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Episode 4
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Objective for this Page: To summarize, comment upon, and provide criticism on Antigone’s farewell address.

Summary

Kolbe statue seems to suggest Antigone's archetypel fate.Antigone’s farewell message:

Creon sentences Antigone to the tomb in which she must chose death or a buried life.  Antigone does not plead for her life or ask for forgiveness for her betrayal of the king’s law.  Antigone begins her message addressing her forefathers and asking them to embrace her as she joins “the great growing family of our dead.”  She knows her death is untimely for her age, but accepts her punishment with grace. 

Antigone reveals no regrets for her decision and feels she has brought honor to her brother’s death and burial.  She continues her message by stating that she would not have broken Creon’s law if this was her husband or child that lay rotting, as she knew she could have another child or marry another husband.  With her mother and father dead, Antigone knew that her brother’s burial was now her responsibility, so she must honor her parents and her gods.

At the end of her message, she asks the gods for mercy.  If her actions were wrong, was she sentencing herself to death with no one to help?  If her actions were those that the gods embrace, she pleads for justice by punishing those responsible for her demise.  Her closing words are one last plea to the gods of Thebes, letting them know that she broke man’s law to obey the gods’ law.

Commentary

In the beginning of the story Antigone reveals her decision to bury her brother.  However, through this passage, Antigone reveals her “passion” to honor her parents and her gods.  She gives honor to her brother and braces herself for an untimely death.   Using this dialog advances the understanding of the reader to realize that there is more evil not yet revealed to the reader.  Why wouldn’t her uncle bury her brother?  And why does her uncle want her dead?  A possible theme might be “Honoring thy gods will bring justice to all.”

Study Questions

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Why did Creon choose to abandon Antigone in the tomb to chose her own death?  Why didn’t he stone her to death?

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What do the stone walls of Antigone’s tomb symbolize?

Criticism

Martin Cropp, in an article entitled "Antigone's Final Speech" (Greece and Rome Oct 1997 v44 n2 p137(24)), points out that Antigone is making a public address in her farewell of lines 979-1022.  He sees three sections of self-justification about her being correct, as perceived by

bullether dead family members
bulletpeople of sense
bulletthe gods

Structure:  Each of these pieces divides into a negative and a positive comment.

According to the abstract provided in the Expanded Academic Index of InfoTrac, "An allusion to Hesiod's statement on 'pathei mathos' enhances the interpretation of Antigone's speech. The play is concerned with different attitudes to 'nomos' in relation to human authority."

Scholars, Cropp asserts, have been distracted by a debate over her claim that she's right or by the emotionalism of the speech, so that its rhetorical structure has been virtually ignored. Seen as a lament about her isolation or even as a sort of soliloquy means that the "brother argument" is aimed at herself.

Suffering:  A passage in Hesiod on tragedy suggests that the proud person (hybristic) comes to recognize the error of their ways through suffering the consequences of their actions.  Cropp suggests that the end of Antigone's speech foreshadows Creon learning just such a lesson. By way of precedent, Cropp notes that Haemon's advice to Creon about listening to those who have figured something out is smart if you haven't figured it out yourself comes from Hesiod's Works, as well as in Creon's assumption that the guards were on the take.  The implication is that Antigone is calling Creon a fool because of the context in Hesiod.

Cropp cites a motif of words like "sense, thinking, counsel, judgment, learning, and decision" that are linked with "piety" during the play.  Their opposites are associated with destruction.

Theban Community: Antigone's audience, Cropp suggests, is the same people whom Haemon has suggested believe Antigone should be spared, a community beyond Creon and the chorus of elders.

Assessment: Choose a study question and respond in a paragraph, citing evidence from the play to support your point(s).

 

Thanks to Robin Tuck for content in the top half of this page.

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This instructional web was made in July, 2002, by Prof. Eric Hibbison, who is solely responsible for its content.