The Love That Divides: Sophocles's Antigone

Citation metadata

Author: David H. Porter
Date: 1987
From: Only Connect: Three Studies in Greek Tragedy
Publisher: University Press of America
Document Type: Critical essay; Excerpt
Length: 14,973 words

Document controls

Main content

Full Text: 

[(essay date 1987) In the following excerpt, Porter examines the ways in which the impulse toward division and separation is reflected in the characters, structure, thematic content, and language of Antigone. The critic concludes by contrasting this movement with the principle of unification exhibited in Sophocles's other Theban plays.]

A. Introduction1

We saw in the last chapter [have discussed elsewhere] ... the significance in Aeschylus' Seven of the characteristically Theban interplay of love and hate. The same interplay is central also to Sophocles' Antigone, though in a different way. Whereas the focus in the Seven is on the irresistible magnetism that draws the two brothers to their fatal meeting, the same magnetism that has drawn their forefathers to other disastrous unions, in the Antigone the focus is on the hatred that wells up where love should rule and that tears apart those who should be close. The basic movement of the Seven unites those who wish to remain separate; that of the Antigone separates those who ought, and even wish, to stand together.

The same event, the mutual murder of Eteocles and Polyneices, is at the heart of both plays, but this too functions in different ways. In the Seven the murder is the point toward which all lines converge, the coming together which both defines the gesture of the play and recalls other Theban loves which drew together those who had wished to remain apart. In the Antigone the death of the two brothers is not goal but starting point, not the union in hatred toward which everything moves but the vortex of hatred from which everything spins off. While the movement of the Seven is one of convergence, the centripetal drawing together of resisting masses, that of the Antigone is one of radiation, the centrifugal flight of those who begin side by side.

B. The Basic Movement of the Antigone

At every level the Antigone focuses on division, charting a myriad of paths by which kinship turns into enmity, union into separation, the single and single-minded into the divided and schizoid. Thus Antigone begins as sister to Ismene, niece to Creon, fiancée to Haemon, but the play traces her radical and irrevocable separation from each of these persons. The separation from Ismene is well under way by the middle of the very first scene, and the second scene between the two sisters (536 f.), in which Antigone harshly rejects her sister's generous if belated offer to share, puts the stamp of finality on their separation. Just as swiftly Antigone discovers that she and Creon scarcely speak the same language (cf. 499 f.), and a brief second meeting between these two (883 f.) similarly serves only to emphasize their irrevocable division. As for Haemon, the movement that tears Antigone from Ismene and turns her against Creon just as surely tears her from an obviously loving Haemon. She addresses one loving line to him in absentia;2 when they actually meet, she is already dead--the final separation. Even Antigone's faith that the gods are with her and she with them, a faith which so sustains her early in the play (e.g., 74 f., 450 f.), fails at the end (922 f.), and her final words breathe a sense of total isolation from god and man.3

The play deals also with the progressive separation of Creon from those he loves and those who at first stand with him. At the start he is the confident king to whom the city looks for guidance and whom the people willingly follow. As the play unfolds, however, his and Antigone's actions increasingly cut him off--from the guard, from Antigone, from Ismene, from Haemon, from the people of the city (e.g., 692 f., 733), from Teiresias, from Eurydice, even from the chorus. At the end he, like Antigone, stands alone, not only severed from persons once close but also seemingly abandoned by those gods in whom he too once had faith. Furthermore, the overall movement that charts the gradual separations of Antigone and Creon from each other and from all others has its obvious corollaries in the separations that come to Ismene, to Haemon, and to Eurydice.

In the play as a whole each character thus experiences this movement of separation. The same movement is also present, albeit in varying degrees, in all the component parts of the play and especially in its several episodes.

Antigone's first words to Ismene emphasize the closeness of the sisters to each other--note koinon autadelphon in the first line, the expressive duals of line 3 (echoed by Ismene in her third and fourth lines), the sense of togetherness in suffering which radiates from the whole speech. By the end of this very scene, however, the division between the two sisters has become virtually absolute. This rapid and striking movement from closeness to separation, a movement which skillful blocking would certainly stress, both foreshadows and reflects in microcosm the basic movement of the play as a whole.

The breakdown begins early. The very fact that Antigone knows about Creon's edict and Ismene does not is symptomatic, and Antigone's words at 9-10 and 18-19 carry at least a suspicion of the irony and condescension that will characterize her later utterances. Moreover, Antigone's sense that her family has long been the special target of divine (2 f.) and human (7 f.) cruelty, and the aura of conspiracy which sounds in 18-19 and elsewhere, foreshadow the isolation that she will soon feel so acutely. The note of separation sounds clearly also in her report of the decree: the two brothers died together but will meet different treatment after death. In the Antigone as a whole this divergent treatment of the two brothers will serve as paradigm for the play's ubiquitous gestures of division, and in this opening scene the separation of the two brothers in death leads directly to the separation of the two sisters in life. Antigone's manner of reporting Creon's decree plainly suggests, as Ismene at once realizes, her decision to resist, and Antigone's words at 31-32 and 37-38 already contain clear hints that she suspects that Ismene will not stand with her in such resistance. Moreover, if there is frequent irony in Antigone's words to Ismene, Ismene herself may be less than completely ingenuous in her replies to Antigone at 39-40 and 42. Antigone's words at 41 f. put the issue in characteristically black and white terms: either with me (note xun, xun- in 41, 43) or against me, either with your brother or against him (cf. 45-46), while line 48 makes explicit her split with Creon. This undercurrent of dissension is picked up by Ismene's references to the past history of the family: the father who died, blind and hated (49 f.), the mother's self-willed separation from him in death (53 f.), the death in hate of the brothers (55-57), the potential severing of the sisters from the rest of the city if they disobey Creon (58 f.), the crucial distinction between the sexes (61 f.), a division that will repeatedly be emphasized later in the play; and Ismene's final words make it clear that she will not stand with Antigone in the matter at hand. With Antigone's answer at 69 f. the break is complete, a fact which the rest of the scene merely confirms: Antigone will no longer even urge Ismene to join her (69 f.); she alone will enjoy the love of her brother and the satisfaction of being on the side of the gods (73 f.), expectations which, of course, aptly foreshadow the lonely isolation to which her intended act will lead.

The emerging division between the two women finds expression not only in what they say but in how they say it--in, for instance, the prevalence in 65 f. of men ... de antitheses to emphasize their antithetical stances; in the frequent opposition of second and first person pronouns--you may do this, I'll do that; and in the accelerating pace of the dialogue and in Antigone's bitter brilliance of repartee. By the end, the Antigone who so often speaks of philoi and of loving can voice only her hatred (93 f.); indeed, one reflection of the play's basic movement of division is that repeatedly, as here, it leads persons rigidly to classify others either as philoi or as echthroi. After what has transpired, Ismene's final words of reconciliation (98-99--note philois ... phile) are as surely doomed to failure as is her later attempt to share with Antigone the responsibility for the burial.

The hatred which springs up in this scene between the two sisters has its precise counterpart and, in a literal sense, its starting point, in the mutual hatred of their two brothers, and we have seen that both sisters refer explicitly and emphatically to the brothers' killing of each other. Thus, as in the Seven, an event in the past provides the pattern or image for action in the present. For the Antigone the brothers' death thus functions as the ultimate symbol of alienation--as an image of antagonisms so strong as to oblige brothers to meet and kill each other, of divisions so deep-rooted as to entail separation of their bodies even after death.

The same theme of union that entails separation is present also in one of the play's dominant images, that of a marriage in or to death. The first strong hint (it is no more than that) of this important image comes at lines 73 f. of the opening scene:

Friend shall I lie with him,
yes friend with friend,
when I have dared the crime of piety.

Here, as elsewhere, the image of lying in death together with someone serves as the natural climax to a scene that has depicted the gradual separation of humans from each other. As such it is no note of union that negates the previous divisions but rather a bitter reminder that for humans the only lasting togetherness may be in death. It is a motif which Antigone colors with a certain optimism at 73 f. but one which will recoil upon her later when only in the bridal chamber of death, where she is cut off from all humanity, will she at last find union in death with her lover. It is also, obviously, a motif which grows out of the tragic story of the two brothers whose union in death is the symbol of their total alienation.

Subsequent episodes of the play repeatedly echo this initial scene in their progression from togetherness and sympathy to separation and antipathy. This pattern takes a number of different forms and is applied to a number of different people, but its basic character remains constant: always the united becomes the divided, the friend the enemy.

The chorus greets Creon cordially upon his entrance (155 f.); they implicitly accept him as their ruler and assume that he brings advice pertaining to the common good. Creon for his part welcomes them as elder counsellors particularly close to him and loyal to the state, persons whom he has called apart (164-165), much as Antigone called Ismene apart (18-19), to share common counsel. But from this beginning in unity we move, as in the Antigone-Ismene scene, to friction and rage. Creon's introductory comments, filled as they are with self-justification, seem to bespeak a certain insecurity, a sense that perhaps the elders before him are not so completely with him as he might wish; and indeed, their somewhat lukewarm response to his speech (211 f.), while containing no overt disagreement, emphasizes that the plan is his, not theirs. Creon senses their unspoken disaffection to the extent of reminding them to watch over his decree (215, 219). Moreover, his opening speech itself, like Antigone's first long speech, contains the basic pattern of separation: the two brothers may have died together (170 f.), but now they will be treated differently (194 f.); for like Antigone at the end of the first scene (93 f.), Creon is one who can keep friend and enemy distinct (182 f., 207 f.)

The subtle but growing tensions between Creon and the chorus are pushed to the background with the entrance of the guard, but they resurface dramatically toward the end of the scene when the chorus asks at 278-279:

Lord, while he spoke, my mind kept on debating.
Isn't this action possibly a god's?

The question strikes at the very foundation of Creon's stance, his assumption that the gods are unquestionably on his side (cf. his opening words at 162 f.), and not surprisingly he responds with violent rage (280 f.), a rage that contrasts as strikingly with his initial trust of the chorus as does Antigone's closing scorn toward Ismene with her initial warmth. In addition, Creon for the first time mentions that the state has recently been split into factions and suggests that factional unrest may lie behind the recent disobedience to his command (289 f.) With this information and these insinuations we have obviously left far behind the unity that prevailed at the start of the scene: not only have the chorus and Creon come to a division over a key point, but we find that the city whose victory both the chorus and Creon have hailed is itself threatened by division.

Other aspects of the scene with the guard also suggest the movement from unity to dissension. There is, for one thing, the sudden revelation that in a city which had seemed wholly behind Creon someone has dared to stand apart in the matter of the burial. There is also the progressive deterioration in Creon's relations with the guard. Just before the guard arrives Creon expresses his confidence in those who are watching over Polyneices' corpse (217)--surely they will stand behind the king. But by the end of the scene Creon is thoroughly suspicious of these same guards, even to the point of suggesting their complicity in the burial; and his openly expressed distaste for the guard's presence (316 f.) corresponds to the guard's obvious relief at getting away from Creon (330-331) and contrasts strongly with the tolerance Creon displays toward the long-winded guard upon the latter's arrival (see 237 f.) We may note in passing one further, still more minute reflection of the play's basic movement: we hear how the guards, once friendly and united, turned upon each other with accusations and recriminations when they discovered that the body had been buried (259 f.)

In the next episode the movements toward separation are again several. The scene as a whole progresses from the guard's moving description of Antigone's care for her dead brother (423 f.) to the wrenching quarrel between Antigone and Ismene, from a girl's extraordinary love for her brother to her extraordinary harshness toward her sister, and in still more general terms, from love among kindred to hatred among kindred--for we must remember that Creon too is one of the family.

Within this larger scene there are smaller sections each of which contains an analogous progression. In particular, a movement toward separation shapes both the scene between Creon and Antigone and that between Antigone and Ismene. The former scene moves from a situation in which Creon and Antigone are at least willing to talk with each other to one in which they recognize their absolute incompatibility. Creon at first has at least the grace to ask Antigone if she knew what she was doing (441-442, 446-447) and to question her motives; Antigone in response at least tries to explain (450 f.), though her closing words (469-470) are scarcely calculated to heal division. By the end of their confrontation, however, their diametric opposition is all too apparent (see especially 486 f.: no sense of kinship will deter Creon; 499 f., Antigone's description of the gulf between her and Creon; and the rapid stichomythia at 508 f., comparable in tone and position to the rapidfire exchange to which Antigone's and Ismene's antagonism leads in the opening scene and beginning on the same note of loneliness and isolation sounded by Ismene in that scene--cf. 508 with 58). In addition, Creon not only views the confrontation as one between two individuals but also emphatically introduces the more general division between the sexes (484 f., 525), a theme which again Ismene has sounded in the first scene and one to which Creon will return at the end of this episode (578-579).

The episode's second major section, the scene between Antigone and Ismene (526 f.), reveals a similar movement toward division. At the start there are strong hints of union. Antigone, in an extended exchange which both marks the climax of the scene with Creon and deftly leads into the scene with Ismene, stresses the sanctity of the ties between siblings (511 f.) and proclaims that she is one to join in loving, not in hating (523); Ismene comes in ready to do just that (536-537); furthermore, Creon has already hinted (488 f.) that he suspects the girls of doing the deed together and that he intends to punish them together. But the process of alienation sets in at once. Just as Ismene could not bring herself to respond to Antigone's repeated xun- at 41 and 43, so Antigone, despite her proclamation that she is one to join in loving--sumphilein--cannot respond to Ismene's xun- at 537, 541, and 545. Instead, she brutally rejects her sister's advances, turning against her the very word koinos which she had used lovingly in her own first line (1, cf. 539, 546) and speaking of Ismene's closeness to Creon (549) in words almost as callous as those which Creon will use in speaking of Haemon's marriage later in the scene. Again we have the sharp distinctions between friend and foe (543), between you and me (538-539, 546-547, 555, 557, 559), again the rapid climactic stichomythia, punctuated by the men ... de of division (e.g., 555, 557, 559). Creon's entry into the fray at the end of the scene seals the sense of irrevocable division--division between sisters, division between each of them and Creon, and, a new motif, the separation of Antigone from Haemon. Furthermore, the callousness with which Creon speaks of his own son (569 f.) foreshadows the division which will be the focus of the next episode.

Two final points before we leave this episode. First, we noted earlier that the motif of marriage or union in death makes its first appearance, albeit indirectly, in the climactic portions of the opening scene (73 f.) This motif reappears in the present scene at similar locations. At 502 f. Antigone speaks in a manner very reminiscent of her lines at 73 f., and at 524-525 Creon picks up the same theme and twists it into an answer to Antigone's claim to be one who "joins in loving" (sumphilein, 523):

Then go down there, if you must love, and love
the dead. No woman rules me while I live.

Similarly, in the crescendo of division between the sisters, Antigone plays a harsh variation on the "love-death" motif when she speaks of Ismene's "care" (kedemōn, 549) for Creon, the man who is about to put them both to death; and there is another hint of the motif when Creon says (575) that Hades will be the one to stop the marriage of Antigone and Haemon, a prediction that recoils upon him in the suicides of the young lovers. These passages all carry tragic connotations of a world in which separation is the rule, lasting and healthy love an impossibility, love and death cruelly intertwined. Haemon and Antigone can ultimately be together only in the shared death that separates as it unites; Antigone may love Polyneices, but he is dead and her love for him will lead to her death; and Antigone's suggestion of Ismene's closeness to Creon is a savage mockery, an inversion which grows out of and reflects the distorted world of the play.

Second, the structure of this episode closely parallels that of the previous episode (162-331). Each contains two fairly distinct panels, in each of which, as in the whole, there is the characteristic movement of division. The former episode as a whole moves from the union of men and gods behind Creon to the growing fissures in that union--to hints of rift between Creon and the chorus, Creon and the guards, to mention of factional strife within the city, to the suggestion of a significant division between divine will and human decree (278-279). Within this larger movement are the inner components which focus on Creon's growing separation first from the chorus, then from the guard. The next episode (384-581) as a whole moves from the guard's description of Antigone's instinctive and absolute love for her dead brother to the several separations at the end of the scene--between Creon and his nieces, between Antigone and Ismene, between Haemon and Antigone. Within this larger movement are again two components which focus respectively on the spreading chasm between Creon and Antigone and on that between Antigone and Ismene.

In the next episode, with its confrontation of Creon and Haemon, the movement from union to separation is painfully apparent. Again the episode begins on a note of seeming union. Although Creon (632 f.) and the chorus (628 f.) fear that Haemon's entry may be motivated by rage over Creon's edict about Antigone, Haemon's first words are conciliatory: I am yours, father; I shall follow you; no marriage will divide me from you (635 f.) Creon, with evident relief, begins on the same tack, praising his son's wisdom. This topic, however, soon leads to its corollary, Creon's scorn for those who disobey the law or their parents (645 f.), and these generalizations in turn give way to specific comments concerning Antigone (648 f.), comments which cannot but sting Haemon to reply. Creon's words are filled with division--division between man and wife (650 f.), between ruler and subject (655 f., 663 f.), between kinsmen and between man and god (658 f.), between the obedient and the disobedient (668 f.),4 between man and woman (678 f.) And the two places at which Creon speaks of union, of standing together, are as suggestive of division as are the rest of his words: Let Antigone marry Hades (654); and let the people obey the ruler in everything--small and large, just and unjust (666 f.) These statements represent respectively the boldest appearance yet of the marriage-in-death motif and the most extreme form yet of Creon's demand for obedience, and they foreshadow the grave divisions that are to follow in the scene and the play.

Haemon answers with remarkable tact (683 f.), but his speech, like his father's, moves rapidly from conciliation to discord. He mentions that the people of the city are praising Antigone behind Creon's back, a remark which recalls both Creon's suspicions of factional division at 289 f. and Antigone's words at 509. And from general comments about his concern for his father Haemon passes easily to hints that he disagrees with him. Before long the son is speaking in phrases (710 f.) that strikingly recall Creon's words to Antigone at 473 f., and by the end of his speech he is openly opposing his father (718 f.) Nor is his concluding remark, that an older person can learn from a younger, of a sort likely to mollify his father, as Creon's response (726 f.) makes clear. With that response the division becomes irrevocable, and from there we pass rapidly into the angry rhythm of stichomythic repartee, just as we have done at corresponding points in each of the previous episodes when anger and division have risen fully to the surface (cf. 88 f. and the whole passage from 78-92; 215 f., 315 f.; 508 f., 548 f., 565 f.) Creon again reveals his preoccupation with male-female distinctions (740, 746, 756) and again, emphatically, repeats the ominous marriage-in-death motif (750, 760 f., cf. 777 f.) Haemon's final words (762 f.) and his abrupt departure (a motif that will be repeated in the departures of Teiresias and Eurydice) merely render the spiritual separation of father and son complete and literal.

The end of this episode contains one final and poignant reflection of the play's movement. Creon reiterates (769) his intention to kill both girls, but even this grim togetherness--like that of Eteocles and Polyneices--proves destined to division. In response to the chorus' remonstrances (a foreshadowing of Creon's willingness to listen to the chorus following Teiresias' abrupt departure), the king relents to the extent of announcing that he will kill only Antigone. Thus this scene which has dealt principally with the progressive separation of Haemon and Creon ends with the related theme of Antigone's isolation, an isolation now destined to become physical as well as spiritual, as Creon's words at 773 f. make clear:

To take her where the foot of man comes not.
There shall I hide her in a hollowed cave
living, and leave her just so much to eat
as clears the city from the guilt of death.

Just as the references to Haemon at 568 f. foreshadow the focus of the next episode, so this reference to Antigone's lonely fate at the end of the Haemon-Creon meeting foreshadows the focus of the scene to come. For at the heart of the kommos at 806 f. is an isolation that now cuts Antigone off not only from sister, lover, and friends but even from the world itself. She herself dwells repeatedly on this theme, and as the scene progresses we watch her isolation become virtually absolute. In earlier scenes we have seen Antigone separate herself from Ismene, a separation merely rendered total by Creon's words at 771, and we have watched the rapid breakdown of communication between Antigone and Creon. These last two meet again at 883 f., but their meeting only widens the gulf between them. As for Haemon, Antigone's absorption in her isolation is so complete that she never even mentions him in this final scene, so fixed is her mind on her imminent marriage to death (810 f., 891 f.), on memories of her parents and their disastrous union (858 f.), and on her coming reunion in death with those whom she has loved (898 f.)

If earlier scenes have already effected Antigone's separation from these members of her family, the scene at hand brings these separations home to her and also charts her growing separation from even the chorus. At the start of the scene the chorus is fully with Antigone, even to the extent of expressing their readiness to break with Creon in sympathy for her (802 f.) But this bond too disintegrates as the chorus, somewhat like the chorus in the Cassandra scene of the Agamemnon, becomes increasingly troubled by Antigone's responses and correspondingly less sympathetic. This movement begins when the chorus' well-intentioned (albeit ill-timed) words at 834 f. are taken for mockery, accelerates when their gentle remonstrance at 853 f. further stings Antigone, and breaks into the open with their condemnation of her at 872 f. Antigone's words at 876 f. sum up her sense of total isolation at this point:

Unwept, no wedding-song, unfriended, now I go
the road laid down for me.
No longer shall I see this holy light of the sun.
No friend to bewail my fate.

Creon's words at 883 f. are unnecessarily harsh, but Antigone scarcely notices them, so absorbed is she in her own fate. Like Achilles in the Iliad, Antigone has now become "a lonely and haunted sojourner among men of inconsequence and half-hearted ideals."5 It is surely a measure of her total isolation that the only persons with whom she can now imagine a human relationship are her dead father, mother, and brother, and that in her much-disputed lines at 904 f., which I feel must surely be genuine,6 she sees her act as one which she would do only for a dead brother, not for a dead child or husband.

One of the most poignant aspects of Antigone's tragedy is the gradual diminishing of her capacity for reaching out and loving, a process seen perhaps most clearly in the progressive deterioration of her relations with Ismene but one reflected also in these lines at 904 f. By the time Antigone appears in this scene, her efforts to act out her love for her brother have met with so many cruel responses, with so much hard resistance, that her own huge capacity for love has become warped and stunted. Like Achilles, Antigone changes from a person with an uncommon degree of feeling for others into a person capable of uncommon lack of feeling toward them.7 Her final, warped words about the burial, like her rebuff of Ismene's offer to join her and her almost deliberate misunderstanding of the chorus' apparent sympathy, are the tragic but inevitable outgrowth of this change. And this change itself, like so much else in the play, is yet one more variation on the movement from union to separation, a movement which, for Antigone, climaxes in her sense of desertion by god as well as by man (919f., 922 f.) and in the total loneliness of her last description of herself as ten basileidan mounen loipen (941). The girl who began the scene conversing with a deeply sympathetic chorus leaves it sensible only of her complete isolation and robbed even of her former faith in the gods.

What Antigone experiences in the episode we have just considered Creon suffers in the next: for in the scene with Teiresias the king similarly confronts for the first time the totality of his separation from men and gods alike. But whereas Antigone heads off steadfastly to her lonely death, Creon makes one last, desperate, and fruitless attempt to restore these fractured ties to humanity.

The scene, like so many others, begins with strong emphases on union. Teiresias has come to help the king, and he strongly urges Creon to be led by him (992, 994, 996). Creon responds in kind, acknowledging his former indebtedness to the seer and his readiness to follow him now as in the past (993, 995, 997). With Teiresias' first speech, however, the notes of discord begin to appear. We hear first of the aberrations that have occurred in the natural realm--the strange cries and the internal strife of the birds (1001 f.), the unnatural behavior of the burnt offerings (1005 f.) Here, as always in Sophocles, such happenings in the world of nature mirror distortions and convulsions in the moral universe, some rift caused by human misdeeds, and Teiresias himself soon suggests that the unnatural omens reflect divine displeasure with Creon's deeds (1015 f.) The seer follows with a stern but friendly plea to Creon to set matters right before it is too late (1023 f., a passage strongly reminiscent of Haemon's similarly unsuccessful pleas at a comparable point in a previous scene).

But it is already too late, as Creon's answer makes immediately apparent. The relentless current of separation is too strong, and Creon can hear only the criticism in Teiresias' words, not the friendly concern (cf. Antigone's response to the chorus in the last scene). He responds with violent accusations which lead, as so often in the Antigone, to an angry stichomythia in which the separations are rendered irreparable (1048 f.) Teiresias' final speech is all about separations (1064 f.): Creon has kept from the gods what belongs to them, he has cruelly buried a live person; soon he will give one born of himself in exchange and will hear in his house the wails of mourning; nor will the separations be internal only: soon the cities of Greece whose sons have not been buried will wage new wars on Thebes. And, like Haemon in an earlier scene and Eurydice in a later, Teiresias departs before Creon can respond.

Up to Teiresias' departure all of the episodes (and several of the odes, as we shall see) contain clear imitations of the dividing movement that characterizes the Antigone as a whole. After that departure these neat imitations, coterminous with episodes and odes,8 disappear and are replaced by a profusion of smaller imitations. Taken together, these many movements in their fragmented disarray grow out of and suggest the breakdown and ultimate disintegration which are the subject of these final scenes; in addition, each in itself also suggests the play's basic movement.

Creon, stunned by Teiresias' words and by the seer's abrupt departure, desperately tries to reestablish his position, and his almost abject willingness to listen to the chorus' advice bespeaks his belated recognition of how completely he has cut himself off from god and from man (1099 f.) In the ode at 1115 f. the chorus tries to assist Creon's effort to set things right, and their cooperation lends an added significance to his actions: it is now not only an erring king who seeks a restoration that is sure to be denied him; now even the chorus, the spokesmen for the people at large (cf. 164 f.), participate in the doomed attempt. Indeed, one of the most poignant separations that will come with the final scenes is that between Creon and the chorus which here tries to support him with their advice and their prayers. The entrance of the messenger at 1155 reveals how fruitless are these eleventh-hour efforts. While the messenger first mentions Creon's close ties with Thebes and with his children (1161 f.), his real theme is separation (cf. apheitai panta, 1165, ean d'apei ... , 1169) and especially the ultimate separation of death (1173 f.)

Eurydice's entrance at 1180 provides the transition to the next swift imitation, that found in the messenger speech at 1192 f., while in the movement from her presence here to her abrupt departure at 1244 there is yet another variation on the pervasive rhythm of separation. The messenger's account (1192 f.) begins with Creon's still-hopeful attempts to restore and reunite--first his burial of the body, an effort to restore his place with the gods (1199 f.),9 then his approach to "the hollow bridal house of Hades" (1205), a description destined soon to become reality in the marriage in death of Antigone and Haemon; it proceeds poignantly to evoke the father's genuine love for his son, a love which shines forth in the words Creon speaks when he recognizes Haemon's voice from inside the cave (1211 f.) But now the separations begin to crowd in as we hear first of Antigone's final sundering from Haemon, a separation which his embrace only confirms (1223 f.), then of the father's anguished attempt at reconciliation (1228 f.), finally of the son's attempt to kill his father and of his swift killing of himself--again, an irrevocable separation which the succeeding marriage-in-death image only emphasizes:

Corpse on a corpse he lies. He found his marriage.
Its celebration in the halls of Hades.

Eurydice's ominous, silent departure completes the movement toward disintegration.

Creon's arrival brings still more separations. In his arms he holds his dead son, signal that he too is victim of that Theban fate of finding togetherness only in ultimate separation. With Creon's arrival the play's fearful symmetry is complete, for Creon's separation of the two lovers who have died together precisely mirrors the act which set the play in motion--his separation of the two brothers who also have died together. At this point the chorus which at the start of this final section has advised Creon, has stood with him, has prayed for his success, now that chorus too turns from him, moralizing about his fate (1259 f., 1270, 1348 f.) And as this happens we think back to another separation between an individual and a chorus of advisors, that experienced by Antigone, for whom, as for Creon, the moralizing condescension of this communal group was among the most galling of the many separations she had to endure. Furthermore, whereas this final section began with Creon's attempt to set things right vis-à-vis the gods and with the chorus' seemingly confident prayer that he might succeed, it is now clear that the gods have turned from Creon once and for all (1272 f., 1348 f.) Nor are the literal separations over: Creon is informed of the death of Eurydice, and even her reported motives and last words bear the stamp of division.

There, by the altar, dying on the sword,
her eyes fell shut. She wept her older son
who died before, and this one. Last of all
she cursed you as the killer of her children.

C. Some Verbal and Structural Extensions

Although we have looked in some detail at the Antigone section by section, we have only begun to probe the many levels within it which reflect its basic movement. We have, for instance, said little about suggestions of this movement in the language of the play, still less about its place in the choral odes; and because of our emphasis on personal divisions we have played down other significant divisions which are more philosophical in character. In this section I shall deal with a number of these areas, though frequently I shall do no more than sketch out some basic lines of analysis.

We have in our discussion focused on the movements which carry the various individuals, and in particular Antigone and Creon, from union with others to separation from them, but other aspects of the play also reveal this movement toward division. Most obvious, and perhaps most important, are the separations that occur, both in the play as a whole and in many of its components, between man and god, between human ways and divine ways. At first both Antigone and Creon are certain that their actions alone honor the gods and have the gods' support. By the end, both find their certainty rudely shattered. Antigone goes to her death stripped not only of her magnanimity but also of the faith which nurtured that magnanimity; for the Antigone who at 523 proclaims her ability to join in loving is the Antigone who has just proclaimed, unforgettably, her profound faith in the gods (450 f.), while the Antigone whose love and vision have become tragically diminished by the time of her last appearance (see esp. 904 f.) is the Antigone whose faith in the gods has suffered a similar narrowing (see 922 f.) In the same way, Creon's first words proclaim the gods as champions of the state, and implicit in his whole opening speech--and indeed throughout the whole episode (see esp. 304 f.)--is his confidence that in his treatment of Eteocles and Polyneices he is doing the gods' will. From this initial faith, however, he is soon forced to retreat. Antigone, Haemon, Teiresias, and even the chorus suggest that his actions, far from pleasing the gods, actually offend them, and in the Haemon scene Creon is pressed so hard that he finally asserts the absolute primacy of the ruler's decree even when it is unjust (666 f.), something he would scarcely have done when he first appeared. In the end he is obliged to back down and, too late, to try to placate the gods whom once he thought to be his sure allies. For both Antigone and Creon, then, human action and divine seem at first to move hand in hand, at the end to be irrevocably separated.

Moreover, this gradual separation has its reflections in many of the smaller components of the play. If, for instance, we look at those sections which we have already studied, we shall find that as each moves from personal union to personal division a corresponding rift also appears between man and god, between human law and divine law. The first mention of this rift comes in the very first scene as the counterpart to the widening personal rift between the two sisters: Ismene champions the law of the state (59 f.), Antigone the prerogatives of the gods (76 f.) The same philosophic division is also crucial to and symptomatic of the disputes between the chorus and Creon (see 278 f.), Antigone and Creon (see 450 f.), Haemon and Creon (see 745, 749), and Teiresias and Creon (see especially 1064 f.) And we have already mentioned that the final scenes with Antigone and Creon both emphasize at the end the separation of these individuals from the gods. We shall shortly see that the various choral odes also reflect this same division.

Returning now to the play as a whole, we can see that while the chorus blithely suggests at 368-369 that man need only heed both human and divine law to be hupsipolis,10 the thrust of the play is to reveal the impossibility of obeying this injunction. As the play progresses, it suggests increasingly the gulf between human and divine law: often man cannot honor both and must choose between them. The gradual revelation of this oft-fatal rift between the human and the divine serves as counterpart and counterpoint to the gradual breakdown from union to separation on the personal level. Thus the Antigone emphasizes not only the cruel separations that divide human from human but also the equally cruel gulf between human and god, and this stress on irremediable division at every level of the universe is central to the tragic vision of the play. For if in some respects the play affirms divine justice and explores its workings, in others it reveals the difficulty, perhaps even the impossibility, of our understanding that justice. We may see that the gods in the end confirm the principles upon which Antigone acted, but she herself has already gone to her death bereft of her noble vision; Teiresias may assure us of the vengeance that the gods will work on Creon, but we can scarcely understand why that justice must entail the deaths of Antigone, Haemon, Eurydice.

The tragic emphasis on separation in the Antigone extends to other areas as well. For one thing, the play suggests, as do other Sophoclean plays, not only the divisions that do occur between one person and another but also the divisions that must occur given the differences between certain personality types. As many have remarked, Sophocles repeatedly stresses the gulf between the heroic individual and the more ordinary human, the one proud, uncompromising, certain of the rightness of his own vision, the other less proud, more willing to bend, less certain of his own knowledge. Few plays of Sophocles do not in some way involve this distinction, and in plays like Electra and Ajax it is central. It is central also to the Antigone, and as with the other rifts in the play, the sense of fatal division grows during the course of the play. As Antigone unfolds, we not only see persons dividing from each other, humans and their ways dividing from the gods and their ways, but also different types emerging between which division must occur. By the time Antigone and Ismene have completed their first confrontation, it is apparent that their very natures render impossible the togetherness which their common parentage and common lot had at first suggested (1 f.); given what they are, they can only go their separate ways. The same sense of inevitable division develops also as we come to know Haemon and Creon: given Haemon's character and Creon's, eventual division is inevitable here also. Furthermore, as the play progresses we come to feel the inevitability of division not only between certain human types but also between the human and the divine. Indeed, the play as a whole leaves us with a strong sense of what Pindar expressed so eloquently--man's simultaneous kinship with and separation from the gods:

There is one
race of men, one race of gods; both have breath
of life from a single mother. But sundered power
holds us divided, so that the one is nothing, while for the other the brazen sky is established
their sure citadel forever. Yet we have some likeness in great
intelligence, or strength, to the immortals,
though we know not what the day will bring, what course
after nightfall
destiny has written that we must run to the end.
(Nemean 6, 1-7, tr. Lattimore)

Nor are the divisions in Antigone only divisions between--they are also divisions within. For part also of the tragedy are the divisions the play unveils within single human characters. These divisions too, like others in the play, typically emerge gradually during the progress of the Antigone. The scene between Creon and Antigone shows us one Antigone, the succeeding scene with Ismene another. The Creon and Haemon who warmly greet each other are far different from the father and son who shortly thereafter are screaming at each other. The Antigone who speaks so magnificently at 450 f. could scarcely be more different from the Antigone at 904 f. There is no need to multiply examples: in virtually every character there is the same movement, a movement that reveals not only fatal division between individuals but also fatal division within these same persons.

We turn now to a related topic, the manner in which the very words of the play at every level and in a variety of ways reflect and extend the central rhythm of division. Words which seem to mean one thing, for instance, turn out to mean something quite different, a verbal counterpart to the divisions we have just been exploring within individuals; a word which Antigone uses in one way Creon will use quite differently, a counterpart to the central differences of outlook which divide these two; a word which at first suggests union will later suggest division, a counterpart to the overall movement from unity to separation. The following selected examples are again merely representative of the sort of movement and development one will find in word after word.

The opening two words of the play, koinon and autadelphon, are good starting points. In their first occurrence they embody the closeness and the shared sorrows of Antigone and Ismene. Their later appearances, however, are far different. Autadelphos occurs at two other points, 503 and 696, both times with reference to Polyneices, the brother who killed his brother and whose death is the source of division for so many, including Antigone and Ismene themselves. Koinos recurs repeatedly, but never again with the same connotations as in line 1. In 57 and 147 it, like autadelphos in its later occurrences, refers not to the unity in life of the two sisters but to the shared death in division of the two brothers; at 202 it is associated with the civil war which brought death to the brothers. At 539 and 546, in marked contrast to line 1, Antigone uses koinos and its cognate verb to express not her togetherness with but her separation from Ismene. Koinos at 161 suggests the shared concerns of Creon and the chorus, but this sharing is belied by the divisions that break out later in the same scene. Teiresias uses koinos twice, once of the universality of human error (1024), source of so many separations in the Antigone, and once of the road he in his blindness shares with the slave who leads him (988)--surely an image which, like the union in death of the brothers, suggests isolation and separation as much as it does togetherness.

The words philos and phileō are good examples of the way in which words reflect the central divisions between persons in this play, for Antigone uses these words in one way, Creon in a quite different way. Antigone uses philos and phileō to refer to those whom she loves, those who by nature are close to her. Thus at 10 and 73 she uses philos, at 81 the superlative philtatos, to speak of her beloved Polyneices, and she uses the same superlative of Haemon at 572. At 898-899 she uses philos and prosphiles in speaking of her closeness to the family dead whom she will soon join in the underworld. (We may note in passing the frequent association of philos and its cognates with death--a verbal counterpart to the play's association of marriage, love, and union with death.) Perhaps Antigone's most striking and characteristic uses of these words are at 523 and 543. 523 both expresses what philia means to Antigone and underscores by contrast her lack of this quality in the forthcoming scene with Ismene; and Antigone's words in 543 simultaneously distinguish her philia from her sister's and mirror the rifts that are opening between the sisters and within Antigone herself.

If to Antigone philos and phileō suggest the closeness of true affection, to Creon these words suggest something quite different--the closeness of those who are willing to obey their master. His opening speech, like Antigone's, deals with philoi, but he speaks in political, not familial terms (182-183, 187, 190); he uses philos in a similar fashion later in speaking to Haemon (634, 644, 652). It is his statement that an enemy can never be a friend (philos) at 522 that evokes Antigone's noble response at 523, and Creon responds to that eloquent statement of human love with characteristic callousness:

katō nun elthous', ei phileteon, philei
keinous; emou de zōntos ouk arxei gune.
Then go down there, if you must love, and love
the dead. No woman rules me while I live.

It is a measure not only of the expanding gulf between Antigone and Ismene but also of how far the Antigone of 538 f. differs from the Antigone of 450 f. that shortly after Creon's harsh words Antigone can speak with similar callousness in response to the loving words of Ismene:


kai tis bios moi sou leleimmenei philos?


Kpeont' erōta; toude gar su kedemōn.


When you are gone what life can be my friend?


Ask Creon. He's your kinsman and your care.(548-549)

These contrasting uses of the words for love point to a pivotal irony in the Antigone. Just as the vocabulary of affection charts the divisions between persons in the play, so in the play as a whole love itself is frequently the motivating force behind these fatal divisions. It is love for her brother that moves Antigone to her deed, love for Antigone that turns Haemon against his father; love for a lost child moves Eurydice to suicide, and love for the city is among Creon's basic motives. Wherever we look we see the moving force of love (cf. 781 f.), and always love seems to separate, not to unite.

The use of dual nouns, adjectives, and verbs, especially in the opening scene, also reflects the play's movement toward division. The dual is first used in line 3 in a context suggesting the huddled closeness of Antigone and Ismene as together they face a hostile world. The next duals, however, refer not to togetherness in love but to togetherness in death--13-14, 21. At 50 Ismene uses the dual of herself and Antigone, but in a context of separation; at 55-57 her duals again attach to a duel, not a duet; and when in 58 f. she uses duals of herself and Antigone, the words, while superficially similar to Antigone's at 1 f., lead immediately into the very emphases--obedience to the law, the helplessness of women--which will separate her from her sister. Later uses of the dual also extend the sense of separation, not the togetherness of line 3: see 143 f. (of Eteocles and Polyneices), 488, 769 f. (of Creon's threatened execution of both sisters).

One last motif characterizes with peculiar aptness both the movement and the mood of the play--the word monos, "alone," a word which not surprisingly takes on a special significance in this play about separation, loneliness, isolation, the inability of humans to communicate with each other. In the first episode this word is used twice, once each by Antigone and Ismene, both times to refer to the special bonds that bind them to each other (19, 58). But the bonds between the sisters are already crumbling as they speak these words, and later in the play each comes to know what it is truly to be monos.

Antigone's final, lonely words at 941 f. clearly echo Ismene's line 58 in the first scene, as do Ismene's words when she sees how unbridgeable is the gulf between Antigone and herself (548, 566). Other characters also comment on Antigone's aloneness repeatedly by means of this same word (508, 656, 821, 887).11 Creon too, as we have mentioned, finds the way he has chosen far lonelier than he has anticipated, and at the end of the play he is as bereft of friends as is Antigone at her departure, as shut off from the world as is Antigone in her solitary tomb. It is accordingly not surprising to find Haemon speaking to Creon in terms which recall Creon's lines to Antigone and which apply to him the same word monos which he and others have used of Antigone (707 f., 739, cf. 508).

In conclusion we turn to the choral odes. Although none of them displays the play's basic splitting movement with the clarity we find in the episodes, all of them nonetheless suggest its impact in one way or another. Several odes contain subtle reflections of the basic movements that split man from man and man from god; several partake of the play's splitting movement in that words spoken with reference to one person or situation later turn out to fit another person or situation as well or better; and between several of the odes themselves there exist strong centrifugal tensions that set one ode against another, a structural counterpart to the personal and philosophical oppositions that dominate the play.

The opening ode serves primarily to introduce the theme of man's harmony with the gods: the gods have stood by Thebes in her hour of crisis; they have vindicated the justice of her citizens and punished the impiety of her enemies. This theme is central both to the ode and to Creon's opening words in the following episode (162 f.), and it stands in direct opposition to the man-god divisions which later will emerge and which dominate the closing portions of the play. Seen in this way, the parodos functions as part of the long movement from togetherness to separation in the play as a whole and, on a smaller scale, in the section from 110 to 331. There are, however, ways in which the ode itself also reflects the play's splitting movement. For one thing, its progression from celebration of the unity of man and god in defeating the enemy (100 f.) to anguished recollection of the mutual slaughter of the brothers (143 f.) duplicates the movement of many episodes. Furthermore, the moralizing comments about Zeus' vengeance on the Argive transgressors (128 f.) are all too prone to that divided reference which will repeatedly plague choral utterances in this play. The chorus' last words in the play, for instance, will clearly echo lines 128 f. of this ode, but with reference not to the enemy but to Creon:

Great words by men of pride
bring greater blows upon them.
So wisdom comes to the old.

And the description of the enemy at 136-137 will be as clearly echoed in the chorus' words about Antigone at 929 f.:

The same tempest of mind
as ever controls the girl.

In addition, the very fact that the chorus can talk about Zeus' punishment of human transgression points ahead to the theme of man's separation from the gods, a separation which will become increasingly apparent and increasingly significant as the play progresses.

The famous ode at 332 f. seems at first glance only tenuously connected to the context in which it appears.12 In fact, however, the ode at every point uses images and motifs which are significant elsewhere in the play, and this verbal network firmly binds it both to context and to play. These same motifs also, however, emphasize several of the basic divisions in the Antigone. The ode begins, for instance, with man's union with nature--his control over the sea, over the land, over animals and birds; but from this we move in the play itself to an emphasis on the divisions between man and nature--man's powerlessness against the sea (e.g., 586 f., 715 f., 785, etc.), the deliberate separation of Polyneices from the earth, the tearing of human flesh by the birds and dogs. Again, the ode suggests man's ability to communicate, to find shelter, to rule himself, but from this we move to the total breakdown of communication (a breakdown especially apparent in the next two episodes), to one man's deliberate denial of shelter to another, to the devastation and dissonance that result from man's attempt to rule himself. Similarly, as we have seen, the ode suggests (368 f.) that man need merely honor both human and divine law to be safe, but the remainder of the play shows that often these two laws stand fatally separated and that man must choose between them. And the ode's key word deinos itself proves subject to this same sort of division. For while in the ode this word seems to suggest man's awesome capacity, elsewhere it suggests rather his awe-ful proclivity for actions which separate him from other humans and from god. Thus Antigone uses deinos in speaking of her burial of Polyneices and of its consequences (96, 915), the guard and Haemon in speaking of the terror that Creon's rage inspires in others (243, 408, 690); Creon uses the word to describe men who dare evil deeds for money (1046), the chorus to describe Teiresias' dread prophecies (1091), the power of fate (951), and the savage madness of Lycurgus (959); and in the climactic moment when Creon must decide whether to persevere or yield, he says:

to t'eikathein gar deinon, antistanta de
atei pataxai thumon en deinōi para.
'Tis dire to yield; but, by resistance,
to smite my pride with ruin--this too,
is a dire choice.

The use of this one word deinos thus mirrors the splitting movement of the play: from its appearance at 332, where it seems positive in connotation, it fans out in all directions, taking on almost exclusively negative connotations; and from its simple reference to man as a generic creature at 332 it moves out to attach itself to most of the many lonely individuals whose deina erga set them apart one from another.

There are still other ways in which this second ode shares in the divisiveness of the Antigone. Throughout the ode man's singleness is stressed--note singular nouns or pronouns of man in 332-333, 334, 347, singular adjectives, verbs, participles passim. But right at the end this single creature suddenly splits into the hupsipolis and the apolis (370), into the man of righteousness with whom the chorus will gladly associate and the man of sinful daring whom it spurns in the final words of the ode (372 f.) In addition, there runs through the whole ode an undercurrent of the separation between man and god, that separation which is so crucial in the play as a whole and which will in the end negate all the human capacities which this ode so confidently praises. One finds hints of man's opposition to the gods, and of his weakness before the gods, in 337 f., 361 f., and 369. And the chorus' first words after this ode point in the same direction: man, for all his abilities, will scarcely be able to cope with the daimonion teras (i.e., Antigone led by the guard) with which he is now confronted.

The ode at 582 f. similarly shares in the splitting movement of the play. Most important, it brings into the open that opposition between man and god which has been implicit in the previous odes and which has played so crucial a role in the preceding scene (see 584, 596 f., 601 f., 604 f., 623 f.) In addition, it too suggests near the end man's fatal proclivity to division (616 f.), and we may note in this regard its neat parallelism with the two preceding odes, each of which toward its conclusion also suggests a men ... de division within what had previously seemed unified (see 137-138, 367 [tote men ... allote]). Finally, this ode, like the others, is filled with phrases which seem to point in one direction but can just as well point in another. Thus its words about the accursed nature of the house of Labdacus are presumably evoked by the actions of Antigone in the previous episode (see especially 599 f.), but most of them are no more applicable to her than they are to two other members of the same family, Creon and Haemon. If here they seem to refer principally to Antigone, as the play progresses their relevance, like so much else, will dramatically divide.

The fourth ode too abounds in ambiguous references. For while the theme of the power of love clearly springs from Haemon's actions in the previous episode, this theme is equally relevant to other figures in the play--to Antigone, whose focus on philia we have already discussed; to Creon, whose callous attitude toward Haemon's love for Antigone has brought him in yet another way into opposition with a divine force; and, in less obvious ways, to Ismene and even Eurydice. Furthermore, the whole ode focuses on the theme of human-divine separation: Aphrodite may work in and through humans, but the military language and imagery of the ode clearly emphasize the gulf between the conquering goddess and the vassal humans. Finally, Aphrodite is hymned less as the goddess of union than as the goddess who through love effects separation and devastation--including strife among kindred (see 782, 790, 791-794). As the goddess who incites dissension through passion, this Aphrodite bears an obvious relationship to that special kind of Theban togetherness which Eteocles and Polyneices have found and which, in a different way, Haemon and Antigone will soon experience.

The ode at 944 f. is perhaps more completely dominated by separation than is any of the others (note that in the movement from the union-dominated ode at 100 f. to this separation-dominated ode there is yet one more reflection of our basic gesture). Its mythological exempla without exception concern families which, like the royal house of Thebes, move from union to disunion. Danae's father turns on her, Lycurgus' people on him, step-mother on step-children in the story of Phineus and Cleopatra. The ode is filled also with hints of the by-now central separation between man and god. Not only do we have the open enmity of Dionysus toward Lycurgus and of the Moirai toward Cleopatra, but the emptiness of genealogical ties between man and god is emphasized: what good did Danae's relationship to Zeus (947 f.), Cleopatra's to Boreas (981 f.), do them? In addition, this ode too is filled with divided references, with some sections suggesting Creon, others Antigone, still others Oedipus and other ill-fated members of the house.14 And whereas in previous odes the chorus at least seemed to be speaking of one subject or one person, here its references, like the relationships at this point in the play, are overtly splintered. Finally, we should note the desolate mood of this ode. However varied its exempla and their points of reference, the ode deals throughout with images of loneliness, despair, savage separation--Danae hidden off in her dark chamber, Lycurgus in his rocky cell, Cleopatra and the blinded sons of Phineus isolated in distant Thrace (cf. the isolation in blindness of Teiresias in the very next scene). And, as in the Theban house, the only unions that take place bring disaster--Zeus and Danae, Lycurgus' "touching" of the god (962), the tragic marriage of Phineus and Cleopatra, the abortive seed of the Erechtheidae (note esp. anumpheuton gonan, 980).

We have already mentioned the role played by the sixth ode in one of the play's swift closing movements from union to disunion. Here it remains only to add that in itself too this ode contains clear hints of the themes we have noticed elsewhere. While overtly it deals with the union of man with god, of Thebes with Bacchus, its manner of describing that union is suggestive rather of the vast gulf between man and god, that very gulf which will open so wide in the scenes to come. Dionysus is early associated with the common-to-all worship of Demeter (see 1120-1121), but later references suggest the separation of his worshippers from society (see 1128 f., 1150 f.); and implicit in the whole ode is the essential distinction between god and man, a distinction emphasized by the powerful language used of Dionysus (e.g., association with the thunder, 1117, with Cadmus' dragon, 1125, with various images of light flashing amidst the darkness--1126 f., 1139, 1146 f.) Above all, there is the emphasis on his relationship to Semele (1115 f., 1137 f.), a woman whose union with Zeus is again paradigmatically Theban in its mixture of love and destruction.

There are also significant tensions between the different odes, turning them away from each other in the same way that tensions between the characters set them apart. Thus the "optimistic" ode at 332 f. stresses man's control of the universe, with clear hints of his limits, while the pessimistic ode at 582 f. stresses his inability to control the superhuman forces that shape his destiny but contains hints of the means by which he may survive; the former ode emphasizes man, the latter, that which is above man, and surely in the contrast between their themes there is some reflection of the central tension in the play between the human and the divine. Similarly, the ode at 781 f., despite its hints of human tragedy, is basically bright in tone, with its theme of Aphrodite and her play (800 f.) and its descriptive references to the soft cheeks of the young woman (783 f.) and the desire that shines clear from the eyes of the bride (795 f.); in contrast, the "Danae ode" (944 f.) is unrelievedly dark in tone--the eyes are now cruelly blinded, marriage for both Danae and Cleopatra is associated with destruction, and the madness of love (790) has been replaced by the madness that destroys Lycurgus (958 f.) And while the fourth ode stresses the power of the divine over the universe, with glances at its impact on humans, the fifth stresses the manifold tragedies of human existence with glances at the relationships between those tragedies and the gods. The sixth ode, like the first, looks to the gods for defense of the city (note that Dionysus, the god appealed to in the sixth, is the very god mentioned at the end of the first ode--153 f.) But while the first recalls past history with satisfaction, the sixth appeals for future aid; and while the first emphasizes the gods' help against a foreign enemy, the last calls for divine help against an internal disease (1140 f.) Both odes contain prominent light-darkness imagery, but the first ode celebrates the return of light while the sixth appeals for its return. In neither instance is the light destined to be lasting.

The particular relationships that we have suggested--second ode contrasting with third, fourth with fifth, first with sixth, are underscored by motivic links and by parallel structures which firmly join the odes into this pattern of pairs.

Between the second and third odes these links are particularly numerous. Note, for instance, the sea image which is prominent in the first strophe of both (334 f., cf. 586 f., including in both oidma, wind, waves, and sound); to mellon, occurring four lines from the end of strophe B in each ode (361, cf. 611); and, in the two final antistrophes, where the parallelism is especially marked, elpid', 366, cf. 615-616; the tote men ... allote construction describing the alternation of good and evil in human life (367, cf. 616-617); herpei, 367, cf. 618; the folly that leads to disaster (370-371, cf. 622-625); and sophon, 365, cf. sophiai, 620. Other motifs, while not strictly parallel, also link the odes: cf. man's plowing of the land (337 f.) with the curse's harvest of the last root of the Labdacids (598 f.); akamatan, 339, cf. 607 (note also akmeta, 352); kouphonoōn, 342, cf. 617; anemoen, 353, cf. dusanemoi, 591; nomous, 368 (cf. 355), cf. 613.

Similar links join the fourth and fifth odes and the first and sixth odes to each other in contrasting pairs. The fourth and fifth, like the second and third, contain clear references to the sea in their first strophes (785, cf. 954 f.--note also the sea connotations in the story of Danae). Both stress madness at the end of their first half (790, cf. 958 f.); both, as we have mentioned, focus on the destructive potential of love and use similar motifs in connection with this theme--the marriage chamber and bed (795 f., cf. 947, thalamōi), eyes (795, cf. 971 f.), resulting strife among kindred (793 f., cf. 970 f.); and both deal with the inescapable powers that beset man (note especially the close parallelism at the end of the first stanza of each--787 f., cf. 953 f.).

Between the first and sixth odes there are, inter alia, the following ties: the motif of madness (135 f., cf. 1151 f.); references in the opening strophes to the native rheethra of Thebes (104 f., cf. 1123 f.--these are perhaps the counterpart to the sea motifs in the first strophes of the other four odes); the clear references in both odes to the destructive flash of Zeus' lightning (131 f., cf. 1139), and the associated light and fire imagery that is so prominent in both (100 f., 124, 135, cf. 1126 f., 1146 f.); the references in both to Cadmus' dragon (126 f., cf. 1124 f.); the references at the end of both to the nighttime dances of Dionysus (152 f., cf. 1150 f.--note pannuch(i)os in both passages); and in both a profusion of words suggesting rapid and violent movement.

The clear motivic and structural links between these six odes serve both to relate them to each other in the pattern that we have suggested and also to underscore the thematic and tonal contrasts between the members of these pairs.

The Antigone, then, is above all about division--division between and within persons, division between man and god, division between loyalty to the family and loyalty to the state, division between and within words and phrases, division between intentions and results. The play deals with this theme not in abstract, static terms but organically, working the rhythm of division deep into its every part. We should remember also the tableaux of separation in which we last meet the two main characters--Creon with the bodies of the son and wife whose deaths he has caused, faced with a hostile chorus; Antigone in her lonely tomb, separated even from the lover who had so briefly clung to her dead body. But amidst this panorama of separation, one thing holds together--the play itself, thanks in no small part to the presence at its every level of the persistent movement toward separation. And surely this palintropos harmonie, this harmony of opposites in which unity is forged from the very rhythm of division, is one reason that the play, despite its theme of disintegration, creates an impression that is far from totally despairing.

D. Conclusion

In conclusion we turn briefly to Sophocles' other Theban plays, the Oedipus Tyrannus and Oedipus at Colonus. Central to both are the same antithetical forces that we have found in our other two Theban plays--on the one hand, a magnetic force that irresistibly draws persons together to their fated and usually disastrous meetings--Laius to Jocasta, Oedipus to Laius and Jocasta, Eteocles to Polyneices; on the other hand, the strong vein of antagonism or resistance that makes these same persons try to avoid each other. We have seen this opposition of forces take different forms in the Seven and the Antigone, and we find still further variations in Sophocles' two Oedipus plays.

On one level, Oedipus Tyrannus is dominated by forces that draw people together to meetings that prove disastrous. While the play conveys a strong sense of human autonomy, in a typically Sophoclean fashion it simultaneously projects an equally strong sense of humans irresistibly drawn to their appointed destinies. We sense this fatal magnetism in those past events which, in a fashion that seems both fortuitous and diabolically contrived, bring the two shepherds together on Cithaeron and, later, lead Oedipus to Laius, Thebes, and Jocasta. We sense this magnetism also in the events of the play itself--in the uncanny and deinos smoothness with which meetings transpire: Oedipus wonders where Creon is--suddenly he is there; the chorus suggests a meeting with Teiresias--Oedipus has already arranged it; Jocasta prays for help in present trouble--suddenly the Corinthian appears with news that seems to offer just such help; Oedipus asks who gave the child to the Corinthian--and finds that it is precisely the same Theban who has already been summoned. Always there is the same sense of the irresistible force that brings together, and always the coming together is linked to doom. This same magnetism seems present also in the dramatic gesture mentioned in the Introduction, that inexorable boomerang movement which always draws Oedipus back to himself. For perhaps the central union of the play is that in which one Oedipus meets another,15 a union that in its extreme inversions, its cruel discoveries, and its aura of inevitability is again typically Theban.

But if the play powerfully suggests the forces that bring together, it suggests with equal power the forces that separate, and in this, as in many other respects, it is strongly reminiscent of the Antigone. But whereas in the Antigone the movement toward separation works on virtually all the characters and certainly on Creon as much as on Antigone, in Oedipus this movement of separation focuses relentlessly on Oedipus himself. For if we feel the presence of daemonic forces that have brought Oedipus together with Laius, with Jocasta, with Thebes and Teiresias and Creon and the two shepherds, we feel just as strongly the cruel forces that are carrying the king from union to isolation. Like Achilles in the Iliad, Oedipus at the start is the person to whom everyone turns; and, again like Achilles, he becomes increasingly isolated as the play progresses. We see him separate himself in turn from Teiresias, from Creon, from Jocasta; and when he has learned the full truth from the shepherds, they leave in different directions while he heads inside alone to the typically Theban union in separation with Jocasta. The succeeding choral ode climaxes in the chorus' wish that they had never seen Oedipus (1217 f.), and when Oedipus reappears he is locked into the isolation of his blindness and wishes for the even completer solitude that deafness might afford (1386 f.) and for exile to the wastes of Cithaeron (1451 f.); nor do the meetings at the end with Creon and even with his children do much to allay his or our sense of desolate solitude.

The omnipresent boomerang movement of the Oedipus Tyrannus also contributes to our sense of the king's isolation. Always he directs his gaze, his intentions, his momentum outward, toward others, and always these circle back upon himself, alone. Other aspects of the play also support this movement. The riddle of the Sphinx, for instance, once seemed merely a parable of man in general, but the play reveals its special relevance to Oedipus. We see him before our eyes flit rapidly between the three stages: the helplessness of childhood (the helpless babe of whom we and Oedipus learn during the play), the magnificent but transitory self-sufficiency of manhood (Oedipus at the start of the play, towering above his suppliants), and the tottering, three-legged helplessness of old age (Oedipus at the end, rendered an old man by the events of one day [cf. 438], supporting himself by a staff). And just as Oedipus directs his actions outward only to find them recoiling upon himself, so he strives to move into an unfolding future only to find himself led always back into the narrow confines of his own past. Like a series of psychiatric sessions, the scenes of the play take us step by step back in time until with the two shepherds we find the hidden trauma at the root of the evil--the lonely and naked baby of Laius and Jocasta. Surely in this solitary probing into his own past there is a counterpart to the growing separation of the king from those around him. Finally, the general movement in the play from public quest to private quest similarly supports the sense of increasing isolation. Oedipus begins as a king facing state problems, and even in the great first scene with Jocasta he is fearful not that he has killed a father but that he has killed a king; but as the next scenes unfold, his gaze turns inward and his mind becomes absorbed with private preoccupations: Who are my parents? Where do I come from? Who am I? This relentless narrowing of focus from public concerns to private is among the most important contributors to our sense of Oedipus' isolation.

Oedipus at Colonus deals also, though in a different and rather more positive way, with contrasting movements toward union and isolation. For one thing, the unions that occur in this play do not have the relentlessly sinister cast of those in Oedipus Tyrannus. The meetings with Creon and Polyneices are bitter, to be sure, but we can accept their bitterness more easily than we can the fiendish cruelty of the meetings that occur in Oedipus Tyrannus. And in other scenes the play focuses on comings-together which are genuinely joyous and fruitful--the reunion of Oedipus and Antigone with Ismene, the warm and steadfast friendship which Theseus offers, the deep joy which attends Oedipus' finding of sanctuary at long last. Two unions stand out above all others. First, there is the often lonely union of Antigone with Oedipus, a union which has its frictions (see, e.g., the testiness of the two toward each other at points in the opening scene) but which has nonetheless proved lasting and strong. Second, there is the union of Oedipus with the gods, a union that begins with Oedipus' sense of homecoming when he finds himself in the grove of the Eumenides and that reaches its climax when the gods take back to themselves the man who has with some reason felt so cruelly isolated from them.

But if the play deals with union, and with union of a more attractive sort than we find in the other Theban plays, it deals also, like these others, with isolation and separation. There is still the isolation of Oedipus--no lonelier lines were ever penned than his first lines in the play; there is throughout still the pain of his separation from Thebes, and, especially in the early scenes, the instinctive revulsion which the polluted king tends to arouse in other humans. Later in the play there is the characteristically Theban antagonism between Oedipus and Creon, Oedipus and Polyneices, and the brief but extraordinarily affecting scene in which his daughters are carried off. A still more general note of human isolation is sounded in the chorus' lines at 1239 f., lines which in their desolation and their lonely seascape recall certain passages of the Antigone. Furthermore, as Oedipus becomes more like the Oedipus of old (one more reunion!), he increasingly displays those traits which in Oedipus Tyrannus so contributed to his progressive isolation--swiftness to rage, intolerance, inability to see the other person's side. These qualities become especially marked in the scene with Polyneices, that scene which immediately precedes Oedipus' climactic departure. Thus the prelude to Oedipus' harmonious union with the gods is this scene of harsh human dissonance.

There remains one important separation to discuss--that which occurs in Oedipus' final scene. We have thus far spoken of this scene in terms of reunion, and seen as such it forms the perfect capstone to the general movement toward union which is an important aspect of the play. For if Oedipus Tyrannus deals on one level with the progressive isolation of Oedipus, Oedipus at Colonus, also on one level only, deals with the breakdown of that isolation and with Oedipus' progressive reunion with man and god. From his opening words of loneliness we move to some sense of his companionship with Antigone, to his recognition that in the grove of the Eumenides he has at last found his true home, to his reunion with Ismene, his friendship with Theseus, his reception by Athens, and his final scene with the gods. In another sense, however, this final scene represents not the ultimate union but the ultimate separation. Its union, as so often in Theban myth, can take place only in death, and indeed Oedipus, like Antigone and other Sophoclean figures, clearly belongs to that absolute and heroic race whose very grandeur tends to cut them off from other humans and to lead them to find union only with the gods and in death. To go to the gods Oedipus must first cut himself off from normal society, then, in a scene of inexpressible sorrow, bid farewell to his daughters, and finally leave his new-found companion Theseus to go the last way alone. Furthermore, the transcendental scene of his departure and union with the gods is, in typically Sophoclean--and Theban--fashion, enclosed by scenes which on the one side stress the antagonism between the two brothers and between father and sons, and, on the other, the desolate sorrow of the two girls whom Oedipus has left behind.

In the end, though, the isolation and loneliness at the close of Oedipus at Colonus remain surely more positive than those at the close of Oedipus Tyrannus. Antigone and Ismene at least have each other, and Theseus, and Athens. Moreover, in their final union we may well see a recollection and a reversal of the Antigone, a play which began with these same two sisters huddled together against a hostile world; and if in the course of the Antigone we see them irresistibly torn apart, in Sophocles' last play they begin apart only to come joyfully together again and, at the end, once more to cling to each other at a time of loss and sorrow. And while Oedipus in his last words to his daughters uses one last time that word monos which is so symptomatic of the loneliness of the Antigone, he uses it in a context of love--in conjunction, in fact, with that very word for loving, phileō, which in the Antigone helps characterize the divisions between people:

                                                                                all' hen gar monon
ta panta luei taut' epos mochthemata.
to gar philein ouk estin ex hotou pleon
e toude tἀndros escheth', hou tetōmenai
ton loipon ede tou biou diaxeton.
                                                                                And yet one word
Makes all those difficulties disappear:
That word is love. You never shall have more
From any man than you have had from me.
And now you must spend the rest of life without me.

In Oedipus' final departure from Antigone and Ismene, as everywhere in the Theban plays, we find the antinomy of the centrifugal and the centripetal, the magnetic and the divisive, but here at last, in the equilibrium of these opposites, there sounds a note of reconciliation and of repose.


1. I am particularly in debt to the following studies of the Antigone: K. Reinhardt, Sophocles (Frankfurt-am-Main 1933) 75-105; C. H. Whitman, Sophocles. A Study of Heroic Humanism (Cambridge 1951) 81-99; R. H. Goheen, The Imagery of Sophocles' Antigone. A Study of Poetic Language and Structure (Princeton 1981); I. M. Linforth, Antigone and Creon (Berkeley 1961); H. D. F. Kitto, Form and Meaning in Drama (London 1956) 138-178; B. M. W. Knox, The Heroic Temper. Studies in Sophoclean Tragedy (Berkeley 1964) 62-116; W. Jens, "Antigone-Interpretationen," in H. Diller, Sophokles (Darmstadt 1967) 295-310; D. A. Hester, "Sophocles the Unphilosophical. A Study in the Antigone," Mnemosyne 24 (1971) 11-59; G. H. Gellie, Sophocles. A Reading (Melbourne 1972) 29-52; S. Benardete, "A Reading of Sophocles' Antigone: I and II," Interpretation 4 (1975) 148-196 and 5 (1975) 1-55; R. P. Winnington-Ingram, Sophocles. An Interpretation (Cambridge 1980) 91-173; C. Segal, Tragedy and Civilization. An Interpretation of Sophocles (Cambridge 1981) 152-206. G. F. Else, The Madness of Antigone (Abhandlungen der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, Phil.-hist. Klasse, 1976, no. 1) has been of particular use in its analysis of the close links between the Seven and the Antigone.

2. I follow the OCT [Oxford Classical Texts] in assigning 572 to Antigone. See Kitto's discussion in Form and Meaning in Drama 162 f.

3. Cf. R. E. Braun (ed. & tr.), Sophocles' Antigone (London 1974) 11: "The Antigone seems compounded of pairs which life sunders."

4. I follow the OCT in placing 663-667 after 671.

5. C. H. Whitman, Homer and the Heroic Tradition (Cambridge 1958) 185. Cf. Whitman's comment on Antigone in Sophocles 90: "In a world of hollow men, she is real."

6. For arguments in favor of the authenticity of 904 f., see esp. Goheen, Imagery of Sophocles' Antigone 78 f.; G. M. Kirkwood, A Study of Sophoclean Drama (Ithaca 1958) 163 f.; Kitto, Form and Meaning in Drama 170 f.; Knox, Heroic Temper 104 f.; Hester, Mnemosyne 24 (1971) 36 f., 55 f.; Gellie, Sophocles 47-48; S. Murnagnan, "Antigone 904-920 and the Institution of Marriage," AJP 107 [American Journal of Philology] (1986) 192-207. For a strong statement of the case against their authenticity, see Else, Madness of Antigone 104-110.

7. 551 seems to suggest that Antigone herself recognizes how embittered she has become.

8. Much the same thing happens in the concluding portions of the Oedipus Tyrannus (see my comments in Transactions of the American Philological Association 102 [1971] 483-484).

9. Note, however, that the difficulty of assembly the parts of the torn body (1202) bodes ill for Creon's efforts to restore harmony.

10. I follow Reiske in reading gerairōn rather than perainōn (OCT).

11. Cf. 777, where monos modifies Hades, the sole companion of Antigone's nuptials.

12. For my understanding of the ode at 332 f. I have drawn heavily on C. P. Segal, "Sophocles' Praise of Man and the Conflicts of the Antigone," Arion 3, 2 (1964) 46-66, and Tragedy and Civilization 152 f.

13. Cf. also the guard's use of deinos at 323.

14. 944-954 seem especially to suggest Antigone, 955-965 Creon, while 966-987 contain hints of both. References to the power of fate (951 f.), to the swift anger of a king (955 f.), and to blinding (972 f.) seem reminiscent of Oedipus; the two children destroyed by their parents (971 f.) hint at Eteocles and Polyneices; and Lycurgus (955 f.) may even recall Pentheus.

15. Cf. B. M. W. Knox, Oedipus at Thebes (New Haven 1957) 149: "In the end one Oedipus finds the other." I am reminded also of T. S. Eliot, The Family Reunion (Complete Poems and Plays, 1909-1950 229): "The man who returns will have to meet the boy who left."

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420068814