I’m gonna go ahead and just put forth that at times I can have a slightly morbid sense of humor. (Roald Dahl, anyone? The funniest parts of his books are the parts during which people die. I don’t even know.)
This having been said, in 10th grade when I first read Antigone, I thought I was the most hilarious thing ever. (If you’ve read Antigone, you’ll realize why this is odd.) If you haven’t read Antigone, spoiler alert, but there’s rather a lot of suicide. It’s Sophocles, what did you expect.
I’m not exactly sure what I missed at the age of fourteen, but as I was at one of my most cynical ages, I immediately dismissed the main heroine of the play as overdramatic and ridiculous. “Oh, I want to die; in fact, your method of dying is taking too long! I’m just going to hang myself on my veil instead.”
—note to self for later: does Antigone rob herself of her honor by committing suicide instead of being executed… Though she was going to be executed later? And is it notable that she kills herself in the same manner as her mother does? (Probably not, seeing as Oedipus Rex was actually written after Antigone.)
I see much more in my rereading; in setting aside my cynicism (and looking at the play from an angle of intellectualism instead of mockery as well as keeping in mind how much I loved Oedipus Rex) I finally understand Antigone – and I don’t know what to make of her! She is quite the character. I can’t decide if I like her or not. One sees her as a type of Achilles, aspiring after honor & nobility above all via the path of family loyalty. She makes a martyr of herself in an attempt to repair the family honor ruined by her traitorous brother (and perhaps her accidentally incestuous father? This puzzles me – does Antigone do what she does out of love for her family or does she really think she can restore honor? Given the actions of Oedipus I don’t really think that’s possible in any way). She wants to die and she wants her deeds proclaimed not because she’s the main character of a soap opera, but because she wants the honor that comes from her deeds. The question is begged: if a girl buries her brother contrary to the law and no one is around to see it, does it make an impact? By courageously proclaiming and defending her actions, Antigone wins for herself outrage and support of the people of Thebes. No one remembers that her brother was a traitor, just that Creon ordered him to decay ignobly and Antigone risked her life to honor him as was proper in the eyes of the gods. But… Does this make her likeable? Not that it’s necessary for a main character to be likeable (I feel like that’s an argument that people usually feel the need to make for The Catcher in the Rye, but I actually love Holden… I’m probably just weird), but I’m definitely my terms poorly – it’s more that I can’t decide if she’s morally correct in her actions/of good character. Her actions reek of selfishness to me… Perhaps it’s because of my modern mindset, but she does seem to be making rather a large fuss over something she said was for the sake of the dead and not those still living. Her family loyalty obviously doesn’t extend very far – or, actually, extends too far. She completely rejects Ismene as a sister when Ismene doesn’t assist her in burying her brother. (Will die for her brother when he turns traitor to the city but completely disavows her sister for not breaking the law, even though she is willing to face the consequences beside Antigone? How much of this complete lack of loyalty to country is due to the fact that she believes Thebes to have wronged her father and ruined her family?) However, Isemene intrigues me probably the most of any character in the play… She’s not the Anti-Antigone, but… Almost the midpoint of the two extremes? The combination of the two loyalties and two moralities set opposite each other in the play.
But I don’t know. I wonder if I’ll ever figure it out; right now I’ll be content with the fact that I’m not treating it as a comedy anymore. 😉
If this post makes absolutely zero sense, I apologize, I wrote the vast majority of it at 3 AM last night. (I couldn’t sleep.) Rereading it, it’s almost an internal monologue of my sleep-deprived brain attempting to riddle out Greek tragedy. My life, ladies and gentlemen. 😛
Thanks for reading & best wishes,