Sophocles, one of the most notable Greek playwrights during the ancient times, wrote Antigone. It is a tragedy about Antigone following the death of Oedipus. Antigone continues the story after the conclusion of Aeschylus’ Seven against Thebes and, therefore, contributes to the story and legend of Thebes. The story of Antigone begins after her brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, die in a war between the two for the throne ownership. After the deaths of Eteocles and Polyneices, Creon rose as the new king of Thebes. According to Creon, Eteocles was the rightful ruler and could have been the king of Thebes if it were not for his death, while Polyneices was erroneous in claiming the throne. Thus, as a punishment to Polyneices, his body was not going to be granted with a proper burial. However, Antigone, Polyneices’ and Eteocles’ sister, wanted to bury Polyeneices’ body properly. She asked for her sister Ismene’s help, but she refused, because burying Polyneices’ body would be against the edict of Creon. Antigone was not discouraged.
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When Creon found out that Polyneices’ body was buried, he sent out the sentry to find out who was responsible for the burial. The sentry then returned with Antigone. Creon questioned her and Antigone told him the truth, that she was indeed responsible for Polyneices’ burial. At first, Creon decides that the only suitable punishment for Antigone’s sin was death. However, his son, Haemon, pled him to spare Antigone’s and Ismene’s lives. In the end, Creon decided not to punish Ismene, for she did not help her sister in burying Polyneices, but he ordered Antigone to be banished in a cave. However, a blind seer warned Creon that the body of Polyneices must have been buried and that Antigone must have been freed. If that did not happen, the sage warned, one of Creon’s sons would die, and everyone in Thebes would lose respect for him, and the Gods would abandon Creon and Thebes. Threatened by the Tiresias’ warnings, Creon ordered Polyneices’ body to be buried and Antigone to be freed from the cave. However, after Polyneices’ body was buried, Creon and his wife, Eurydice, learnt that Antigone killed herself by hanging, and when their son Haemon saw Antigone’s body, he committed suicide either. Desperate because of the loss of their child, Eurydice kills herself too.
Sophocles’ Antigone is praised primarily for the play’s portrayal of Ancient Greek culture and history. According to historians and literature scholars, many of the practices, depicted in the play, represented Ancient Greek culture. During those times, traitors were not properly buried as punishment for their wrongdoings during life (Goff 131). Aside from burial practices, the play also highlights the important role that prophets and seers played during those times. Prophets and seers served as advisers to the kings. Claiming that the gods whispered to them their plans and desires, they communicated that information to the kings. On the part of the kings, they should have followed the orders of the gods because if they did not, similar to Creon, they would be punished. For this reason, the Ancient Greeks are considered a significantly religious nation. The Ancient Greeks believed that disobeying the gods would bear bad consequences on their lives and families. In order to please their gods, they made sacrifices or offerings (Kent-Drury 81).
Aside from the Ancient Greek culture representation in Sophocles’ Antigone,historians and scholars are also discussing the play because of some inconsistencies regarding the story. According to critics, Antigone could not have been able to bury her brother Polyneices alone. For this reason, critics insist that the gods must have helped Antigone bury his brother. Scholars, like Reinhardt, believe that during the burial, there was divine assistance enabling Antigone to bury her brother (Parry 104). An even more urgent matter of debate among scholars is the two burials done in the play. The first burial was done by Antigone alone, which later on caused Creon to banish her in a cave. Later on, when Creon was warned by Tiresias that the gods would kill his son if he did not permit the burial of Polyneices and did not free Antigone, Creon ordered for the second burial of Polyneices. Many critics debate over this; some say that the double burial is merely a mistake on Sophocles’ part, while others debate that the two burials serve a purpose of the story.
According to Bloom (86), the two burials symbolize two different aspects in the play. The first burial represents the religious practice and tradition of burying a dead body for the peace of the family’s mind. On the other hand, the second burial is used to create drama. In a way, Bloom (86) insists that Sophocles created a reason for Antigone to be caught or that Antigone wanted to be caught so that she could defend her brother in front of the king. Thus, Antigone’s stubbornness in returning to the king creates the error or flaw in her character. Kirkwood (70), on the other hand, explicates the role of the two burials in the play clearly. According to Kirkwood (70), Sophocles used the first burial in the play to depict Antigone’s defiant character. Therefore, the first burial is essential for character building. As a result, Antigone may be introduced as a morally upright person and her defiance proves this trait. Moreover, when Antigone was captured by Creon, she questioned the king’s morality. For this reason, the first burial was used as an instrument to create drama and intensity that would bring to light the flaws of the king.
The second burial, on the other hand, illustrates the religious and cultural representations in the story. Creon ordered the second burial of Polyneices, which shows the king’s fear of the gods and what they might do to his family if he disobeys. Although there are many discussions about the two burials in Sophocles’ Antigone and what those two elements represent in the story, one should be more concerned about the significance of the play in studying culture, history, and literature. Sophocles’ contributions to literature should be of the top priority, discussed in academic circles, and how the story of Antigone resonates in modern literature, including its relevance in today’s world.
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