Antigone Essay / by Academy Monthly

In Sophocles’s play Antigone, Antigone is a young woman sentenced to death after breaking the law of Thebes by burying her brother, Polynices. Her rash actions and desire for attention lead to the death of many others as her own end creates a ripple effect that results in a gruesome tragedy. Antigone’s demise was ultimately a result of her own careless actions as her passionate impulsivity for oikos, desire for glory, and yearning for death influenced her decisions towards placing her own needs before the laws of Thebes. Despite her strong passion and martyrdom, Antigone’s motives are not ones that are admirable as they stem from and are spurred on by her own egotistical desires. Her lack of submissiveness, differing from the norm in an unexpected but not necessarily negative manner, both as a woman and as a citizen of the law creates a sense of bewilderment that challenges the extent of Greek society’s norms and the expectations of someone in her position.

    Antigone has a diverging perspective on the traditional hierarchy of priorities as she places the needs of oikos before those of the state, which eventually results in her death; her blind passion and loyalty puts a strain on the rigidness of the polis, as well as weakening her own personal relationships and sense of self. Her dedication to her family is illustrated as she states, “Death longs for the same rites for all,” as she believes the gods will support her for doing the proper thing of an honorary burial for her brother, even if it comes at the cost of her own death (188). Antigone is coming from the hierarchy with oikos at its apex, viewing Eteocles and Polynices both as deserving a honorary burial with rites. On the other hand, Creon has the opposing view, seeing the polis as superior, with Polynices as a traitor and Eteocles as a brave warrior who defended the state with immense honor. Their perspectives clearly create a web of conflict that progresses into more advanced stages of the play as Antigone decides to take action for her family’s well-being against the state. She justifies her unlawful actions by saying, “But mother and father both lost in the halls of Death, no brother could ever spring to light again,” holding oikos to be of great importance as she is passionate in honoring her deceased relatives (211). Having another brother is an impossibility, so she holds Polynices to an extremely venerated and sacred position. Believing she is protecting Polynices in the underworld as well as during this lifetime, Antigone’s unquenchable thirst to protect her brother is motivated by the fact that he is now irreplaceable, as they are without any parents to extend their family further. Seeing her own death as honoring the dead, her stubborn mindset of extreme zealousness carries on the tradition of burying her family members with the same respect that she herself desires.  Although Antigone’s values differ from the classic hierarchy of needs, she is seen as a family-oriented daughter who is determined to bring her relatives into the afterlife properly with honor; however, her dedication to oikos is overshadowed with the selfishness that precedes it as the motivation behind her actions. 

Antigone’s hamartia is her hubris and relentless pursuit of glory; her need for recognition and attention spurs her on to act impulsively in order to obtain the gratitude she so desperately craves. In an rather direct fashion, Antigone reveals her true desires as she exclaims, “Give me glory! What greater glory could I win than to give my own brother decent burial ?”(187). In this egocentric manner, she manages to make her own brother’s demise more about herself rather than focusing on the recent tragedy. By using the gods as her scapegoat and excuse for attempting to gain the respect of others, Antigone’s core motive is revealed: a lasting reputation as someone who died valiantly for a justified cause. She desires this very recognition so desperately that she is willing to sacrifice almost anything, demonstrated through her brash and extreme actions and words. In a moment of epiphany, Antigone realizes that her impulsive actions were all in vain: “Your own blind will, your passion has destroyed you… no loved one mourns my death (104)”. This is her anagnorisis as Antigone herself comprehends the fact that not a single person cares about her death. Since there is no one present to satisfy her need for attention, she dies with her hubris unsatisfied and the thought that her destiny was determined by her own stubbornness and excessive pride. Although Antigone’s efforts to bury Polynices prove successful, she attempts to portray it as honoring the oikos and the gods in order to mask her true intentions of glory and selfishness. Even though she succeeds in honoring her oikos, the laws of the polis were fragmented as her own careless deeds brought upon her the punishment she rightly deserved. 

Antigone’s perspective on life is in fact one centered around death. Throughout the play, it seems as though her ultimate wish is the final release from life as she lives recklessly in order to pursue that desire. Her hubris is once again revealed as she accepts her imminent death, almost embracing her own end: “And even if I die in the act, that death will be a glory… I have longer to please the dead than please the living here” (63). As she believes that her actions are venerating the gods, she trusts that she is going to lie with Polynices with honor in the afterlife, which is of more importance to her as it is longer than the duration above the ground. Willing to abandon her sister, Ismene alone without any existing family only further proves Antigone’s blind passion. With this mentality, Antigone’s actions do not have to be completely thought out as her own death is not a primary concern to her lifestyle. When Ismene tries to alleviate some of the punishment from Antigone, she is faced with hostility as Antigone rejects her offer, stating that she does not desire promising words over actual actions. Antigone’s dedication to dying is expressed repeatedly as she states her mindset with persistent yearning: “And if I am to die before my time I consider that a gain...I gave myself to death, long ago, so I might serve the dead”(82;88).  Mentioning all the grief Antigone has faced during her lifetime, her reasoning seems just; however, in actuality, she does not want Ismene to obtain the glory that she does not rightly deserve. This may seem like a selfless act on the surface, but it is selfish of her to crave all the glory for herself, even if it means giving her own life up. Depicting herself as so devotionally committed that she is basically married to death, Antigone states that she is living her life for death, which will be a sweet and inevitable relief from the immense grief she has faced during her lifetime. Antigone yields to her fatal hamartia, following through her words with extreme actions, which ultimately takes her own life as well as the ones around her.

Antigone’s demise was the final product of her own impulsive actions as her blind passion, immense hubris, and careless attitude towards life ultimately served as a motive to her selfish actions. As a result of her impulsive and brash decisions, Antigone’s punishment was rightly deserved. By breaking the law for her own selfish reasons, masked by the greater need of the gods and oikos, her motives for carrying through her actions are not ones that should be inspirational. Sophocles was able to create a complex character with whom the audience would have favored yet challenged. Because she was a woman, her influential actions were supposed to be nonexistent and suppressed by men, such as with Creon whose intentions were ultimately in vain. The characterization of Antigone attempts to dismantle the powerful prowess of the patriarchy, and succeeds at it as well because of the audience’s sympathy as they relate to her struggles. By victimizing Antigone, readers tend to overlook the fact that every action does have a consequence. When put to the test, people’s actions can waver as fear replaces their desire to defend what is vital to their own morals and ethics.