Sophocles: Extract from "Antigone" |
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Ancient Greece

Sophocles: Extract from “Antigone”


Sophocles (c.496-406 B.C.) was the second of the great Athenian tragedians of the Fifth Century B.C. He wrote some 130 plays, of which only seven tragedies and one satyr play survive. “Antigone”, written in 441 B.C. is the first of these surviving plays. The play concerns the decision of Antigone, daughter of Oedipus, king of Thebes, to bury her brother Polynices, against the instructions of her uncle Creon. After the death of Oedipus Polynices had quarelled with his brother Eteocles over the succession to the kingship, and had raised an army from Argos to attack Thebes. Both brothers died at each other’s hand. Creon, the brother of Jocasta, then took over power in Thebes, but refused to allow Polynices to be buried. At the beginning of the play, Antigone pperforms the funeral rights for Polynices, in defiance of Creon’s decree. This text of the extract below comes from “A Greek Anthology”, JACT, Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Ll. 441-525. As this passage opens, Antigone has been caught and is brought before Creon by a guard. Although her sister, Ismene, has not taken part in Antigone’s action, Creon believes her to be guilty as well. The chorus is comprised of old men of Thebes.

CREON: Well, (I call) you, bending your head to the ground, do you affirm or do you deny that you have done this?

ANTIGONE: I affirm that I did it, and I do not deny it at all.

CR: (Addressing the guard) You can take yourself wherever you wish, free (and) without a heavy charge. (Then, turning to Antigone) But you, tell me, not at length but briefly, did you know that it had been proclaimed that you were not to do this?

AN: I knew (it). How was I not likely (to have heard it)? For it was public.

CR. And yet you dared to overstep these laws?

AN. (Yes), for Zeus was not at all the one proclaiming this, nor has Justice, living with the gods down below, laid down such laws among men, and I did not think that your commandments have power to such an extent that mortal beings could override the unwritten (yet) firm laws of the gods. For they do not in any way live now and yesterday, but ever always, and no one knows from where they appeared. I was not about to pay the penalty among the gods for (breaking) these (laws) (through) fearing the purpose of any man; I well know that I must die, how could I not? (It is so), even if you had not proclaimed it publicly. If I die before my time, I say that it is a gain. For whoever lives among many evils as I (do), how can he not carry off gain (by) dying? So for me to meet this fate is next to no pain; but, if I had allowed the son of my mother to die unburied, I should have grieved over that. Yet for this I am not distressed. And, if I seem to you to happen to do foolish things now, I am perhaps in some way incurring a charge of foolishness from a foolish person.

CHORUS. (It is) clear that the wild character of the child comes from her wild father. And she knows not how to yield to troubles.

CR. But, indeed, remember that excessively hard spirits fall particularly, and that the strongest iron baked hard out of the fire you may most often see shattered and shivered. And I know wild horses disciplined by a small bit; for it is not permitted that whoever is a slave of those nearby should think big. This girl was already practised in committing outrages when she overstepped (lit. overstepping) the published laws; and, when she had done (this), this (is) a second outrage, to boast of things and to gloat that she has done (them). Now surely I (am) not a man but she (is) a man, if this victory lies with her with impunity. But whether she happens to be (the child) of my sister or the one most closely related to me of the whole household devoted to Zeus, both she and her sister will not avoid a most evil fate; for so I accuse the latter of an equal share in the plotting of this burial. Now call her. For I saw her inside just now raging and not in control of her wits. And beforehand the heart tends to have been caught out as the secret criminal (lit. thief) of those plotting nothing rightly in the darkness. And yet I hate (it) when someone caught amidst evil things, then wishes to dress (it) up.

AN. What more do you want, having captured me, than to kill (me)?

CR. I (want) nothing else. Having this, I have everything.

AN. Why then are you waiting? As none of your remarks (are) pleasing to me, and may they not ever be pleasing, and so to you my (words) are by nature displeasing. And yet from where could I have won a more glorious fame than by putting my own brother in a tomb? I would say that it would be pleasing to all these (here), if fear was not locking up their tongues, but tyranny is blessed with many other things, and it is possible for it to do and to say what it wishes.

CR. You alone of these people of Cadmus ( i.e. Thebans) sees it (thus).

AN. And they do see (it thus), but they check their mouths for you.

CR. But are you not ashamed if you think differently from them?

AN. (No), for it is not at all disgraceful to honour those from the same womb.

CR. Was he not also your brother who died on the opposite side?

AN. A brother of both one (mother) and the same father.

CR. How then do you pay a disrespectful service to him?

AN. The dead corpse will not bear witness to that.

CR. (Yes, he will), if indeed you honour him on equal terms to the impious one.

AN. But (it was) not any slave but his brother (that) died.

CR. And (a man) besieging this land; and the other was resisting on behalf of this land.

AN. Nevertheless, Hades desires these rites.

CR. But the good man does not receive (burial rites) equal to the bad man.

AN. Who knows if these things are proper down below?

CR. Indeed, the enemy (is) not ever a friend, not even when he has died.

AN. Indeed, I do not naturally join in hate but I join in love.

CR. Now, having gone down to hell, love them, if it is necessary to love (them); A woman will not rule over me, while I live (lit. living).

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