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Guide to Sophocles)

ANTIGONE The Creon-Haemon Debate

A Student Edition with Commentary)

Grammatical Notes) & Vocabulary INTRODUCTION

THIS SCENE IS indeed a debate. even anr:;;;iJa contest or struggle

for supremacy between rather and son.~. probably docs not
realize that this is a contest of wills until its disastrous conclusion
and surely does not wanl,itJo. But for Cr., the whole play is just
such an ngon. HisJ\~~~n:1 downfall is so total and ~o iliable

/3 because he values himsel r an at lcrs on y In terms of power. He

understands nothing of the complementarity of relationship that
Hac. and An. might have achieved were it not for his own weak
strength. The gentle but firm Hac. might have provided an adrnira-
ble balance for the strong passion of his intense spouse. The whole-
lJniversity Press ness of the androgynous An. and of the "gynccandrous" Hac. J
escapes his comprehension. Certainly, if anyone could reach the

uncomprehending king, it is his docile son. In fact, by disposition
and his unique r~ti,onsqt.g as spouse of one antagonist and son
of the other,2f hc'\ls ~g''\j'tsT\hopc of reconciliation between these
Feffer & Simons, Inc. intransigent personalities. The railun: of his v.iljant attempt is thus
the turning point in the pl'!Y.
~ LThree tJ~~emcs of the play are central to an understanding of
the struggle 10 this scene. They arc cmptiness vcrsus isolat ion, piety,
and obedience. The first two primarily continue Cr. 's struggle with
the absent An., while the third reflects as well upon the crnancipa-

Guide to Sophocles' ANTIGONE / The Creon-Haemon Debate

lion of the son from his father. An examination of these themes over the polis. Hae, counters: "You would be a fine monarch ruling ()
will show how Soph. unmasks Cr. qua human being in this scene L over a desert" (i.e.• an empty land, almls gls, 739). Hac. might \...~O
(Episode I already unmasked him qua king) and how the playwright A~s·. have called the land kenandrcs, empty of men. as Theseus did \)5
thus underlines the contrastin full humanity of the absent heroine. (Oedipus at ~alano: 917!, but his choice of An.'s word serves to A,J{,
The words krnos. "empty," and g1lomE. JU gmcnt, are In Ices \:. nreu Tl
contrast her ISolatIon WIth his. Hers, stems from the fu II ness of her
of Hac.ts changing altitude toward his father. Whereas Hae.'s love. Cr.'s from his emptiness. VO$o\...Of\""J
opening remarks contain the confident promise that he will follow The second theme. that of pietro is the subject of much of the
his father's good counsels (~namai 635). a short hundred lines later debate between father and son. and keeps recurring throughout
he characterizes those judgments as empty aphorisms, ken as gnomiis the play.s The theme is present from An.'s first mention of her
(735). Kenos was usually reserved for objects like houses or hands. act of holy criminality in the Prologue (74) until the last sentence
Thus. Ihe son's earlier fear' has become reality: Cr. is as hollow of the play (1350). The issues are sharpened and defined especially
3., a writing tablet that is opened up and found to be devoid of in this episode and in An.'s last speech. Earlier. Cr. Was obsessed
contents (709 and n.). When Cr. retorts that Hac. is the empty with equating religion with his acts as king. In this episode. his
one, devoid of wisdom (754). the spectator recognizes hollow rhet- desire for the mantle of piety surfaces again. How can he "reverence
oric. But Hac. shrinks from the realization: "If you Were not my the lawless" (730) and still reverence his Own kingly powers (744),
father." he pleads. "I would have said you were not wise" (755). he asks. Hae, tries to correct his father's error: "It is not reverence
The father then irrevocably breaks the family tie not so much to tr.ample on divine prerogatives" (745). The king's tyrannical
by calli~g him ."the woman's ch.att;),;'(.l.?:5.~)h~ by diab~lically respon:c reveals his legalistic and scrupulous conception of piety: 6
threatening to kill "the hat;.~l thl13g" (7'1fo)~tore hIS sons eyes. he decides to reduce the death penalty for An. to a living death,
The mild. conciliatory youtli"Fslh~s forced to the realization that providing her with enough food to relieve him of legal responsibility
there is no accommodation possible with a madman (765). His for her death (771-76). while still leaving her to the care of Hades.
last words. only slightly veIling his threat of suicide. are ironically "the only god she reveres" (777). In An.ts final speech, her own
couched in his father's vocabulary of physical sight. as though he painful grappling with her relation to the gods (see Intro., Chap.
still nurtured a residual hope of reaching the tyrant who had been 6) leaves the audience to judge the winner in the contest for piety.
his father. The thIrd theme. that of obedience and submission to authority
So the words kmos and gnoml reflect Hac.ts movement from reveals Hae.'s growth from his opening remarks to his final choice-
faith in his father and confidence that their differences can be of A~.·s principle instead of blind obedience to the king. In his
overcome to recognition of his father's vacuity. In the closing lines open,lng statement, his. submissiveness is almost but not quite ob-
of the play, even Cr. realizes when he calls himself a "cipher'(1 sequious (see 635-38 n.). In Bilingual Selections, I consider Hae.'s
no more than nOlhing" ('322), The tragedy, thus, docs not anif~n sensitive but mature conduct in this scene as he progresses from t/tUt.
J\?nihilate a great man but simply reveals a hollow rnan.? qualified obedience to a necessary rejedion of his father's immoraC
-r Another word for "empty" resonates througHout the play. It
Is erimos, "bereft," "isolated," and it is An.1s word for the spiritual
stance,7 But here I wish to examine obedience from the king's point
of View.
1\ (:r.. isolation that is the ironic outgrowth of her own loving act. Her In an elaborate double personification of obedience and anarchy
t:;\,,\,J\ decision to act on behalf of her philos, Polvnices, results. she later (67 2-7 6). Cr. lectures his son on the necessity for obedience as
\il\'l''J, realizes. in her being "bereft of loved ones" (almos pros phitan).· an antidote to anarchy. The two personified forces form a "frame-
\\)'>l However. in this scene, Hac. applies this word to his father in antit~esis" B around the passage in which the king contends that
Il'i\.~ one of his most effective rejoinders. When Cr. claims absolute power obedience to command (perth*arch'-a) preserves society whereas 'a!¢'-
., O'f\e.. ;r h~ .3-
sQjf.>I';;Qli"'~ ~ Crw~s 'le.mf1 ntss i 5 J;-ffe~(\l
ll 75
Guide Co Sophocles' ANTIGONE / The Creon-Haanon Debate
lessnCS5 (all-arclll'a) destroys its Fabr-ic. There are two examgles of to share the heinous fate of his innocent fiancee.- Thus, although
lawlessness that he -rails to perceive: his own, since he exempts the elders have not repudiated the kingI their c
words in e
rh od
. .
, himself from the rule of law (see 667), and the state's, since its ,unwltllngly do. q..::r-
L(1!-,,"50 council of elders is afraid even to mention the anarchic of the chief
\A r;.o.\e- executive (see 211-14). It is quite apparent therefore why he could
~iJ)'" not understand An.'s argument that obedience to an unwritten
law might demand the appearance of lawlessness (450-70). The
king reduces the political process to two contradictory forces~
good one identified with his own will and the evil one identified
wIth those who would defy him. (The striking parallel between
this and the "Watergate mentality" needs no com mcnt.)
The imagery that Cr. uses in this episode is appropriately
military and hierarchical. His son will succeed when posted behind
his father-leader (640). Order is seen as military order (cf. tassein,
63, prostassein, 670-71, epitassein 664, akosma 660; also 677 and 730
and the notes on these lines). jf all men and objects are not in
proper order, kosmos, there is chaos. Everyone has his proper rank
in Cr.'s hierarchy. First there is cr.. identical, sometimes, even
superior to Zeus (657); then mature men who must never be
schooled by young men (726-27); then young men; finally women,
slaves, and animals all seemingly on a par. Much of Cr.'s indigna-
lion stems from disruption of this order: his son becoming a
"woman's chattel,' a woman daring to discourse on the meaning
of law; or acting in defiance of her uncle-king, women ranging
at large outside the women's quarters (578-80), a son not realizing
that a woman's body is of no more value than a field bought for
cultivation (569).
We have examined three of the issues in the debate between
father and son. As Hae. angrily runs off stage, his departure signals
\\d.\{1\()'l\ his decision to stand with An. against his rigid father. In their
next choral ode on Eros' invincible power. the elders probably mean
to stand with the king against the apparently mindless passion
of the youth. Cr.'s military and hierarchical arguments do, after
all, derive from a persistent strain in Greek thought. But the poet's
deeper meaning shines through:~is not the bewitching, playful
spirit of lyric poetry but is endowed by Soph. with a new majesty
in this ode. Eros is pictured as a moral force that sits enthroned
as a peer alongside the eternal laws (797-99). Eros enables Hae.