The Banyan Shades

Antigone and Antagonism


Sophocles, a Greek Playwright, created at least three characters that history and literature has remembered well: Oedipus, Theseus, and Antigone. In this article, we are going to discuss Antigone. She can be described as a perfect victim of fate, and also a child of neglect. All the customs of her land contradict her sense of moral duties and responsibilities, as she tries to recover the body of her deceased brother and give him a proper funeral rites. Oedipus and his lineage are often viewed as victims of fata or fates. He knew the prophecy of the oracle: that he would kill his father and marry his mother, tried to prevent it from happening using all his might, but ended marrying Jocaste after killing Laius in a brawl. Antigone is one of his off-springs. The plays that Sophocles wrote is said to depict the struggle of man against his ordained fate. Try as he might, the man cannot avoid what has been predicted for him. Oedipus, being heroic, tries everything in his power to defy the prophecy by achieving supra-human tasks. But at the end of the day, larger forces of the universe win.

Antigone is the perfect anti-hero figure. When I write this, I do not mean the term “anti-hero” in the sense that it is understood today, that is some one is opposed to the hero or is a prop to elevate hero’s character. Rather, Antigone is a person who presents an example of Greek conception of the opposite of heroism. Greek concept of heroism is very simple: a hero is the one who is closer to the gods is action and character. Hence, we often notice that the off springs of gods and goddesses in the Greek pantheon turn up to be heroic. They are supposed to achieve great things. And by doing great things, they are to achieve glory, which is going to immortalize their earthly life.  In contrast, Antigone is shown to be a character, who despite having a good conscience, fails to act at all. Antigone cannot act.

In the Greek conception of heroism, proximity to the gods through action and character defines a hero. The offspring of gods and goddesses often emerge as heroic figures, destined for greatness and glory that would immortalize their earthly lives. Antigone, however, contradicts this notion of heroism. Despite possessing a strong moral compass and a good conscience, she fails to act decisively. Her inability to act becomes a source of great conflict and tragedy.

Antigone can be seen as a victim of fate, like her father, the great King Oedipus who defeated the dreaded Sphinx. In the case of King Oedipus, the fate is pre-written, even before she is born. Antigone simply carried that lineage forward. She says in The Greek theme of human beings being encased and bound in their pre-determined fate that can only be revealed by Oracles can be experienced in this dynamic.

Antigone is also a child of neglect. She is almost invisible in the first two plays of the series. She has a fervent desire to bury her dead brother Polynices against the order of the new King of Thebes Creon. Even her sister advices her against having that wish and acting on it as it is not her domain as a woman to go against people, and specially, men who are powerful. She is a standalone figure who carries the moral need to bury her dead brother who went against the Kingdom of Thebes. To the new King, Antigone’s stance is a betrayal to the Kingdom.

Antigone’s tragic flaw lies in her inability to reconcile the opposing forces of the State and her personal morality. Her tragic fate emerges not solely from external circumstances but from the internal contradictions that torment her. She becomes a symbol of the tragic human condition, torn between conflicting values and unable to find a resolution.

In her act of defiance, Antigone challenges the authority of the state, asserting the supremacy of divine laws and familial obligations. This defiance, however, ultimately leads to her downfall. Despite her good intentions and noble ideals, she is condemned to a tragic end, forever entwined in the cycle of violence and suffering that haunts her family.

Antigone’s character exemplifies the antagonism that exists within the human psyche. She is at odds with the traditional heroic archetype, unable to fulfill the expectations placed upon her. The word “antagonism” finds its roots in the character of Antigone and the conflicts she embodies. The term derives from the Greek word “antagonizesthai,” which means “to struggle against” or “to contend with.” This concept of contention and opposition is central to Antigone’s story and her role as a tragic figure.

By going against the established order, Antigone becomes an antagonist, not in the sense of being a villain or an enemy, but as someone who opposes and challenges the dominant authority.

Antigone’s antagonism reflects a broader theme in Greek tragedy, where characters often find themselves at odds with fate, the gods, or the established social order. These conflicts highlight the tensions and contradictions within the human experience, exploring the profound struggles that arise when individuals clash with external forces.

In the context of Antigone’s story, antagonism encompasses not only the conflict between opposing characters but also the internal turmoil faced by the protagonist herself. She grapples with the weight of her choices, the clash between her personal conscience and the laws of the state, and the tragic consequences that result from her defiance.

8 thoughts on “Antigone and Antagonism”

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