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Antigone, by Sophocles
Good lives are made so by discipline.
Antigone is one of those plays I'd heard about but never read -- it's actually an option on the Leaving Cert in Ireland (I did Macbeth), but I didn't know the first thing about it before I read it. It's shorter than I expected -- my translation (by Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald) ran 80 or so pages, and the text is eminently readable.
I'm sure that Leaving Cert students could expound on the motifs much better than I can, but I was struck by a couple things reading it:
- The extent to which the natural law and man-made law conflict. An article in The Guardian notes how totalitarian the setting is. "The idea that you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide was shown to be a mockery," writes Natalie Haynes. "We all have something to hide, if a king outlaws such basic duties as burying our loved ones." There's this really interesting fetishization of man-made law, this idea that everything can be boxed up and neatly ordered.
- Haynes puts the central idea of the play well: religious obedience over civil obedience. I don't know a tonne about Greek laws or religion (although the Great Books project may yet teach me) but
I'm unclear on the extent to which there was a specific religious idea that Antigone (the character) is adhering to. I asked Twitter, though, so I'll edit this if I have more intelligent thoughts. Oh, duh, the Greek gods. Creon double-checks that she knew burying him would be illegal, and she replies that "It was not God’s proclamation. That final Justice that rules the world below makes no such laws."
- The extent to which the dead characters are as important or as impactful on the plot as the living. (David McDougall made an excellent point on the emphasis the play puts on our duty to the dead.)