213). Antigone gives her precious life for the safety of her brother in the underworld.

On the contrary Ismene is submissive to the authority and she hardly showed any bravery. She is portrayed as a subordinate woman, a role that is normally played by traditional women when she advised Antigone against her decision to burry Polynices “you ought to realize that we are only women, not meant in nature to fight against men (Greene 98 pp 184).

As far as love for the family is concerned, Antigone, Ismene and Eurydice share much in common. They all love their families even though some may not publically declare so. Family is the course of death of Antigone and Eurydice. Antigone takes her life to reconcile with the dead members of her family whereas Ismene is fearful of the authority. Ismene is not ready to take her life fearing the punishment meted on anybody trying to burry Polydices. Antigone tells her that “justice will not allow you what you have refused and I will have none of your partnership.”(Greene 592 pp. 202).

The female characters in Sophocles Antigone have displayed contrasting behaviors. Their actions defined their fate in the text. Both Antigone and Eurydice die while Ismene survived at the end of the text.

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