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Guide to Sophocles)

Creon's First Speech and the

Reply of the Chorus
A Student Edition with Commentary,

Grammatical Notes, & Vocabulary (161- 2 1 4J


JOAN V. O'BRIEN .l\. ITER THE IRONICALLY Joyful entrance of the Cho. singing and
dancing their hymn to Dionvsos celebrating the king's victory over

Sam'"- 6; b. Q.w-d
the seven Argive invaders and especially over the dead traitor
,4,-hc\e.. )L Polymces, the king enters to give his inaugural address to the elders.
0. s, -f" r Ar+ io, Ll, I 3) The audience immediately perceives that his priorities differ from
those of his niece: the./?Q1i.: and not ll! his guiding principle.
It.{ Still, in one important respect, there seems to be a family resem-
blance: he, like she, radiates self-confidence or perhaps arrogance.
Southern Illinois Uniuersity Press It IS difficult at first to determine which of the two qualities It


e. 0(;
We shall note here some of the ways C:.'s style reveals the
man In this first speech and shall try to ascertain how the Athenian

Fejfer & Simons, Inc.

~,. o.rt-, audience would :ea~t to his s:ated. principles.
..yhIS There is one significant stylistic linkage between uncle and ruece
and that is in their mutual penchant for the first person pronoun.
LoNDON AND AMSTERDAM After the bond between the sisters is ent midway through the
Prologue, An. discards the duals and s eaks with a predominating
ego. The slyle is highly irregular for a woman, let alone so young
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Guide /0 Sophocles' ANTIGONE / Creon '.< First Speech and the Reply uf the Chorus

a girl, and it g-IVCS the appearance of arrogance. The Icing's initial when she advised Ism, to proceed on her course and keep her ship
sratcmcru, on the other hand, displays appropriate pietv: tlmn, Ihe ):.S"""stralght (83). Such counsel in effect consigned the girl to Cr.'s ship.
gnds, arc the first subject I Iii2). !lut thcy are only the grammatical Although the ship of state is Cr.'s favorite figure' and straight
subject, one s""n realizes: the real suhject is egl) (164) and remains sailing his goal (see "Vocabulary," chap.B, underorlhoJ and related
so throughollt. Sj ucc the kin~'s professed purpose is to lay down words), the figure has a much more pregnant usage in the play
general norms for his rule, this emphasis on the first person requires a whole. ]n the musings of the Cha., the sea is a constant symbol
some manipulauon. Hc consistent ly manipulates the language so 0Wf'J both of man's resourcefulness ancl of the limIts of that re-
as to stress the fact that the remarks are his and to subordinate ~ sourcefulness ('360 n.). Man's daring makes him victorious over
thc Iact thaI they arc principles worthy of consideration (19 1 , the sea (334 ff.), but the swelling sea driven by, the Thracian winds
20 7- 10 ) . T'lus ma nj pu lation verges 00 the blasphemous at one point creates chaos, churrung up the dark mud from the ocean ADO!".
1184) when the gramrna t icul struct ure of the sentcnce subordinates engul fing Innocent and guilty al ikc (586-92). Such is the destructive
Zeus 10 him. The focus thus split between the king's principle power of aii, "disaster," as the Cho. reminds us in thc foreboding
and hIS ego results In a somewhat confused present aucn of his rhythms of the second stasirnon." In addition, the youthful Hae.
rules of conduct. Yet, the initial confusion seems understandable \{\:l5 and the aRcd seer T'iresla<: both try 10 vain to warn the king that
In a ncw long anxious to establish hIS authority. 'the sustained ~of~-r. hIS narrow conception of naVigation will be lata: only the flexible
pontifical tone, however, is inclined to remind the thoughtful lis- 't\,' pilot will survive (710-18; cl. 994). In the unifying Image at the
tencr of An.'s earlier IIlsinuation about the king's autocratic bent cnd of the play, the king finally cnes out: "Oh, inexorable harbor
fill· sc. ~ Hades, why, oh why, have you destroyed me now?" !I 284-85 . rOil'
In other respects, Cr.'s style differs sharply from that of his A~ and n.). In the light of that final goal, the terrible ~ of Cr.'s) •
niece. The "Ionl( rolling sentences, thc weighty rhythms, the gran- aphorism in thIS speech IS fully revealed: "One cannot fully know
diloquern usc of plurals show power conscious of itself." j But there \ the nature, spIrit, and Judgment of a man until he proves hImself
are other revealing aspecls of his style: his addiction to sententious C) , in the administration of the laws" (175-77). It is only In the light
statements of principle, valid enough in themselves, but rigidly, !(tl~ of that final goal that one .,ercelves just how superficial the similari-
even ruthlesslv applied to the case of hIS nephew; and his pompous I ties between unele and nicce were: her ap.,arent arrogance In the
generalities (17B, 182) 209) that put him on a level with the platitu- \ I Prologue masks a deep conviction that her cause is just; his self
di nous Ruar~, 10 the ne~t scene." Such a.presentatlon may initially x): c,~ confidence rests onl1' on the tenuous strength of his ~ (see
dazzle the eho. and IIn.,r"s the audIence, but the thoughtful_lIln~\ 34 8 n.).
IlStencr gradllally perceIves that the long IS attempting to cover r~ l\leS So much for the style of the man. What about the substance
up the baSIC IJ1sccuntics of "a weak man, used In taking second. t..c-vfJ of his argument? How would the Athenian audience react to Cr.ts
plac".n Thebes."" (rICp\a.ce. .Cl ".wit-\" ( .' ;+ 'b0otil'>~) I\'IS i nomos, his law and guiding principle, that the straight sailing of
!-lIS main means 01 concealing thiS l~lsecur~ty IS the in:age _he . \1f\lJ the polis transcends all personal ~onside:~t1on (T 78 ff.)? It w~s: of
proJects of Illmsclf as the helmsman stralghtcllIng aocl redIrecting 50.1 !/or course, a commonplace of Athenian political thought that friend-
the shIp of state. He has personally steadicd the storm-tossed ship fIIe;l-o.P. ship and family love can only exist in a healthy polis. Indeed, Cr.'s
and can contain any futurc tempests by hIS straight sailing. His words here find an echo in Thucydides' account of Pericles' famous
use of the nautIcal metaphor IS the first sustained figure 111 thc Funeral Oration (Thucvdides 2. 60); and the king in Euripides'
play and it is.clear that his goal is straight and upright navigation \ . e Medea (written a decade later) almost agrees with Cr.-but with
of the-._state (163-90), a goal that .he intends to achieve at any As
D.OII1C. one Important reservation: his children mean more to him than
~(bhh-67)· An., we bcgln to realize, knew her uncle quite well j..>"",-tv the state (Medea 329). We know, too, that Dernosrhenes, a century

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Cuuie to Salihue/cs' ANTtGONE / Creon's First Speech and the RclJiy q! the Chm ,

later, found this whole speech cxcmpl arv of pruper official conduct clean corpus: HO O not let your violent hatred blind you to trample
since he quoted it as a corrective against Acschincs." justice under fool. He was my most bitter enemy .. yet you
Thus the klllg's prindplc S('Cn1:i theoretically sound. It is in would be unjust if you dishonor him. For you would not wrong
his rigid application of the theory to the stinking corpse of his him but the laws of the gods (taus thriin lIomaus)."
nephcw that thc playwright Icads the audience to question the The concern of Odysseus here (Ajax 1332 H.) and the concern
regal position. The Athenians admired the flexibility of Pericles! that the poet makes the audience feci throughout the An. i~
p<llitical performance. Cr.'s rigidity and brutality foreshadow the \ the corpse'::; legal rights so much as outrage at the degrading,
tactics of Pericles' Sll(TCSSOr Clean who "had a vulgar mind, acute i'f'r,e,fI'(!,' inhumane treatment of the dead (see 29-30, 199 206, 410 t z,
in a second-rate manner, wn hout Intelligence or humanity. : 697-98, 1016-22, 1039 44, 1080-83, 1198). So, although Cr., the
It was not Ills [Joli('), that was dangerous it was his character. king. had responsibilities different from those of Cr., the nearest
In such hands any policy would ~o wrong." 7 A few facts male relative to the deceased, thiS first speech reveals Cr. the king
from Athenian political hl!llor , its burial customs and the oet's RimpervtOu::; to the dutie!'i of Cr. t~e kinsman. 1 he king's conscious
ear ler p <IV, tlC 1./f1X. will shed light on the judgment SORh. was \rtJ'c\,J repetition of, the idea of «cQm~.6_? blood," twic~ in a fe~ lines
Icading the audicncc to make.: S",p h o C
.-'e.s' tJ,. J2.. vn e. ()~o"
S (19
8- 20 1) points to a fundamental Irony hiS pOSItIOn: he IS both
\ \. First of all, Soph. and his audience were breathing the clear \.:. ,...," aware of Polynlces' neglect of hIS kin and IS blindly repeatlOg
\~~L(}.- )air of tree Athens at the pinnacle of her civilization after their e.,.f'" Polynice:->l pattern. This insensitivity to human concerns, especially
~1) \(,[).,ov older brot hcrs had died at Marathon to defend the freedom of to blood concerns, culminates in the episode with his son whose
po..v·J the i ndivtdua l aga mst the tyranny of the Invading forces of the very name denotes "Blood" (see 658 n.). But in this first speech
Pcrsi an despot. At this ln-n-f moment 111 Athenian history, there the rejection of blood-rights is only implied. The audience would
was a dialectical tC'O!'iiOI1 between mclividu al and cornmuu nv , wuh see a rigidity out of step with the concern for burial that impelled
the scale tlppl11g toward the' i ndivrdual. Although Pericles was to the Athenians at Marathon to bury the Persian enemy (Pausamas
urge the Athenians to have a love nffair with their city (Thucydidcs t • :J2. 5); and they would not, to our knowledge, recall any Athenian
2. 4:l. f) and although tlus love demanded g-reat sacrifice, the very precedent for such defamation of the traitor's corpse (the closest
base of the love affair was the respect for the ri,~hts of the mdividual. parallel in Hellenic records is denial of burial Within Aurea, in
Such was no! the case in coutem porar)" Sparta where CI".'::; pri nci ples Xenophon Hell auca i . 7. 22).
~()~and netruns would have parallels in political pracucc." Pcrhap::; - ",'Still, the only sign of disapproval the Cho. registers IS contained
'i:o\. only at Athcn::; and only dunng tht" Periclean age CQuid the Au thor" s ~.~ the tiny partIcles PO" ge, "1 su prose." Wi th these monosyllables,
().. '~It.- \YI have bcen written. The legend that Soph. died rehearsing the All." -c 6\>~~rthey heSitantly suggest their reluctance, while acknowledging the
-1", 6'0\~ may, if true, reflect his tragic realization that the creative tension vJ'IP- king's power (kratas) to carry out hiS ruthless decree: "It IS withm
'r\,s I between IJflhf and person had already gone slack In the forty Inter- your /Jower, I suppose (fIOU gel, to legislate for us all, both hying
verung years.
and dead" (213-14). The timid Cho. lacks the courage to say more.
Soph.ts own concern for the individual's religious anel human Q...
The untranslatable gc by throwing the emphasis on the word
nght of burial was not nrw In 4-42 or 441 when he wrote this , -\'\~~ "power" is their pathettc suggestion that power does not make
play. In the las: scene or his earlier Ajax, Odysseus, bitter enemy "::,S ~J \YI it right.
01 the dead AJaX, eloquently rejects the decision of the sceptered ~& Thus An.ts passion and rigid adherence to her beliefs in the
Atrcidac to expose Ajax's body as "rood fur the sea-birds." His ~'cY!:"-/ Prologue is followed by the authoritative address of the new king
rebuttal to their decision has long been recognized as the best .~t. With its own principles rigidly and sententiously presented. Soon
commentary on the central act of the All. anywhere in the Sopho-\pv'1 . \ the two antagonists will meet in heated confrontation (441 ff.).
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