[For anyone who regularly reads this blog (are there such persons? :)) I should explain that from time to time I’ll be writing posts on particular texts as part of teaching in the Arts One program. Students are blogging about these texts, and when I have time, I will do so too. You can see blog posts from students in my small group here, and blogs from all Arts One students at the Arts One Digital site.]
I have this vague feeling that I’ve taught Antigone in Arts One before, but I can’t find any notes on it, which makes me think perhaps I haven’t. But it seems much more familiar to me than it would be if I hadn’t read it since I was in university. Perhaps that’s because I have taught Oedipus Rex in Arts One, many times. There are some similarities, of course–attempting to go against some kind of rules/laws (in Oedipus Rex, Oedipus (as well as other characters) tries to avoid doing what the gods say he will do), a ruler being too sure of himself to back down until it’s too late, Teiresias saying what’s really the case but the ruler not listening to him (until it’s too late), the wife of the ruler committing suicide, the ruler falling from power and glory to despair (though arguably, it’s worse in Oedipus’ case than in Kreon’s, given what O. has done).
There are numerous things I could write/talk about in regards to Antigone, but the one I want do discuss briefly here is her determination to be alone. She begins the play trying to enlist the help of her sister, Ismene, but when Ismene refuses to help Antigone says, “Leave me alone, with my hopeless scheme” (p. 25, line 120). And for the rest of the play, she seems determined to be alone.
Ismene attempts to share her suffering later on, and Antigone refuses. Antigone insists that she is friendless, that no one will mourn her (p. 54, line 996; p. 55, line 1025)–but Ismene is already mourning her before she dies, and what about Haimon? Why does she assume he won’t mourn her? Antigone also insists that “there is no one I love who sighs over me” (p. 55, line 1030), which seems to indicate that if others are upset at losing her, will “sigh” over her, she doesn’t love them. Similarly, she states, “with those I love gone,/I go alone and desolate” (p. 56, lines 1074-1075). Then there is, of course, that notorious line mentioned in lecture: Antigone claims to be “the last daughter of the house of your kings” (p. 57, line 1096).
Antigone seems determined to be alone, to bemoan how alone she is, even though there are those who love her that are left. Perhaps it is simply that she is angry with Ismene for refusing to help, and thus she is disowning her in some sense. And perhaps she was somehow pressured (by her brothers?) into marrying Haimon, given that that might help her family retain their claim to the throne (a guess, really), but maybe she didn’t care for him herself. But she makes such a show of being alone, claims it publicly, insists that no one will mourn her, that I wonder if something else might be going on.
She also claims to be an “exile,” a “stranger” in some sense (p. 54, line 1000; p. 56, line 1048), and Kreon makes a similar statement (p. 55, line 1039). I think this is likely related to her insistence on being alone. So maybe if we could figure out in what sense she is an exile/stranger, maybe we could shed some light on why she is so bent on being alone and proclaiming this to the world. There are several possibilities for how/why she’s an exile…I’m curious to hear what others think in class!
Oh, and there’s something, too, about how Polyneices was alone, unmourned in death (until Antigone buried him) and Antigone claims the same for herself–she’s making an explicit connection between Polyneices and herself, it seems. But what significance might this have? I’m still thinking about it!