Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Antigone - Sophocles The Theban Plays

This is from the famous and tragic Antigone, the third of the Thebian PLays by Sophocles.

Antigone was one of the daughters of Oedipus who had been cursed by the gods due to his mistaken killing of his own father (the King of Thebes) and his subsequent marriage of his own mother and assumption of the throne of Thebes.

After the death of Oedipus, civil war broke out and a battle was waged in front of the 7th Gate of Thebes - the 2 sons of Oedipus led the opposing factions and at the height of the battle fought with each other taking each other's life. The brother of Oedipus, Creon, and uncle of Antigone was now the undisputed master of the city and resolving to make an example of the brother who had fought against him refused the right of honorable burial to Polynices. A penalty of death was promulgated against any who should defy this order and this order was accepted as lawful command of the ruler.

Antigone asked her sister Ismene if she would help her bury their brother Polynices. Antigone was distaughted, while the brother Eteocles has been buried in full honor of the state, Polynices had been left unburied, unwept, a feast of flesh for keen eyed carrion birds.

Antigone said to her sister Ismene: 'Now is the time to show whether or not you are worthy of your high blood.'

Ismene objected: 'You cannot bury him against the order.'

Ismene appeals to Antigone to realise and be realistic about their position. She appeals to Antigone to realise that she is but a woman and cannot move against the power of men.

Antigone releases her sister from the obligation but says that irrespective of the threat of death she will bury her brother: 'If I die for it what happens, I shall be content to die beside a brother whom I love ...live if you will, live, and defy the holiest laws of heaven.'

Her sister Ismene can only say: Go then, if you are determined, to your folly. But remember that those who love you ...love you still.

Creon is face with Antigone who was apprehended. Given the fact that Antigone was married to his son, Creon offers Antigone the opportunity to say she had not heard the law or had misunderstood the meaning.

CREON:
Now tell me, [Antigone], in a few words as you can,
Did you know the order forbidding such an act?

ANTIGONE:
I Knew it, naturally. It was plain enough.

CREON:
Any yet you dared to contravene it?

ANTIGONE:
Yes. That order did not come from God.
Justice, That dwells with the gods below, knows no such law.
I did not think your edicts strong enough
To overrule the unwritten unalterable laws of God and Heaven,
you being only a man.
They are not of yesterday, or today, but everlasting,
Though where they came from, none of us can tell.

Guilty of their transgression before God I cannot be,
For any man on earth,I knew that I should have to die, of course,
With or without your order.
If it be soon, So much the better.
Living in daily torment, As I do,
Who would not be glad to die?

This punishment will not be any pain,
Only if I had let my mother's son Lie there unburied,
Then I could not have borne it.
This I can bear. Does that seem foolish to you?
Or is it you that are foolish to judge me so?

CHORUS:
She shows her father's stubborn spirit: foolish
Not to give way when everything's against her.

ANTIGONE:
What greater honor could I wish? All these
Would say that what I did was honorable,
But fear locks up their lips. To speak and act
Just as he likes is a King's prerogative.

CREON:
You are wrong. None of my subjects thinks as you do.

ANTIGONE:
Yes sir, they do; but dare not tell you so.

ANTIGONE:
I was not a slave, but his brother, that died with him.

CREON: Attacking his country, while the other defended it.

ANTIGONE:
Even so, we have a duty to the dead.

CREON:
Not to give equal honor to good and bad.

ANTIGONE:
Who knows? In the country of the dead that may be the law.

CREON:
An enemy can't be a friend, even when dead.

ANTIGONE:
My way is to share my love, not to share my hate.

ANTIGONE TO ISMENE:
I love no friend whose love is only words.

ISMENE TO CREON:
The strongest mind cannot but break under misfortune's blow.
You could not take her - kill your own son's bride?

CREON:
Oh, there are other fields for him to plough.
No son of mine shall wed so vile a creature.

CHORUS:
Happy are they who know not the taste of evil.
From a house that heaven hath shaken
The curse departs not But falls upon all of the blood,
Like the restless surge of the sea when the dark storms drives
The black sand hurled from the deeps
And the Thracian gales boom down
On the echoing shore.

Roving ambition helps many a man to good,
And many it falsely lures to light desires,
Till failure trips them unaware, and they fall
On the fire that consumes them.
Well was it said, Evil seems good
To him who is doomed to suffer;
And short is the time before that suffering comes.


ENTERS HAEMON, CREON'S SON. (Antigone's husband)

CREON:
Son, you have heard, I think, our final judgment
Of your late betrothed. No angry words. I hope?

HAEMON:
I am your son, sir; by your wise decisions
My life is ruled, and them I shall always obey.
I cannot value any marriage tie
Above your own good guidance.

CREON:
Rightly said. Your father's will should have your heart's first place.
Only for this do fathers prays for sons
Obedient, loyal, ready to strike down
Their fathers' foes, and love their fathers' friends.
To the father of unprofitable sons
Is to be the father of sorrows, a laughing stock
To all one's enemies.

Do not be fooled, my son, By lust and the wiles of a woman.
You'll have bought Cold comfort if your wife's a worthless one.

No wound strikes deeper than love that is turned to hate.
This girl's an enemy; away with her,
And let her go and find a mate in Hades.

Once having caught her in a flagrant act
The one and only traitor in our state -
I cannot make myself a traitor too; So she must die.
Well may she prays a Zeus, The God of Family Love.

How, if I tolerate a traitor at home,
shall I rule those abroad?

HAEMON:
Father, there is nothing I can prize above
Your happiness and well-being. What greater good
Can a son desire? Can any father
Desire more from his son? Therefore I say,
Let not your first thought be your only thought.
Think if there cannot be some other way.

Surely to think your own the only wisdom,
And yours the only word, the only will,
Betrays a shallow spirit, an empty heart.

It is no weakness for the wisest man
To learn when he is wrong, know when to yield.

So father, pause, and put aside your anger.
I think, for what my young opinion's worth,
That, good as it is to have infallible wisdom,
Since this is rarely found, the next best thing
Is to be willing to listen to wise advice.

CREON:
Indeed! Am I to take lessons at my time of life
From a fellow of his age?

HAEMON:
No lesson you need be ashamed of.
It isn't a question of age, but of right and wrong.

CREON:
Would you call it right to admire an act of disobedience?

HAEMON:
Not if the act were also dishonorable.

CREON:
And was not this woman's action dishonorable?

HAEMON:
The people of Thebes thinks not.

CREON:
Since when do I take my orders from the people of Thebes?
I am King, and responsible to myself.

HAEMON:
A one-man state? What sort of a state is that?
You will be an excellent King - on a desert Island.

CREON:
You pleaded for her cause.

HAEMON:
No, yours and mine, and that of the gods of the dead.

CREON:
You'll never marry her this side of death.

HAEMON:
Then, if she dies, she does not die alone.
O father, I could call you mad, were you not my father.

CREON:
You don't toady me, boy; Keep that for your lady-love.
And what is more, by all the gods of heaven,
I'll make you sorry for your impudence.

CHORUS:
Where is the equal of love?
Where is the battle he cannot win,
The power he cannot outmatch?

Enter THERESIAS, the blind prophet, led by a boy.

THERESIAS:
All men fall into sin
But sinning, he is not for ever lost
Hapless and helpless, who can make amends
And has not set his face against repentance.
Only a fool is governed by self-will.

What prize outweighs the priceless worth of prudence?
What mischief matches the lack of it?
And there you speak of your own symptom.

It follows of necessity
From what you have done.
Even now the avenging Furies,
The hunters of Hell that follow and destroy,
Are lying in wait for you, and will have their prey,
When the evil you have worked for others falls on you.

The time has come, And soon,
When your house will be filled with the lamenta
Of men and of women; and every neighboring city
Will be goaded to fury against you,
For upon them Too the pollution falls when the dogs and vultures
Bring the defilement of blood to their hearths and altars.

You cannot escape
The sting of their sharpness.

Lead me home, my boy,
Let us leave him to vent his anger on younger ears,
Or school his mind and tongue to a milder mood
Than that which now possesses him. Lead on.

CREON:
It is true enough; and my heart is torn in two.
It is hard to give way, and hard to stand and abide
The coming of the curse.
Both ways are hard.

The ending was tragic. Haemon committed suicide. His mother heard of this also committed suicide.

The last word of Creon:
I learn in sorrow. Upon my head God has delivered this heavy punishment, has struck me down in the ways of wickedness, and trod my gladness under foot. Such is the bitter affliction of mortal man. I am nothing. I have no life. Lead me away...

CHORUS:
Of happiness the crown
And chiefest part
Is wisdom, and to hold
The gods in awe,
This is the law
That, seeing the stricken heart
Of pride brought down,
We learn when we are old.

EXEUNT.

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