Antigone and how it relates to post-9/11 America
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Antigone Sophocles was well-versed in Tragedy, and these days everyone in America is as well. We are discovering what it is to be vulnerable, what is it to feel suffering and torment, and how to let loose a flood of emotions. Not surprisingly, these are some of the major purposes and functions of a Greek Tragedy, according to Aristotle anyway. The citizens of Ancient Greece went to see these very plays, Antigone and Oedipus Rex that is, and learned life lessons, and why it is necessary to cleanse oneself of one's emotions; the same things we Americans are learning. There are many things that these two important plays have in common with the situation going on in America at this time. First off, everyone has hubris. I have it, you have it, we ALL have it. I can think of many instances that are related to the "tragedy" in which America shows an immense amount of hubris. For one, so many Americans have begun to think that all Arabs and Muslims are out to get them. Hate crimes are many in areas where many followers of Islam live. On the news last night I watched a man describe how he was confronted by a gun-toting neighbor, and the man yelled that he was not a Muslim, even though he was wearing a turban, the sign of many Islamic men. It is a shame that he had to deny his religion for the sake of his life. That specifically relates to Antigone who would have been forced to go against her Gods and her ideology for the sake of her life. Another example of hubris that comes to mind is the way many Americans think this country is invincible. We refuse to believe anything can happen to us because frankly, nothing has. We've carved out our little niche of the all-powerful country and we refuse to dig out of it. "NO," they say, "We cannot be bombed, we cannot experience any kind of terrorism.
Antigone, of course, knows what she must do and buries the body of Polynices. She cannot see that there is any instance in which her uncle could be right. Creon is a barbarian to suggest that one should leave a body to rot and be eaten by animals, especially when he is of your blood. Ismene even displays a little tunnel-vision when she demands to be killed with Antigone. She refuses to live if her sister can't, even though she also refused to help that same sister bury her brother. "How could I live on alone, without my sister?" she questions Creon, pleading for him to let her die as well. Haemon also has a significant amount of hubris, saying he cannot be without Antigone. He tries to plead with his father first by using flattery, second by using calm, cool reasoning, and third by throwing a temper tantrum. Needless to say, none of them worked. And if they had, we wouldn't be reading a Tragedy, now would we? Haemon is one of my favorite characters, but in the end he's just another dead body for Creon to cry about. Creon is much like his son in his unbending will. He refuses to change his mind about the Eteocles/Polynices issue. He sends his own niece to a cave to die of starvation, and does not seem to care. It is not until Tiresias changes his mind that he thinks maybe he has done something wrong. The Creon of Oedipus Rex and the Creon of Antigone are two very different men. Secondly, it seems that all the authorities never see tragedy coming until it knocks on their doors. America has had the strongest Armed Forces in the world for a long time, and we have learned to lean back and be lazy. We didn't think anyone would ever attack us because of our strength. We know terrorism happens in other countries, we even go and make peace treaties, but we never thought that we'd be in this situation.
"Die as she may, she shall not die alone," Haemon proclaims. And later: "My face thou shalt never behold again." One would think that if Haemon could get into Antigone's cave and try to kill himself, that they could also run away together, but apparently these thoughts do not run through the brains of those with amorous intentions. Another thing Creon did not notice in all his running about trying to prevent anyone from burying his nephew are all the birds gorging on blood. Tiresias sees this however and informs his king. These birds, he says, are showing how humans act when they see blood and strife, they go crazy and begin killing one another, this is what is happening to Thebes. One last thing, Creon does not notice the outrage over the war and Antigone's confinement-death. The people are not pleased that Creon isn't allowing Polynices to be buried, and he better do something about it. Fortunately, he does, but it's just a leeeeeettle bit too late. One last thing to comment on before you get tired of reading this. Everything has a moral to the story. From the chaos in the United States we should learn to always be on the alert. An entire country should never think it is invincible, we should never assume we are indestructible. From Oedipus Rex there are a few things to glean. One is to never let hubris run your life; though it is impossible not to have some hubris, you can prevent it from dictating the way you act. It is important to remember that when Oedipus had eyes he could not see, and once he tore them out, he saw all the wrongness that he had built his life upon. And the question we should ponder in Antigone, is when in comes down to it, whose laws are you going to follow, the God's laws, or those of man? There really are a lot of things that Oedipus Rex, Antigone, and the situation in America have in common. And I was expecting this paper to be short.
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