ring to the individual as “the head of so-and-so.” hi the first Hnernof Sophocles’ Antigone, the heroine calls upon her sister Ismene,rnsaying literally, “Oh common self-sister head of Ismene,”rnwhich Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones (in his recent Loeb edition) Englishesrnas “My own sister Ismene, linked to myself” Althoughrnthe word “head” is used to indicate the person of Ismene, therntwo sisters are verbally linked to a degree that would be difficultrnin English, and throughout this great tragedy, Sophocles laysrngreat stress on the common identity of the two sisters with theirrntwo brothers and with their entire lineage.rnThe plot of the play is simple enough. King Oedipus ofrnThebes, who inadvertently killed his father and marriedrnhis mother, left behind four children: the daughters, Ismenernand Antigone, and the sons, Eteoeles and Polynices, who quarreledrnover power and precedence. Expelled from Thebes, a disgruntledrnPolynices recruits an army of champions and attacksrnhis nati’e city in a vain attempt to recover his power.rnThe brothers kill each other in battle, and the new ruler,rntheir maternal uncle Creon, orders that the body of Polynicesrnbe left unburied and unmourned on pain of death. Polynices’rnsister Antigone is caught sprinkling dust on the body. Broughtrnto Creon, she confesses her “crime” and is condemned to bernburied alive in a cave. Wlien her fiance, Creon’s son Haemon,rnattempts to intercede for her, he is rebuffed and goes off to joinrnAntigone in death. The prophet Teiresias, who warns Creon ofrnhis folly, is accused of taking bribes; but on second thought,rnCreon orders the burial of Polynices and rushes off to preventrnthe death of Antigone only to find his son weeping over therndead girl, who has hanged herself /fter attacking his father,rnHaemon turns the sword upon himself Creon’s wife, hearingrnthe news, kills herself, leaving her husband to reflect on the vicissitudesrnof human life.rnFew ancient nrasterpieces have been revived and discussedrnmore often than the Antigone, and few have been more distortedrnin the process. The play has been viewed as a contest betweenrnreligion and the state, women and men, the individualrnand society. During World War II, Jean Anouih composed arnFrench version in which Antigone obviously represents Francernin resistance and Creon is the Nazi tyrant. But most such interpretations,rnwhile valid up to a point, overlook certain facts ofrnlife (both ancient and modern) that are essential to any comprehensivernunderstanding of the play.rnThe crucial problem o{Antigone is the burial of Polynices; Itrnis the family’s religious duty to bury a dead member, whateverrnhe might have done. An enemy of the city remains a memberrnof the family, and unless the social order is actually threatened,rnit can never be a good thing for a child to treat a parent wiffi disrespectrnor inform the authorities of his brother’s bad habits. AsrnAntigone tells Creon, “There is no shame in showing regard forrnthose of one’s own stock.” Creon asks her if doing honor to herrntraitor-brother is not an insult to Eteoeles, who defended hisrncountr)’, and when Antigone tells him that the god of the deadrndemands it, Creon insists that the good and the bad are notrnequally deserving.rnAntigone, speaking as a believer, explains to her uncle thatrnno one knows what the gods of the dead think is honorable.rnCreon, thinking as a statesman, insists; “An enemy is never arnfriend, even when he is dead,” which sounds sensible enough,rnuntil Antigone goes to the heart of ffie question, which is the dutyrnof blood: “I was born not to share in hatred but in love”—thatrnis, it is part of the human condition to care for those we are relatedrnto.rnCreon exemplifies the political leader who understands everythingrnunder the sun except the power of love and the meaningrnof death. In the end, his arrogance costs him his entire family.rnAntigone’s ease is also hard. Her brother, admittedly,rnbecame an enemy of the people, and he could not have beenrnan easy man to “love.” But this young girl’s love is not a merelyrnemotional attachment: It is an unseen umbilical cord that tiesrnher to all her family, dead as well as living. Since all the malernheirs of Oedipus are dead, it is up to the elder daughter to dischargernthe family’s functions in life and death. Such “heiresses”rnin Athens were typically married off to uncles or cousins tornpreserve the lineage and property. (In this sense, it is perfectlyrnnatural that she is engaged to Haemon, whatever the two mightrnthink of each other.) Although she is a very brave girl—her actionsrnwould be heroic even in a man—her defiance of the rulerrnis not an expression of her individual will but of her commitmentrnto her family. Paradoxically, it is the strength of that commitmentrnthat impels her to an act of individual heroism.rnThe intellectual heart of the play is the so-called “ode onrnman” celebrating the accomplishments of the human race andrnwarning against human presmnption. Playing on the wordrndeinos (which means “exciting wonder and terror” but also,rnwhen used of people, can mean “good at” doing something) thernchorus tells us that there are many wonderful/terrible things onrnearth, but none is more wonderful/terrible/skillftd than man.rnHuman skills, they sing, have invented devices with whichrnthey have tamed the beasts, and in inventing society, man hasrnproved himself to be “all-resourcefid”: It is only death’s kingdomrnthat he approaches without resources. The meaning isrnclear: Creon, in putting his trust in human skill, fails to realizernthat human ambition is limited by the gods of the dead. Thernpoint is driven home:rnSkillful beyond hope is the contrivance of his art, and hernadvances sometimes to evil, at other times to good.rnWlien he applies the laws of the earth and the justice therngods have sworn to uphold he is high in the city; outcastrnfrom the cit) is he with whom the ignoble consorts forrnthe sake of gain [i.e., his individual advancement].rnSo long as man continues to see himself in the context of hisrncommunity’, he prospers, but if he tries to set himself above therntraditional prejudices and superstitious reverence of his people,rnhe will, like Creon, destroy everything.rnThis play of Sophocles is not “about” individualism; what isrnstriking is not so much what he says about self-will and communityrnas the social and moral attitudes that are taken for grantedrnboth in the Antigone and in other Attic tragedies.rnThe conflicts between loyalties —loyalty to kin, loyaltv torncomnumity, loyalti,’ to the gods — are the constant theme ofrnCreek literature in its “Golden Age.” The strain of attachmentrnwas a reflection of Creek social life in places where the polis wasrngrowing at the expense of elans and kindreds. During the samernperiod. Creek religion was subject to great stress from rationalizingrnphilosophers like Pericles’ friend, Anaxagoras, who taughtrnthat the sun was a hot metallic ball and explained away prodigiesrnon a naturalistic basis. In Homer’s day, human motivationsrnwere inextricably entwined in the divine, and it was not possiblernto conceive of man except, in some sense, as a projection orrnplaything of the gods. By the time of Aeschylus and Sophocles,rnhowever, hun)an nature is in the forefront but not to be under-rnOCTOBER 1999/11rnrnrn