The Bucket List Book Adventure: Book Nine - Antigone


Dear Henry,

Book Nine, Sophocles's Antigone, of the Bucket List Book Adventure (read about that here), is done! Let me tell you all about it.

Sophocles wrote Antigone around 441 BC and performed at the Festival of Dionysus that same year. It is the second oldest (Ajax is the oldest) of Sophocles's surviving plays. It was written 35 years before Oedipus at Colonus, which covers the events immediately preceding the ones in Antigone.

The play begins in the women's quarters at the castle at Thebes. Antigone and Ismene could not prevent the civil war, and their brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, are dead. Their uncle, Creon, is now the king of Thebes.  Also in the women's quarters is the nurse and Creon's wife, Eurydice.

After sending the nurse out, Antigone and Ismene talk about the deaths of the brothers and how Eteocles was buried in state by their uncle Creon but their other brother Polynices was left unburied for the animals and has issued a death sentence to anyone who does. Antigone cannot abide by this and tells Ismene of her plans to bury her brother. He does this in the middle of the night, and in preparation for the discovery of her illegal act, Antigone, who is also betrothed to Creon's son Haemon, tells him that she can't be his wife.

The first guard comes to report the burial to Creon, who tries to keep the matter hidden and orders the body to be disinterred, and the issue is kept silent. However, the first guard later apprehends Antigone trying to rebury her brother and perform libations. 

The first guard brings Antigone to Creon, who begs her to leave the matter alone, get married, and be a good wife. Antigone says no. Creon tries to explain that both her brothers were evil and he only buried the prettiest one to settle the civil war with the city, and Antigone says that it doesn't matter; it is wrong to leave her brother unburied, and she won't do it. She dictates a letter to Haemon and then is placed, alive, in a tomb.  

This is, of course, unnatural. The world's order is completely upset by having a living body in a tomb and a dead body out of one. Creon is now cursed.  

And the curse takes place quickly. First, there is a cry from the tomb, and when the stones are removed, Creon discovers not only the body of Antigone, who has hung herself, but also the body of his son Haemon, who had come to the tomb to late to rescue Antigone, and so had fallen on his sword. The body count increases when Eurydice, hearing of her son's death, cuts her throat. 

This play hit a nerve because of my work with the Old Lick Cemetery and subsequent philosophical meanderings into St. Joseph of Arimathea. I admire Antigone's insistence on burying her brother. 

While Antigone acted differently from what was expected of a Greek woman then (Ismene is an example of the ideal Greek woman), Sophocles addressed universal rights and wrongs with this play. Using a woman, he created a scene that made Creon and his actions look more dishonorable. Unlike Oedipus, who was an unwitting participant in a wrong, Creon directly affronted the natural order of things.

Next is Sophocles's play Philoctetes and a return to the events of the Trojan War. I let you know my thoughts soon.

xoxo a.d. elliott 


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

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