Antigone

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The guards escort ANTIGONE and ISMENE into the palace. CREON remains while the old citizens form their CHORUS.


CHORUS:

Blest, they are the truly blest who all their lives

have never tasted devastation. For others, once

the gods have rocked a house to its foundations

        the ruin sill never cease, cresting on and on

from one generation on throughout the race—                                                      

like a great mounting tide

driven on by savage northern gales,

            surging over the dead black depths

roiling up from the bottom dark heaves of sand

and the headlands, taking the storm's onslaught full-force,

roar, and the low moaning

                                                echoes on and on

                                                                                and now

as in ancient times I see the sorrows of the house,

the living heirs of the old ancestral kings,

piling on the sorrows of the dead

        and one generation cannot free the next— 

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some god will bring them crashing down,

the race finds no release.

And now the light, the hope

            springing up from the late last root

in the house of Oedipus, that hope's cut down in turn

by the long, bloody knife swung by the gods of death

by a senseless word

                                    by fury at the heart.

                                                                           Zeus,

yours is the power. Zeus, what man on earth

can override it, who can hold it back?

Power that neither Sleep, the all-ensnaring

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        no, nor the tireless months of heaven

can ever overmaster—young through all time,

mighty lord of power, you hold fast

        the dazzling crystal mansions of Olympus.

And throughout the future, late and soon

as through the past, your law prevails:

no towering form of greatness

        enters into the lives of mortals

                                                free and clear of ruin.

                                                                                        True,

our dreams, our high hopes voyaging far and wide

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bring sheer delight to many, to many others

        delusion, blithe, mindless lusts

and the fraud steals on one slowly . . .  unaware   

till he trips and puts his foot into the fire.

        He was a wise old man who coined

the famous saying: "Sooner or later

foul is fair, fair is foul                                                                

Pay attention to this line--it will come up again!

                                                                                                      

to the man the gods will ruin—

        He goes his way for a moment only

                                        free of blinding ruin.

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Enter HAEMON from the palace.


Here's Haemon now, the last of all your sons.

Does he come in tears for his bride,

his doomed bride, Antigone—

bitter at being cheated of their marriage?


CREON:

We’ll soon know, better than seers could tell us.


    Turning to HAEMON.


Son, you've heard the final verdict on your bride?

Are you coming now, raving against your father?

Or do you love me, no matter what I do?


HAEMON:

Father, I'm your son . . . you in your wisdom

set my bearings for me—I obey you.

No marriage could ever mean more to me than you,

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whatever good direction you may offer.


CREON:

                                                                        Fine, Haemon.

That's how you ought to feel within your heart,

subordinate to your father's will in every way.

That's what a man prays for: to produce good sons—

a household full of them, dutiful and attentive,

so they can pay his enemy back with interest

and match the respect their father shows his friend.

But the man who rears a brood of useless children,

what has he brought into the world, I ask you?

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Nothing but trouble for himself, and mockery

from his enemies laughing in his face.

                                                                    Oh Haemon,

never lose your sense of judgment over a woman.

The warmth, the rush of pleasure, it all goes cold

in your arms, I warn you . . . a worthless woman

in your house, a misery in your bed.

What wound cuts deeper than a loved one

turned against you? Spit her out,

like a mortal enemy—let the girl go.

Let her find a husband down among the dead.

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Imagine it: I caught her in naked rebellion,

the traitor, the only one in the whole city.

I'm not about to prove myself a liar,

not to my people, no, I'm going to kill her

That's right—so let her cry for mercy, sing her hymns

to Zeus who defends all bonds of kindred blood.

Why, if I bring up my own kin to be rebels,

think what I'd suffer from the world at large.

Show me the man who rules his household well:

I'll show you someone fit to rule the state.

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That good man, my son,

I have every confidence he and he alone

can give commands and take them too. Staunch

in the storm of spears hell stand his ground,

a loyal, unflinching comrade at your side.


But whoever steps out of line, violates the laws

or presumes to hand out orders to his superiors,

he’ll win no praise from me. But that man

the city places in authority, his orders

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must be obeyed, large and small,

right and wrong.

                            Anarchy—





Authority or Anarchy?Does Creon make a good point here? Should authority automatically command respect? If not, what is to prevent anarchy?

 

show me a greater crime in all the earth.

She, she destroys cities, rips up houses,

breaks the ranks of spearmen into headlong rout.

But the ones who last it out, the great mass of them

owe their lives to discipline. Therefore

we must defend the men who live by law,

never let some woman triumph over us.

Better to fall from power, if fall we must,

at the hands of a man—never be rated

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inferior to a woman, never.

Creon’s misogynist (look it up) views are shocking to many modern readers, but they were not uncommon in Ancient Greece. In most poleis, women had no role outside of the home, even if they were wealthy, and could not participate in commerce or politics.



LEADER:

                                                    To us,

unless old age has robbed us of our wits,

you seem to say what you have to say with sense.


HAEMON:

Father, only the gods endow a man with reason,

the finest of all their gifts, a treasure.

Far be it from me—I haven't the skill,

and certainly no desire, to tell you when,

if ever, you make a slip in speech . . . though

someone else might have a good suggestion.


Of course it’s not for you,

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in the normal run of things, to watch

whatever men say or do, or find to criticize.

The man in the street, you know, dreads your glance,

he'd never say anything displeasing to your face.

But it’s for me to catch the murmurs in the dark,

the way the city mourns for this young girl.

“No woman," they say, "ever deserved death less,

and such a brutal death for such a glorious action.

She, with her own dear brother lying in his blood—

she couldn't bear to leave him dead, unburied,

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food for the wild dogs or wheeling vultures.

Death? She deserves a glowing crown of gold!"

So they say, and the rumor spreads in secret,

darkly . . .

                    I rejoice in your success, father—

nothing more precious to me in the world.

What medal of honor brighter to his children

than a father's growing glory? Or a child's

to his proud father? Now don't, please,

be quite so single-minded, self-involved,

or assume the world is wrong and you are right.

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Whoever thinks that he alone possesses intelligence,

the gift of eloquence, he and no one else,

and character too . . . such men, I tell you,

spread them open—you will find them empty.

                                                                                    No,

it's no disgrace for a man, even a wise man,

to learn many things and not to be too rigid.

You've seen trees by a raging winter torrent,

how many sway with the flood and salvage every twig,

but not the stubborn—they're ripped out, roots and all.

Bend or break. The same when a man is sailing:

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haul your sheets too taut, never give an inch,

you'll capsize, and go the rest of the voyage

keel up and the rowing-benches under.


Oh give way. Relax your anger—change!

I'm young, I know, but let me offer this:

it would be best by far, I admit,

if a man were born infallible, right by nature.

If not—and things don't often go that way,

it's best to learn from those with good advice.


LEADER:

You’d do well, my lord, if he's speaking to the point,

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to learn from him,


Turning to HAEMON.


                                        and you, my boy, from him.

You both are talking sense.


CREON:

                                                    So,

men our age, we're to be lectured, are we?—                               

schooled by a boy his age?





Age and Authority: Creon raises an age-old question: should adults with life experience listen to the ideas of inexperienced children? What do you think? Use examples from your own life to support your opinion.

 


HAEMON:

Only in what is right. But I’ll seem young,

look less to my years and more to what I do.


CREON:

Do? Is admiring rebels an achievement?


HAEMON:

I'd never suggest that you admire treason.


CREON:

                                                                                Oh?—

isn't that just the sickness that's attacked her?


HAEMON:

The whole city of Thebes denies it, to a man.

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CREON:

And is Thebes about to tell me how to rule?


HAEMON:

Now, you see? Who's talking like a child?


CREON:

Am I to rule this land for others—or myself?


HAEMON:

It's no city at all, owned by one man alone.


CREON:

What? The city is the king's —that's the law!


HAEMON:

What a splendid king you'd make of a desert island—

you and you alone.


CREON:

To the CHORUS


                            This boy, I do believe,

is fighting on her side, the woman's side.


HAEMON:

If you are a woman, yes—

my concern is all for you.

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CREON:

Why, you degenerate—bandying accusations,

threatening me with justice, your own father!


HAEMON:

I see my father offending justice—wrong.


CREON:

                                                                            Wrong?

To protect my royal rights?


HAEMON:

                                            Protect your rights?

When you trample down the honors of the gods?


CREON:

You, you soul of corruption, rotten through —

woman 's accomplice!


HAEMON:

                                            That may be,

but you will never find me accomplice to a criminal.


CREON:

That's what she is,

and every word you say is a blatant appeal for her—

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Antigone--Criminal or Not? So, what do you think? Did she go against the laws of her polis or not? Is Antigone a criminal?

 

HAEMON:

And you, and me, and the gods beneath the earth.


CREON:

You will never marry her, not while she's alive.


HAEMON:

Then she will die . . .  but her death will kill another.


CREON:

What, brazen threats? You go too far!


HAEMON:

                                                                        What threat?

Combating your empty, mindless judgments with a word?


CREON:

You'll suffer for your sermons, you and your empty wisdom!


HAEMON:

If you weren't my father, I'd say you were insane.


CREON:

Don't flatter me with Father—you woman's slave!


HAEMON:

You really expect to fling abuse at me

and not receive the same?


CREON:

                                                Is that so!

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Now, by heaven, I promise you, you’ll pay—

taunting, insulting me! Bring her out,

that hateful—she’ll die now, here,

in front of his eyes, beside her groom!


HAEMON:

No, no, she will never die beside me—

don't delude yourself. And you will never

see me, never set eyes on my face again.

Rage your heart out, rage with friends

who can stand the sight of you.


Rushing out.


LEADER:

Gone, my king, in a burst of anger.

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A temper young as his . . . hurt him once,

he may do something violent.


CREON:

Let him do—

dream up something desperate, past all human limit!

Good riddance. Rest assured,

he’ll never save those two young girls from death.


LEADER:

Both of them, you really intend to kill them both?


CREON:

No, not her, the one whose hands are clean —

you're quite right.


LEADER:

                                        But Antigone—

what sort of death do you have in mind for her?


CREON:

I will take her down some wild, desolate path

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never trod by men, and wall her up alive

in a rocky vault, and set out short rations,

just the measure piety demands

to keep the entire city free of defilement.

There let her pray to the one god she worships:

Death—who knows ?—may just reprieve her from death.

Or she may learn at last, better late than never,

what a waste of breath it is to worship Death.


Exit to the palace.


CHORUS:

Love, never conquered in battle

Love the plunderer laying waste the rich!

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Love standing the night-watch

                                                        guarding a girl's soft cheek,

you range the seas, the shepherds' steadings off in the wilds —

not even the deathless gods can flee your onset,

nothing human born for a day—

whoever feels your grip is driven mad.

                                                                       Love!—

you wrench the minds of the righteous into outrage,

swerve them to their ruin—you have ignited this,

this kindred strife, father and son at war

                                                                        and Love alone the victor—

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warm glance of the bride triumphant, burning with desire!

Throned in power, side-by-side with the mighty laws!

Irresistible Aphrodite, never conquered—

Love, you mock us for your sport.


ANTIGONE is brought from the palace under guard.


        But now, even I would rebel against the king,

        I would break all bounds when I see this —

        I fill with tears. I cannot hold them back,

        not any more I see Antigone make her way

        to the bridal vault where all are laid to rest.


ANTIGONE:

Look at me, men of my fatherland,

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        setting out on the last road

looking into the last light of day

the last I will ever see . . .

the god of death who puts us all to bed

takes me down to the banks of Acheron alive—

        denied my part in the wedding-songs,

no wedding-song in the dusk has crowned my marriage—

I go to wed the lord of the dark waters.


CHORUS:

        Not crowned with glory or with a dirge,

        you leave for the deep pit of the dead.

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        No withering illness laid you low,

        no strokes of the sword—law to yourself,

        alone, no mortal like you, ever, you go down

        to the halls of Death alive and breathing.


ANTIGONE:

But think of Niobe—well I know her story—

        think what a living death she died,

Tantalus’ daughter, stranger queen from the east:

there on the mountain heights, growing stone

binding as ivy, slowly walled her round

and the rains sill never cease, the legends say 

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the snows sill never leave her  . . .

        wasting away, under her brows the tears

showering down her breasting ridge and slopes —

a rocky death like hers puts me to sleep.


CHORUS:

        But she was a god, born of gods,

        and we are only mortals born to die.

        And yet, of course, its a great thing

        for a dying girl to hear, even to hear

        she shares a destiny equal to the gods,

        during life and later, once she's dead.


ANTIGONE:

                                                                        O you mock me!

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Why, in the name of all my fathers' gods

why can't you wait till I am gone—

        must you abuse me to my face?

O my city, all your fine rich sons!

And you, you springs of the Dirce,

holy grove of Thebes where the chariots gather,

            you at least, you'll bear me witness, look,

unmourned by friends and forced by such crude laws

I go to my rockbound prison, strange new tomb—

        always a stranger, O dear god, 

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        I have no home on earth and none below,

            not with the living, not with the breathless dead.


CHORUS:

        You went too far, the last limits of daring—

        smashing against the high throne of Justice!

            Your life's in ruins, child—I wonder

        do you pay for your father's terrible ordeal?


ANTIGONE:

There—at last you've touched it, the worst pain

the worst anguish! Raking up the grief for father

        three times over, for all the doom

that's struck us down, the brilliant house of Laius.

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O mother, your marriage-bed

the coiling horrors, the coupling there—

        you with your own son, my father—doom-struck mother!

Such, such were my parents, and I their wretched child.

I go to them now, cursed, unwed, to share their home—

        I am a stranger! O dear brother, doomed

        in your marriage—your marriage murders mine,

            your dying drags me down to death alive!


Enter Creon.


CHORUS:

Reverence asks some reverence in return—

but attacks on power never go unchecked,

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not by the man who holds the reins of power.

Your own blind will, your passion has destroyed you.


ANTIGONE:

No one to weep for me, my friends,

no wedding-song -- they take me away

in all my pain . . . the road lies open, waiting.

Never again, the law forbids me to see

the sacred eye of day. I am agony!

No tears for the destiny that's mine,

no loved one mourns my death.


CREON:

                                                    Can't you see?

If a man could wail his own dirge before he dies,

he'd never finish.     

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    To the guards.


                                    Take her away, quickly!

Wall her up in the tomb, you have your orders.

Abandon her there, alone, and let her choose—

death or a buried life with a good roof for shelter.

As for myself, my hands are clean. This young girl—

dead or alive, she will be stripped of her rights,

her stranger's rights, here in the world above.


ANTIGONE:

O tomb, my bridal-bed—my house, my prison

cut in the hollow rock, my everlasting watch!

I'll soon be there, soon embrace my own,      

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the great growing family of our dead

Persephone has received among her ghosts.

                                                                                I

the last of them all, the most reviled by far,

go down before my destined time's run out.

But still I go, cherishing one good hope:

my arrival may be dear to father,

dear to you, my mother,

dear to you, my loving brother, Eteocles —

When you died I washed you with my hands,

I dressed you all, I poured the sacred cups

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across your tombs. But now, Polynices,

because I laid your body out as well,

this, this is my reward. Nevertheless

I honored you—the decent will admit it—

well and wisely too.

                                    Never, I tell you.

if I had been the mother of children

or if my husband died, exposed and rotting —

I'd never have taken this ordeal upon myself,

never defied our people's will. What law,

you ask, do I satisfy with what I say?

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A husband dead, there might have been another.

A child by another too, if I had lost the first.

But mother and father both lost in the halls of Death,

no brother could ever spring to light again.

For this law alone I held you first in honor.

For this, Creon, the king, judges me a criminal

guilty of dreadful outrage, my dear brother!

And now he leads me off, a captive in his hands,

with no part in the bridal-song, the bridal-bed,

denied all joy of marriage, raising children —

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deserted so by loved ones, struck by fate,

I descend alive to the caverns of the dead.


What law of the mighty gods have I transgressed?

Why look to the heavens any more, tormented as I am?

Whom to call, what comrades now? Just think,

my reverence only brands me for irreverence!

Very well: if this is the pleasure of the gods,

once I suffer I will know that I was wrong.

But if these men are wrong, let them suffer

nothing worse than they mete out to me—

these masters of injustice!     

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LEADER:

Still the same rough winds, the wild passion

raging through the girl.


CREON:

    To the guards.


                                            Take her away.

You’re wasting time—you'll pay for it too.


ANTIGONE:

Oh god, the voice of death. It's come, it's here.


CREON:

True. Not a word of hope—your doom is sealed.


ANTIGONE:

        Land of Thebes, city of all my fathers-

        O you gods, the first gods of the race!

        They drag me away, now, no more delay.

        Look on me, you noble sons of Thebes—

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        the last of a great line of kings,

        I alone, see what I suffer now

        at the hands of what breed of men—

        all for reverence, my reverence for the gods!

   

    She leaves under guard: the CHORUS gathers.