Greek Tragedy


Julie Chen

December 24th, 2006

Antigone: For LOVE or JUSTICE?

        After reading Charles Segal’ “Antigone: Death and Love, Hades and Dionysus” in the text book, the theme of Eros in the drama interests me, so I found another two papers to read—“Eros in Politics” by Richmond Y. Hathorn and “Politics and Man’s Fate in Sophocles’ Antigone” by Alfred R. Ferguson. At the beginning, I will brief introduce their center idea in this paper with the arrangement of my personal opinion.

        The Ero’s theme is fewer discussed in Ferguson’s “Politics and Man’s Fate in Sophocles’ Antigone”, he mainly explains human justice and the meaning of life in the paper with inference of Sophocles’ purpose of writing. Ferguson sees Sophocles’ characters in a more divine way, that is, they are made for certain purpose and will stands for their own purpose to death. To explain the characters’ identification, Ferguson doesn’t use the term of EROS to frame the characters, he simply point out different conscience of each character while proving they are precisely made by the author.

“Perhaps the main basis for naming Antigone the ‘Stand-bearer of human conscience’ is Sophocles, drew men as ‘they ought to be’ whereas Euripides draws then ‘as they are’.”(p43, Vol. 70, No. 2 (Dec., 1974), The Classical Journal) Ferguson also reckons that Antigone’s intention as the individual presentation of all men’s conscience. He calls this individual conscience “the human spirit that is sacred and inviolable unto death and beyond”, therefore, Ferguson reckons that the living shall act out human beings’ cognizance sanctity with the “ritual attention to the dead”. “Ritual attention” here is so significant that it connects more than the beloved livings, but also dead person. The spiritual attitude of persistence and selfless is what Ferguson thinks “justice”, Dike. However, he doesn’t see Antigone’s opponent, Creon as a simple villain (as Ferguson portrayed, many critics have this kind of idea) but another presentation of justice, which is for the whole family and state, simply trying to get rid of ritual roles which is persisted by a young woman, on the love to her brother. Therefore, Ferguson does not blame on Creon’s stubbornness or chauvinistic thinking, he merely points out the contrast between Creon and Antigone. “Thus here are two separate perceptions of Dike to which each protagonist is absolutely, grandly, passionately dedicated.” The justice here stands for “two mutually exclusive perceptions of the good (p.45).

Ferguson does not agree that the agon is simply between “good” and “evil”. “Rather, it is between the two irreconcilable ideas, two antithetical, polarized perceptions of justice.” (p.47) By saying that, Ferguson reckons that each characters knows to choose the best way to achieve their ‘good’, though these ‘good’ might merely be personal justice. What we need to see is if that justice gets too personal, like Creon. As Ferguson analyzes, as the plays goes, “Creon grows more absolute as his intended ‘good rules’ and ‘best plans of all’ are overshadowed by his ego’s dilation.” His ‘ego’s dilation’ brings destruction, which is reckoned by Ferguson as ‘basic tenant of Greek belief’ (p.45). Ferguson refers that, in Sophocles’ world there is no premeditated deviations from ordinary mortal relationships but accidental ones. A Sophoclean character is not alone in the universe, without “moorings or definitive patterns of ethical and moral response”. Ferguson believes that Sophocles tends to portray individual act with “a divine, universal, natural, or public scheme” (p.48), as the contrast to Creon, Antigone fits more the frame, as an immortal that is divine and supernatural.

Moreover, In “Eros in Politics” (The Classical Journal, Vol. 54, No. 3, pp. 109-115), Richmond Y. Hathorn agrees with the same observation about Antigone’s spiritual internal, but he does not see her from the view point of JUSTICE. Hathorn mentions “the choice of a good that leads to other goods and the direct preference of the goods in itself” (p.109) as his opening. The “good”, according to his statement in p.110, lies in “faith and love”. He does not use the word “justice” and it seems “justice” to me when he obscurely explains the idea of “faith” with another idea, “ethic of calculation”. To me, faith and ethic of life’s calculation equals JUSTICE, the actual deed based on that spiritual “faith”. The whole drama goes not only with Antigone’s faith, but her action and her personal, divine justice.

While discussing Antigone’s major imagery, I found that Hathorn’s central idea of “martyr” conflicts with Segal’s analysis of “bride of Death”. Hathorn says that the imagination about the form of “wedding a virgin to god” might be limited by the ritual thinking of savagery. What he wants to emphasize on is the characters’ spiritual side. “To this affinity of the superhuman with the supernatural Antigone attests; time, cultural attrition, or Sophocles himself had stripped away the more sanguinary reminiscences of the primitive ritual and had left her a martyr to the basic mystery of mankind face to face with death. (p.113, The Classical Journal, Vol. 54, No. 3)

Next, starting from Segal’s interpretation of Antigone and Prince Haemon, I would like to discuss about Haemon’s position in the play. In “Antigone: Death and Love, Hades and Dionysus”, Segal simple focuses on the theme and imagery of death and love, instead of mentioning other aspect of justice. On the aspect of love, Segal uses softer term to describe Antigone, along with the prince Haemon, since he wants to recreate the imagery of female warmness. In his interpretation, Segal describes Haemon as “a victim of Eros” (p.45), assuring the effort Haemon has made for Antigone. However, Segal omits the aspects of Haemon’s characteristic of virility, which is only obscurely explained in Ferguson’s paper (p.46).

 For me, the imagery that Haemon presents is multiple, formed by dashing action of protecting his bride. His dialogue with Creon also conveys another soft, witty expression. It’s a pity that Segal does not write more about this aspect. Therefore, next I would like to present Haemon’s position with the value of justice and love. Is his action (especially the speech and the final suicide) for LOVE or for JUSTICE? What is his attitude then?

In my opinion, Haemon might have his own value of justice although he is on Antigone’s side. It is not merely love for Haemon to take action in the play, maybe LOVE is one of the reasons, but it definitely is not the only reason for Haemon to make his gentle, clear and witty speech to Creon and commits suicide in latter scene. From these, we can see that Haemon he is not merely “a victim of Eros”, but a prince that decides what good should be done. LOVE, or “Eros” is the first thread to bring him and Antigone together on one side of world values, however, it is just a part of the relationship; without the identification to Antigone’s value of JUSTICE, Haemon would not know what to decide, why he makes the speech and why he suicides. However, I do not think that Haemon’s JUSTICE is the copy of Antigone’s. As a human being, he might still have his own sense, since he is the only person on “his” own point of view. To know Haemon as a supporting role who transcends significant message with diverse characteristics, we should remember his dilemma, pain and anger with the sympathy and imagination. Because of personal consideration and position, the prince is different from Antigone although they are on the same side, under the same compact relationship.

To sum up, LOVE and JUSTICE do not have absolutely causal relation. However, in Sophocles’ “Antigone”, there must be both private and openly decision that made under the name of JUSTICE, along with LOVE as a final reason for these characters to present. These two elements form the whole atmosphere with multicolor. And through the counteractive character, Haemon, we feel the loveliness and attraction of Antigone. That is also why when the audiences learn about Sophocles’ value of human beings, w found it diverse and profound in all ways.










Politics and Man's Fate in Sophocles' "Antigone"

Alfred R. Ferguson

The Classical Journal > Vol. 70, No. 2 (Dec., 1974), pp. 41-49 


Sophocles' "Antigone": Eros in Politics

Richmond Y. Hathorn

The Classical Journal, Vol. 54, No. 3. (Dec., 1958), pp. 109-115.


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