While researching texts about Sophocles’ “Antigone”, I found three articles that discussed the historical significance of the story. These articles explored various themes in the story. They explain how Antigone’s past experiences are still relevant in the present. My goal in this paper is to discuss the historical context of the story with regard to its timeless significance.
To achieve this goal, I have organized my paper into three sections and four subsections. In the first section, I give a brief introduction about Sophocles’ “Antigone”. In the second section, I outline three elements that link the story to the present. I explain the reasons that prompt Antigone to defy her king. I discuss Antigone’s actions with regard to present day societies. I end my paper with a third section which explains the timeless themes that are evident in the story.
An understanding of history usually elucidates the present. Antigone’s story is still relevant in the present. Sophocles writes about a fictional king named Oedipus, who rules the city of Thebes (Anouilh 17).
Oedipus is banished from Thebes because he has inadvertently committed incest (Woodruff 92). He has two sons named Polyneices and Eteocles (Braun 62). He also has a daughter named Antigone (Woodruff 22).
After Oedipus is banished, Eteocles banishes his older brother and claims the throne. Polyneices leaves Thebes with plans to overthrow his sibling (Braun 137). He returns and attacks the city with the help of his newfound military. Polyneices and Eteocles kill each other in the midst of the onslaught (Braun 148). Creon, a despot, is later crowned king of Thebes (Woodruff 160).
Creon decrees that Eteocles will be remembered as a hero while his brother will rot in disgrace (Braun 128). Creon is the antagonist in of the story (Woodruff 14). He is a ruthless leader. He can be described as a dictator. His penalty for disobedience is death. Antigone defies Creon by planning to give Polyneices a proper burial (Braun 142).
Sophocles’ opinions about war are evident when the two brothers kill each other in the story (Woodruff 140). Sophocles believes that in war, there are no victories. When countries go to war, every side expects to have casualties. Lives are lost for the sake of petty squabbles. Antigone is also a casualty of war (Anouilh 134). She loses both of her brothers to a conflict that could have easily been resolved.
Oedipus represents a failed state (Woodruff 129). He was the king of Thebes. He failed to meet the standards of his people. He was therefore banished shortly after he blinded himself for the atrocities he had committed. He also ruled his father’s kingdom before discovering that he had committed an act of patricide (Braun 31).
Many political leaders have been destroyed by mistakes that they made in the past. For example, a certain Italian minister was accused o having sex with an underage prostitute. Like Oedipus, his statesmen have lost faith in him. His integrity has been compromised.
Freedom of Expression
One of the political elements evident in the story is freedom of expression. Antigone intends to bury her brother in a dignified manner. Creon represents an oppressive regime (Braun 92). He plans to have her punished because her actions are akin to civil disobedience (Woodruff 152).
Creon justifies his cruelty by regarding Polyneices as an enemy of the state (Braun 147). In the present, Polyneices would be regarded as a traitor and a domestic terrorist. Attacking Thebes may be termed as an act of treason (Woodruff 67). However, his sister’s compassion for him is not an act of treason. It is an act of love and honor. Antigone believes in the gods of her people (Anouilh 24). She defies her king because she believes that her actions are justified. She is even willing to die in the name of honor.
Antigone is a symbol of martyrdom (Braun 167). She is willing to die for her beliefs. She believes that she must honor her brother. Creon represents an autocratic government (Woodruff 150). Antigone’s actions drive Creon mad (Anouilh 45). He accuses Antigone’s younger sister, Ismene of committing the same offence (Braun 178). Ismene confesses to burying her brother despite the fact that she was not involved (Woodruff 192).
Ismene’s selfless actions represent family ties. She is willing to die for her sister. Shortly after her confession, Creon discovers the truth. He orders his men to bury Antigone alive in a cave while sparing her sister (Anouilh 67). Creon’s subjects notice a change in his behavior. They assume that he is a lunatic. His son, Haemon is appalled by his actions (Braun 90). Antigone’s simple act of compassion leads to the fall of an empire (Anouilh 78).
Antigone invokes Theban law by stating that Creon’s actions are dishonorable (Braun 126). Antigone’s defiance rallies the people of Thebes (Anouilh 97). Some scholars have argued that Antigone represents the feminist movement (Anouilh 142). She is strong and compassionate. She defies an oppressive king. She also inspires the people of Thebes (Woodruff 165). Sophocles’ story is timeless (Braun 174). It elucidates the present.
Anouilh, Jean. Antigone. Chicago: Illinois, 2004. Print.
Braun, Richard. Antigone: Greek Tragedy in New Translations. New York: New York,
Woodruff, Paul. Antigone. Los Angeles: California, 2001. Print.