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7

,. Guide to Sophocles)
Creon's Lament

( 1284 - 1353 ]
'-----.
A Student Edition with Commentary, i

Grammatical Notes, & Vocabulary I


I IN
INTRODUCTION

THE FINAL portion of the play (for which Commentary and


Grammatical Notes are provided below), the focus is entirely on
~ing Creon..!'nd his responsibility for the corpse that he carries
(i.e .• his son's) and for the corpse that soon confronts him (i.e.,
his wife's). .
JOAN V. O'BRIEN Significantly, Cr. returns without An.'s body, and no one men-
tions her either in this final kommos or in the earlier scene when
the messenger reports the deaths of Hae. and An. The poet and
his characters enter into a remarkable conspiracy of silence about
An. during the last two episodes. The spectator has to infer that
the person who dies with Hae. is An. Only feminine modifiers
of a suppressed antecedent identify the second victim as An. (1221
ff.). And the audience is left to surmise that her body suffers the
Southern Illinois University Press same indignity as her brother's. Such is the supreme irony in a
play whose whole action grows out of An.'s refusal to leave her
CARBONDALE AND EDWARDSVILLE brother's body unburied. She lies at play's end in a climate of
total neglect. I
What led the poet to allow this strange neglect? What madc
FejJer & Simons; Inc. him focus all eyes on Cr.'s disintegration instead of alternating
the focus as he did in the first three quarters of the play? I suggest
LoNDON AND AMSTERDAM that the poet's ironic imagination" induced him 'to take the gam-

114
~~\~
c 's Lament (~'"e~' ~'n-t';
-rno-v~ , Guide to Sophocles' ANTIGONE I
ble-a successful one, 1 believe-!.hat the inspiration of the heroine
favors that sense. Yet, this is admittedly against the n
would dominate the conclusion despite his characters' utter neglect . . . onnal Ii
of her body, her memory, and the principle for which she died. . .
reading of the line. Soph. avails himself of the ambigu't I Y of I
rtIt

The gamble succeeds because An.'s integrity in her catastrophe gu a (J


ge An. IS freely taking herself
.
away-these gJJard. 'h
. aVe no
'Ill. \

is continuously heightened in the spectator's imagination by its power over her-and yet there IS a transcendent power th AS
contrast with the ki?g's unmasking. Both An. and Cr. suffer ,<r.
. I h . b
She knows that In one very rea sense s_ e IS eing led aw ay S
at d.....
Y;
OIJ
..II1~e...
I~

catastrophe that entails external event and internal despair. It is ~ s~\~'" is led away by that power she alludes to in her last line (t;;, 'nurbj""t
sebisiisa, "revering reverence," 943)· The final movement to I<:~
in their respective manners of coping with their .despair that~ \ ~ r~c..\;:S
wholeness inspires, whereas his emptiness mere,iy instructs and c.... \V":;l recovery seems to have come from those very gods whose aid .""
evokes the sympathy one reserves for a moral midget. could not feel (9 23- 24).
<Cr. too faces cat~l~ophe as external event an~ as inner dCllpair,
In the case of An., her brother's rotting body elkits from her
When the seerTireslas threats finall enetrate hIS ar bm
the act which results in her living death, entombment in "the
lie c (1095 ff.). The man has no inner resources with which
ever-guard.ing prison" (892?(fnt~rnal.despairfollows external event. (\ rt-I one. to meet the subsequent assaults of his son's bestial death and hi.
She expenences that terrible isolation of one with no .external nil
support: famil~ ?ead,. Ism., rejected, fiance silent, finally even the oj'<-
wife's accusatory suicide)Stripped of all the trappings of om",
j \if and deserted by his bombastic rhetoric, he stands there naked.
assurance of divine aid withdrawn. This final dark night brings
one of T. S. Eliot's "hollow men." Some critics argue th~
her to the depths of despair out of which she achieves what Kierke-
gaard calls "the_movement of infinite resignation'?(937-c43)'
pities the man because-~e has at last .shown his humanity. If 10. rt,ul"\
it is mankind's empty SIde that he displays, the tendency in all ,-,'
r
o city of my fathers in the land of Thebes or;;; to bury authentic human possibilities under the death 1l1;U~
a ancestral gods! of inauthentic pome,.
I go forth now and brook no more delay. ""'So, Hae.'s metaphor of the writing tablet which, when opened.
Look at me, you princes of Thebes, . devoid of contents (707-9) becomes the perfect symbol for hi.
IS ' , II
Observe the last daughter of the king's household. father. We have seen its aptness in Cr.'s relationshIp with -rae.
Sec what I suffer-and from whose hands- and ;;"ith his nieces (see .Intro., chap. 5). Why does It apply til
because I revered reverence! his other relationships? Precisely, I believe, because his words, and
actions, throughout the play have shown him to be so ~CVOI~ IIf I1de.
She has regained her pride in the fullness and integrity of her the human dimension extolled in the Ode on Man. 1 he Clio. IY
being. She does not exemplify the eternal feminine figure who boasted there that Man has taught himself the tempe.r that make- on
foregoes the political for the human and religious. She is the true . . ( - 56) ThIS crowns h.. Nl
communal hfe possible asrynomous orgas, 355- . ' h h \,!Q(\
citizen. male or female, whose phil;a leads her to sec and perform At&· other achievements over the animal world (34 1 ~.).\Dyt Cr. ~
hi " th lorics of communI ~
her moral duty despite the consequences. She is in charge of her reversed the direction. Far from ac ievrng e g h 'IY ; fOI'l
own destiny and yet submissive to the greater power of the gods. life he has destroyed the fundamental balance between umam
The line "I go forth now and brook no more delay" (939) elucidates and the animal. His inhumane neglect ~f th~ putrif~~~~:r~:
this. The usual translation of this line ("I am, led forth now and gives domination back to the carrion-eatmg blrdslM sied
am no longer (merely) about to be led away") docs not convey . ib f bi d "( f) as the Cho. sugge .
"ensnare the nimble tn e o rr s 34 2.,
the ambiguity inherent in the sentence. Commentators take ago/hoi but birds mangle the remains of a :nan., . . h the divine
dl in its normal passive sense but it can also have a middle sense: So it is hardly surprising that hIS relatIOnshIp ":It. I 0 awry-
"I go away." The second half of the line, with its proud assertion, , . ' f Delphi IS a s
world in the person of Tireslas, the pnest 0 '

II6
. 's Lamen l - ...
0VIllf arns him that he has sinned, Cr. responds with ,~ ')
......... Ihe ICer dWI charges of bribery that he used earlier (294 ~r \O"S
.. ~,. groun e55 d d h d' ~ , c.. Guide 10 Sophocles' ANTIGONE I
Iht .. rne b tious guard. He caul not en ure t e guar s ~\
1.1 apilU~ 'I~di~:~ to his edict; still less can he face the priest's So
..... of dl,? I both cases, with arms flailing, he reduces a ing corpse" greatly illuminates the tragic grandeur of the dead,
un buried heroine.
...,od<rnna~lOn. nonent into a greedy assailant. Delphi is no less
~1.meaJ1lnghoP~rdinary citizen. And as if to dramatize that point, \.. is
.......pl lhan t e .I h b . 1 if Z eus ' I.I\V.,u'
• , he prticst that he wil prevent t e. una even I
II< ",om k lift the remains to the Olym Ian throne (1039-43)'~ . 118
"'llid ICC ,to cycle is complete. If h umamty . .IS measured , as th e l . . ~\ , 1'1 e.S~
u:·1'le, dicates by one's relationships with the animal world e.-'1'f
()dtonJ"anm ,
..,d wilh divinity, but especially with one's fellowmen, Cr.'s tablet i ,

.. d<",id of contents.) .
'" Therefore, even Cr.'s admission of guilt lacks the promise of
w beginning. Emptiness cannot grow. It can only direct the
~I lOr's thoughts back to its opposite, i.e., to the heroine's phi/ia.
r :annat evoke "the pity and fear" that Aristotle required of
a l.-gic character. Instead, he comes the closest of any major
SofdlOcican character to exemplifying Aristotle's extremely bad
man who proceeds from happiness to misery, a structure which
may arouse sympathy ·(to philanthrapon) in us but neither pity nor
rw (Portirs 1453al-4)·
---rhu, Soph.'s structural technique is paratactical, his method
oonieally antithetical. The diptych arrangement allows him in a
r"" .ho,t scenes to depict authentic human conviction, nobly ac- ~ 0~
cepung its own autonomy within a structure of faith; this alongside 'J)~
rbe IClS tense, less interesting unveiling of the inauthentic king. ~I'" ~s-f'"'oJl"
"Anenrion must be paid" to the Willy Lomamand the Creons.
o;
~
rei Soph. docs not, like Arthur Miller, make Cr. his tragic figure
or cenicrpiece.i' Rather, the assignment of almost half of the play
'o,the unmasking of the kings illusions is the poet's sardonic re-
~lIndcr that life is like that: the ironic faith of life's tragic heroes
II. rare and, he suggests, brief experience that escapes the notice
~ the prosaic. Far more of life'is concerned with the sardonic
UOny embodied in the Creons. The young man in Eliot's Family
Rn""on speaks to life's Creons: "Yau are all people to whom nothing
hu happened, at most a continual impact of external events." The
plaYWright understood that the revelation of the non tragic "breath-

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