Back to the notion of order

Saturday, June 11th, 2005

For the past couple of weeks in lit we’ve been talking a lot about the notion of order and chaos, taking I guess the Hegelian dialectical approach to clashing notions, an approach that goes pretty well with Antigone, Sophocles’ play. It’s not the end all of course. Nevertheless, the idea that something must be resolved in Antigone is palpable, and always relevant to contemporary politics and culture (the play always reads fresh because something about Antigone–her resolve, energy, and anger always touch a cord with the audience. Something must be resolved may appear dull || obvious, but in the play the fundamental notion that things are falling apart and must be stopped is central to the tragedy. What’s the problem, though, in the play? Why doesn’t Antigone simply accept Creon’s decision for Polyneices’ body? Why doesn’t he retract sooner than he does? Why does he react as he does in the first place? Why doesn’t Haemon kill Creon when he has the chance? And what about Ismene, who declines her sister’s request. Then again, why doesn’t anyone ask the question about Polyneices’ actions vs Eteocles’ choice to suspect transition of the right to rule?

If we take the sequence of events in the Oedipus cycle and consider (for limited time) the notion of fate as a force fluid in the plays, then the above questions become even more interesting to the underlying drama and to the general course of anagnorisis (revealing). The play is filled with powerful questions and incredible sense of “dramatic” telling.

But the original issue keeps coming back to me: something must be resolved. But what? More to come on this.

3 responses to “Back to the notion of order”

  1. Cindy says:

    We are currently in the process of reading The Oedipus Cycle for my Greek Literature class. I haven’t quite made it through Antigone as of yet, but when I do I will add some comments here I’m sure.

  2. Cindy says:

    Knowing that Sophocles wrote Antigone first helps shed some light on the message that is being shown in the play. It seems that Sophocles is commenting on the political situation of the times. Antigone wants to bury her brother Polyneices because she feels that Creon’s decision not to is “against the immortal unrecorded laws of God”. She is not referring to the gods (the Olympians), but rather her familial gods, her ancestors that are in the Underworld. Antigone seems to be fighting to keep things going the way of the old days, rising up and fighting against the “state”. In the version of The Oedipus Cycle that we have, the editors (Fitts and Fitzgerald) have commentary that states that they edited out parts of the play “only when it seemed absolutely necessary”. There is one part of the Oxford translation that they cut because it seems to make Antigone out to be rather petty, and not so much as the “hero” (which can be argued) of the play. She says,

    And yet, in the opinion of those who have just sentiments, I honoured you [Polyneices] aright. For neither, though I had been the mother of children, nor though my husband dying, had mouldered away, would I have undertaken this toil against the will of the citizens. On account of what law do I say this? There would have been another husband for me if the first dies, and if I lost my child there would have been another from another man! but my father and my mother being laid in the grave, it is impossible a brother should ever be born to me. On the principle of such a law, having preferred you, my brother, to all other considerations, I seemed to Creon to commit a sin, and to dare what was dreadful…

    What Antigone is saying in this omitted passage is that the only reason she wants to bury her brother is because since her parents are dead she will never have another sibling. This passage gives a totally different meaning to the rest of the play.

  3. Steve says:


    That xed out passage is indeed interesting. But I don’t read it as “petty” so much as out of character. Antigone, it would seem to me, expresses multiple reasons for her actions (yet are they contradictory?): glory, defiance, a commitment to the family and to the idea that the dead must be committed in proper fashion. Given that there was no “scriptural” model for her to work with, no “standardized religion” the subject of what is “proper” is always up for grabs and could be seen as a subject: how to, indeed, determine what is the proper path.