Analyzing Antigone

In this month’s edition of Between the Lines, Suhaile Azavedo conducted a session wherein she deconstructed Sophocles’ ‘Antigone’. It was held on the 14th of August, at 6pm at the Gyaan Adab Centre.

Suhaile, a teacher at the St. Mira’s College for Girls, Pune, is a wellspring of information about drama, literature and culture. She also conducts a course called Catharsis and Resolution: The Evolution of Tragedy and Comedy as a part of her teaching.

After outlining the origins of Greek drama, Suhaile went on to elaborate about the reformations to the original structure of the play imposed by Aeschylus and Sophocles, their changes to the size of the chorus as well as the development of the writing of tragedy as a form of high art.

Taking great care to run through the Theban cycle of the origins of myths, Suhaile also illustrated the lineage of Antigone and her predecessors, tracing it back to the founder of Thebes, Cadmus. This, as the session went on, aided the audience to have a more rounded understanding of the intricate background of the play. The curse imposed upon Lauis and the two generations after him by King Pelops for the kidnapping and questionable murder of his son Chryssipus bore the tragedies of Oedipus and his daughter, Antigone.

Antigone, which was published first of the Three Theban Plays, is chronologically the last, and revolves around the events of the deaths of two Theban princes, Eteocles and Polynices, their deaths and the subsequent intervention of Antigone in the faring of Polynices’ remains. Antigone revolves around the disobedience of the titular character in offering the body of her brother’s its last rites and libations, in the face of the persecution ordered upon anyone who dares do so by the monarch, Creon. Antigone has consequently become a feminist figure in later studies of the text, although historically, in that context; she is fulfilling no more than the role assigned to her as a woman. Athens was a city-state well aware of its citizens’ rights and demands, and the result of this was that, as the crowds sympathize with Antigone in the play, the ancient Athenians would rout out the truth of tyranny in Creon’s later actions. This was a major indicator of its sympathetic stance to the public, as well as a message of public awareness.

The play revolves around a central theme which is the conflict of morality and ethics, wherein morality is the dictated societal expectation, while ethics are an internal inherently human code of honour. Antigone’s struggle springs forth from her being barred from giving her brother his funerary rights, and her belief that if she doesn’t perform these libations, the very soul of her blood brother would not be at rest and that it would be an affront to the gods. These manifest into Sophocles’ work that becomes a landmark in the tumultuous times it was written in.

While Greek drama is a niche interest, our audience yielded many young faces who were eager to interact at the end of the session that left all of the attendees leaving with a few extra pointers on their reading lists.