Antigone by Sophocles is a real masterpiece of the ancient Greek tragedy. It represents the life and the customs, as well as the morals and the manners of the whole society. The story is based on the conflict of agency and inaction both in and out of the characters’ mind, which is the main topic of the tragedy. This work is aimed at finding the way that agency and inactions are reflected, and the purpose of the author’s decision to demonstrate it.
The tragedy begins with the depiction of the dialogue of the two sisters, Antigone and Ismene. These people embody two different lifestyles that are peculiar to the other characters of the play. However, in order to understand them in a proper way, it is worth reviewing their destiny and personal characteristics. Antigone and Ismene were the daughters of the King Oedipus, who had two sons, Polyneices and Eteocles. Oedipus and his wife committed suicide, because
Unspeakable, horror of son an mother mingling: Their crime, infection of all our family! (Sophocles 695-697).
The destiny of Polyneices and Eteocles is also tragic, because they killed each other in the struggle. Fracticide was forbidden by the law; in addition, Eteocles died fighting for the sovereignty of Thebes on the side of king Creon, while Polineices was the outcast aimed at destroying the city and leaving the king Creon without power. After the brothers killed each other and the Thebes remained independent and unconquered, the King Creon wanted to punish Polyneices. According to the Greek customs, the body of the dead person should be buried by covering with dust and accompanied to the world of gods by sorrow and tears. As Creon decided to dishonor Polyneices’ soul, he created the law that forbade to bury Polineices according to the ceremony, mentioned above:
No one shall burry him, no one mourn for him, But this body must lie in the fields, a sweet treasure For carrion birds to find as they search for food. (Sophocles, 20-23).
The law stated that Polyneices was the betrayer, whose remains should have been torn apart by dogs and birds. Antigone could not follow the law, because she loved her brother and wanted him to be buried as am honored man. Therefore, Antigone met Ismene at night before the palace’s gates to inform her sister in the desire to perpetrate Creone’s edict and bury their brother, Polyneices. The conversation between the two sisters demonstrates the essence of these people, as one of them was strong enough to follow her duties given by the gods by violating Creon’s law. Antigone explained her plans and their purpose to Ismene, who disagreed and wanted to prevent Antigone from the violation of the law. Antigone was so unhappy because of the death of her family members that she did not wanted to stay alive. Life did not attract her, as she was so disappointed with her destiny that she did not appreciate her life and agreed to die, but to follow her principles. She did not confirm Creon’s idea about dishonoring Polyneices and did not want to be passive. Antigone interpreted passiveness and indifference towards Polyneices’ funeral as disrespect and betrayal for their family:
And now you can prove what you are: A true sister, or a traitor to your family (26-27, Sophocles).
That is why Antigone preferred agency to inaction by violating the law, even though Creon’s edict was not enough to stand in her way. On the contrary, Ismene had another position towards the dilemma:
And do what he has forbidden! We are only women, We cannot fight with men, Antigone! The law is strong, we must give in to the law In this thing, and in worse. I beg the Dead To forgive me, but I am helpless: I must yield To those in authority. And I think it is dangerous business To be always meddling (Sophocles 45-50).
It is obvious that Ismene was the person, who was inactive and conservative. However, it is worth mentioning that Ismene was not coward, who wanted to betray her own family in order to survive. Her passiveness is a reaction on stress and sufferings that she was experiencing all her life. She felt helpless, powerless, and weak. In addition, she worried about Antigone’s life; therefore, she wanted to be calm and obey the laws. However, she had these views until Antigone was put to death. Ismene wanted to die together with Antigone, because she loved her and wanted to share her destiny. While Antigone followed agency, Ismena was not as brave as her sister to pull through the interests of the public, even if it contradicted the will of gods. Ismene was so scared that she wanted to minimize her interaction with the community and be the silent patient. She did not tell anybody about the plans of her sister and did not really want to participate in this crime. Ismene did not want to try impossible things, while Antigone was ready to gain success in making impossible things come true.
According to Charles, another theme of Antigone is person’s desire to reject the decisions of the state (1983). Antigone’s agency embraced her attitude towards the society and its leaders, including Creon. Antigone reflected her desire to be free, active, and independent from the rules of the majority (Charles). Unfortunately, not everybody had the same views and Ismena’s decision was especially painful to Antigone. The will of the king was the ruling argument during the history of Thebes, only the criminals could violate it.
Haimon, Creon’s son and Antigone’s fiancée, stends on the position of agency. His behavior is well-considered and determined. When he first talked to Creon, he demonstrated the preference of inaction, because he stated that son should have always obeyed his father, as father was the closest person ever. Nevertheless, Haimon started to insist that his father should have listened to the advices of other people:
Nothing is closer to me than your happiness. What could be closer? Must not any son Value his father’s fortune as his father does his? I beg you, do not be unchangeable: Do not believe that you alone can be right. The man who thinks that, The man who maintains that only he has the power To reason correctly, the gift to speak, to soul–– A man like that, when you know him, turns out empty (Sophocles 560-570).
Haimon wanted to persuade his father in Antigone’s innocence. He wanted to make Creon believe that his decisions are not always perfect and right; therefore, the destiny of Antigone deserves detailed re-considering. Haimon is as brave as Antigone is, because he is not afraid to contradict his father’s will by protecting Antigone. He loved Antigone and was not indifferent and inactive towards her life – the row with Creon confirms it. Haimon was even blamed for betraying Creon, but he did not stop fighting for his woman and opinion. Creon was so angry that he wanted Antigone to be put to death before the eyes of his son. Haimon did not obey his father even when the destiny of his bride was almost decided. When nothing could be changed, Haimon still refused to follow Creon. He did not want to live without Antigone, which provoked agency in him. When he saw Antigone dead, he made his choice and killed himself with the sword:
She had made a noose of her fine linen veil And hanged herself. Haimon lay beside hers, His arms about her waist, lamenting her, His love lost under ground, crying out That his father has stolen her away from him. When Creon saw him the tears rushed to his eyes And he called to him: “What have you done, child? Speak to me. What are you thinking that makes your eyes so stranger? O my son, my son, I come to you on my knees!” But Haimon spat in his face. He said not a word, Staring–– And suddenly drew his sword And lunged. Creon shrank back, the blade missed; and the boy, Desperate against himself , drove it half its length Into his own side, and fell. And as he died He gathered Antigone close in his arms again. Choking, his blood bright red on her white cheek. And now he lies dead with the dead, and she is his At last, his bride in the houses of the dead (Sophocle 960-975).
In this scene, both Haimon and Creon demonstrate agency instead of inaction. They experience powerful feelings, even if the feelings are grief. Euridice, Haimon’s mother and Creon’s wife, was not inactive, as she preferred death to life without her son. This woman did not obey the destiny’s will, but made her own choice and committed suicide. Essentially, this decision should not be praised; however, it was her reaction on the life circumstances, among which she was not passive.
Most of the characters of the play are agents, as they demonstrate active position that reflects their personal opinion. Some characters, including Teiresias, are not afraid to insist on their rightness and contradict Creon’s will:
These are no trifles! Think: all men make mistakes, But a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, And repairs the evil. The only crime is pride. Give in to the dead man, then: do not fight with a corpse–– What glory is it to kill a man who is dead? Think, I beg you: It is for your own good that I speak as I do. You should be able to yield for your own good. (Sophocles 805-810).
Teiresias managed to prove Creon that he has made a big mistake and should change his ways. After Creon had realized the wrongness of his conduct, he was not inactive, but rushed to Antigone and Heimon in order to conceal Antigone’s sentence. He wanted to do his best in order to save the innocent lives, but he failed. Creon’s and other character’s agency is made of their emotions and moods, which change according to the new circumstances. The characters try to change the situation if they are not satisfied with it.
Antigone implies realistic perspective, which is widely spread in the modern world. This realistic perspective includes inaction, which is inherent in the characteristics of the majority. When the population of Thebes knew about Antigone’s actions, she was not judged. The population of Thebes was afraid to disobey Creon; therefore, they did not protect Antigone at once. She said:
All these men here would praise me Were their lips not frozen shut with fear of you (Sophocles 398-400).
Antigone also added that people approved her behavior, but they were keeping their tongues in leash. Moreover, the ending of the play represents the views, which approve Antigone’s behavior. Haimon and Teiresias try to prove Creon that Antigone should not be put to death, as she followed the will of gods and morality.
In conclusion, Antigone is a main character, which embodies agency, independence, and courage. Most of the play’s characters prefer agency to inactiveness, as they are depicted as strong, wise, and not indifferent people. Sophocles put his heroes, especially Antigone, as the example for other people, who doubt in the choice between inactivity and agency in the daily life.