Happy Ending, absent State Liquor License. 1

Important Themes in Oedipus and Antigone. 2

The Theme of Fate and Free Will 2

The Theme of Blindness and Insight 3

The Theme of Infringement on Family Rights by the State. 3

The Theme of Supremacy of Natural Law against State Law.. 3

The Theme of Civil Disobedience to Abusive “Law”. 4

The Theme of Citizenship and Civil Rights. 7

 

Happy Ending, absent State Liquor License

For those of us who find Antiogone’s demise too depressing, there was a play Antigona by Euripides with your typical Hollywood happy ending.  In the play, the disaster is prevented by the God of wine-making and drunken marry-making, Dionysus (Bachus, in Roman mythological tradition.) So, if you were searching for the truth, there you have it: In vino veritas. The grape harvest festival, celebrating Dionysus included the theater festival. There was important symbolism in the happy ending of Euripides’ play: theater would save Greece from moral degradation and destruction. Dionysus saves the day and Antigona and Haemon are married and live happily thereafter.  Yeh! That’s more like it! (Unfortunately, only parts of the original text of this play were preserved.) 

Dionysus-like approach to solving social tensions and certain other “frictions” preoccupied people’s mind for centuries, as reflected in hundreds of pieces of art devoted to this easy-go-lucky deity. Many of such works of art are referenced (indexed) on the Web. One of such sites is at http://www.the-goldenrule.name/Dionysus_ART-Pagan.htm . I am not familiar with other content of the site, and do not endorse the opinions expressed by the site’s creator or by its critics; due to severe time constraints, I have no plans to familiarize with them, either. I am rather impressed, however, by a large collection of images of art from various museums annotated on the site. Be forewarned, some of this art is quite X-rated, maybe even objectionable. For me it is just art: I began a study of it as a child, and I see it mostly from the viewpoint of academics and aesthetics as part of man’s eternal search for harmony. Just as they invented the word harmony, ancient Greeks got closer to its essence than any other civilization.

Important Themes in Oedipus and Antigone

The Theme of Fate and Free Will

The oracle received by Oedipus as a youth is what may be called a “self-fulfilling prophecy:” the prophecy sets in motion actions and events, which all conclude in the prophecy’s fulfillment. Yet, Oedipus makes his own decisions, and could have avoided making certain fatal mistakes, had he been more attentive and insightful, such as taking a few deep breaths, then giving his father’s chariot the right of way. Maybe he should have thought twice before marrying Jocaste, whom he neither knew nor loved, when he married her. Perhaps Antigone would have lived if she kept her mouth shut instead of defying her uncle’s authority to rule.

Perhaps, if Jocaste were not such a selfish, degenerate bitch, she should have inquired into the circumstances of her husband’s death, instead of rejoicing on the account of taking possession of his bank accounts. Perhaps, she should have asked herself why Oedipus’ feet were disfigured by an ugly scar. Perhaps she should have recalled that she pierced and bound the feet of her baby with a pin off her tunic, planning to murder the newborn by a terrible death of exposure.

Maybe Jocaste and Laius should have thought twice before conspiring to kill their baby, an act so horrific that it had to be punished by their death at the hands of the boy, who survived. How did they know if the Gods’ were not just testing how really rotten they were?

The Theme of Blindness and Insight

Metaphorical references to eyesight appear throughout Oedipus, the King. Oedipus’ clear vision is metaphorically compared with insight and knowledge, as the clear-eyed Oedipus is blind to the truth of his marriage, unaware of his true origins and the crimes he unwittingly committed. The prophet Teiresias, whom Hera, the first lady on the Mt. Olympus blinded, “sees” and reveals the truth. Only after Oedipus has physically blinded himself does he acquire some limited prophetic vision, as described in Oedipus at Colonus.

The Theme of Infringement on Family Rights by the State

A central theme in Antigone is the right of the individual to reject government’s infringement on one’s family. This right is sacred and absolute. Antigone says to Ismene about Creon's decree, “He has no right to keep me from my own.” As a young girl she devoted 10 years of her life leading her blind father on his journey, and as a young woman she confronts the state to protect the honor of her family, even on the penalty of death.

 

The Theme of Supremacy of Natural Law against State Law

 

In Antigone, Sophocles prominently posits the question, “which law is greater: Gods’ or man's?”  Sophocles’ answers this unequivocally: Gods’ law (Natural Law) supersedes the law of man. He wrote the play to save Athens from the moral destruction, which to him appeared imminent. Sophocles warns about the arrogance (hubris) of authorities, because hubris is the downfall of Greece. In Antigone, it is the hubris of Creon, which kills everyone he loves, even though he just “upholds the law,” (his law) allegedly for the common good of the public.

 

The Chorus in Oedipus the King, describes natural law as follows:

 

To follow still those laws ordained on high

Whose birthplace is the bright ethereal sky

No mortal birth they own,

Olympus their progenitor alone:

Ne'er shall they slumber in oblivion cold,

The god in them is strong and grows not old.

 

 

 

The Theme of Civil Disobedience to Abusive “Law”

 

Creon demands obedience to the law above all else, right or wrong, although “the law” he created is obviously offensive of the fundamental, natural law.  His “law” is a precursor to the U.S. “Family Law”, which utilizes the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights for toilet paper. He says that “there is nothing worse than disobedience of the law,” yet his law is opportunistic micro-management, which tramps on inalienable rights. Antigone’s position is that the state law is not absolute, it can be broken, even must be broken in an act of civil disobedience in certain circumstances, such as honoring one’s family, and that Gods’ law (Natural Law) outweighs “the law of man” created by Creon to satisfy a temporary political need. Here’s a brief excerpt, juxtaposed in two translations (a contemporary one on the left):

 

CREON

And then you chose to violate the law.

 

ANTIGONE

Your law. Not the sacred law. The gods

That rule among the dead have issued no

Such proclamation. A man cannot erase

The laws unwritten. Cannot change the unchanging

Laws of heaven. Eternity is beyond

The bounds of time, beyond today or yesterday,

Beyond forever. Gods’ laws were there before

The birth of man. Should I fear you more

Than I should fear the gods?

 

I know that I

Shall die. I was destined to that end before

Your proclamation. To leave a world so filled

With evil, the sooner death embraces me

The more I have to gain. I welcome death.

Without a tear or sorrow. But to leave the body

Of my mother’s son unmourned, torn

And rotting in the sun, that would cause

True pain. You call me fool. You. Fool.

 

CHORUS

She is defiant like her father Oedipus.

In the face of danger, she has not learned submission.

 

CREON

She will learn. Today…

 

 

(Adapted by David Feldshuh)

 

CREON
And yet wert bold enough to break the law?

ANTIGONE
Yea, for these laws were not ordained of Zeus,
And she who sits enthroned with gods below,
Justice, enacted not these human laws.
Nor did I deem that thou, a mortal man,
Could'st by a breath annul and override
The immutable unwritten laws of Heaven.
They were not born today nor yesterday;
They die not; and none knoweth whence they sprang.
I was not like, who feared no mortal's frown,
To disobey these laws and so provoke
The wrath of Heaven.

I knew that I must die,
E'en hadst thou not proclaimed it; and if death
Is thereby hastened, I shall count it gain.
For death is gain to him whose life, like mine,
Is full of misery. Thus my lot appears
Not sad, but blissful; for had I endured
To leave my mother's son unburied there,
I should have grieved with reason, but not now.
And if in this thou judgest me a fool,
Methinks the judge of folly's not acquit.

CHORUS
A stubborn daughter of a stubborn sire,
This ill-starred maiden kicks against the pricks.

CREON
Well, let her know the stubbornest of wills
Are soonest bended… 

(Unknown translator)

 

 

The Theme of Citizenship and Civil Rights

 

The two different conceptions of citizenship are exemplified by the clash between Creon and Antigone. Creon defines citizenship as utmost obedience to the will of the state, and thus condemns Antigone to slow death and dishonors her brother, the insurgent. According to Creon,  Antigone has abandoned her citizenship by disobeying him; Her brother lost his citizenship when he rose against the State. In performances of Antigone in 1940’s and after, Creon often personified fascism.

In ancient Greece it was the citizens’ duty of the city dwellers to give burial to their dead, including those fallen in battle. By denying Polyneices a burial, Creon has effectively revoked his citizenship. For Creon, the attack against Thebes stripped Polyneices of his citizenship. As defined by Creon’s decree, citizenship is based on loyalty. It is revoked when Polyneices commits what in Creon's mind is treason. Creon’s conception is of “conditional citizenship.” You lose it if you “misbehave.” Thus, during WW-II, Joseph Stalin, The Soviet Union’s Supreme Commander, disowned all of his citizens taken prisoners of war, even though it was he, Stalin, who was personally responsible for the horrendous defeat of his Red Army in the beginning of war. They were “not prisoners, but traitors.” As for “misbehavior” by the state, in the U.S. the state actors may (and do) misbehave as much as they want: presumably their misbehavior is all “for the common good” so they have given themselves judicial and queasy-judicial “immunity” against application of law against them. Very clever! As said Mark Twain, “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that the only distinctly native American criminal class is Congress.”

 

 

It is axiomatic that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Hence, a citizen who fights against the Government’s corruption is a patriot, sacrificing her or his safety for the common good. Yet, by application of the Government’s “law” such citizen is a criminal, maybe even treasonous criminal, and is not worthy of the rights of citizenship. Governments, despite all the claims of being “democratic,” have a strong built-in tendency to usurp absolute power and defy citizens’ rights. Examples of the conception of citizenship based on loyalty abound: societies which declared themselves the “saviors of the civilization,” Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, actually destroyed countless millions of their own citizens, something which their worst enemies could not have “accomplished” in their wildest dreams.  We usually use these two as examples not so much because they are unique, but because they “lost,” and some of their most horrific crimes were publicly condemned by “victors” in order to appear more ethical and humane than their enemy. Yet, it will not take long to uncover some horrific crimes committed by the so called “democratic” states, albeit on a smaller scale. 

 

Antigone does not deny that Polynices rebelled against the state. She simply asserts that his insurrection does not negate his citizenship, including a citizen’s right to have his dead body properly buried. Interestingly, Antigone's determination to bury Polynices comes from a strong conviction to honor her family, not so much the gods. She makes an emotional appeal to her sister Ismene, in Sophocles’ opening scene, saying that they must bury their brother’s body out of sisterly love, even if he did betray the state. Antigone’s “highest laws” are the laws of family honor and unity that come from pre-historic times and won’t die. These are above the laws of the state.

 

To Creon, her ideas are so dangerous that she must be singled out and exemplified by the harshest punishment: she will be insulated from the citizens of Thebes by the walls of a tomb, she is buried alive, lest the minds of the citizens get polluted by her heresy. Not to appear a murderer, he orders a supply of food and water, so she would die a slow death. Yet, deep at heart Creon values family over “the state.” When it comes to losing his own son, the “law of the state” goes to hell, and he reverses his own edicts on the spot. Unfortunately for him, he understands that Natural Law is above the law of the State, but only when it is too late. His family is the sacrifice he made for this realization.

 

The New York State Assembly Committee on Children and Families resolved such issue ingenuously: most members are flaming lesbian and gay, there is no attempt to even pretend there is any gender balance on the Committee, members of which are overwhelmingly female, imbued in the radical agenda of family destruction, so there can be no real understanding of the concept of “children,” except as harvested from heterosexual families. Equally, the “family” is nothing but a financial concept, as 75% of the family’s networth, on average, sticks to the pockets of the divorce lawyers, whose pecuniary interests the committee really represents.

 


All rights reserved ● Copyright ©  2011, Eric Ross, Ph.D.