Antigone was verbally attacked by Creon for her choice, for her womanhood, and for her independent actions. Being able to withstand a barrage of abuse made Antigone’s resilience clear. My life is in no way a parallel of Antigone’s, yet thousands of years later, the virtues that rise within us by God’s grace and by life’s challenges are ever clear in our shared humanity.
One of the most unusual things about analyzing any Greek tragedy for me is that moment of absolute surprise when I realize that I empathize with a character from ancient history. For me, that character was Antigone. I saw in her a resilience, determination, and independent nature, all laboring toward a desire to do right. Her humanity is clear.
In a sense, Antigone saw a greater good in obeying the laws of the gods even though it meant disobeying her uncle’s edict. Her choice was between two good things, but one took spiritual priority. I haven’t had to make a life-and-death decision like hers, but I have had to choose what I felt was a greater good. When I first decided to attend a Christian college after high school, I was thrilled to learn that my few scholarships could cover much of the cost once I was admitted.
Convincing my school counselor, though, was much like speaking with Ismene. She felt I was foolish to go to a Christian university and bluntly conveyed her disdain for what she felt would be an inferior education, a waste of my “talents.” At that moment, I felt like Antigone when Ismene accuses “to try to do the impossible is wrong.”
The Chorus, too, had condemned Antigone, saying that she did not give respect to power, almost like giving way to status quo. In spite of the resistance though, and the fact that I wouldn’t have a particular recommendation letter, I wasn’t entirely dissuaded. I knew with certainty, just like Antigone, that God wanted me in a particular place. It was a matter of obedience.
Antigone’s determination and choice also had to do with keeping a promise to her brother Polyneices. In a way, I had promised my parents, my family, that I would ask God on my own about where He wanted me to attend school. This was a serious pledge on my behalf. The difference was that unlike Polyneices, who knew that attacking his birthplace and his brother would end in his death, “a lonely silence,” I had every hope of following God’s will. I would say, as Antigone wisely did to Polyneices, “Do not destroy yourself” by following a path you know is destructive. Though Polyneices’ obstinacy did lead to his death, Antigone did keep her promise to him and to the gods by honoring him in burial and said herself, “I think wise men would say that what I did was right to honor you.”
Being able to withstand a barrage of abuse made Antigone’s resilience clear. In the same way, I saw how my Christian education prepared me for educating others. In my first teaching position, teaching among twenty other English teachers, three of us were the new hires thrown into the mosh pit of public school masses. A few months into the school year, my fellow rookies were asking me questions because they saw my preparation was different than theirs. At least I looked like I knew what I was doing. I think my choice in my education prepared me.
That’s not to say that there weren’t slights for graduating from a Christian school. Some criticized my college, even doubting the credibility of my education degree. Like Antigone, I definitely withstood a bit of verbal abuse but wasn’t deterred. Antigone was verbally attacked by Creon for her choice, for her womanhood, and for her independent actions. Creon exclaimed, “Then go to hell, and love and honor there, but as long as I live, a woman shall not rule” and later “for even brave men run in the face of death, and these are only women.” His words could not sway Antigone, and what’s more, her support grew and his lessened.
Antigone did have a number of Theban citizens side with her choice, those who saw her actions as right. Amazingly, Antigone perceived that the soldiers who captured her agreed with her actions: “I am sure these men would tell you they approve of what I’ve done.” The choristers reiterate that she is admired by all. Her fiance Haemon contends that the Thebans say “the talk is how no woman has ever deserved less to suffer so miserable a death.” Tiresias clearly told Creon that he did not rule over life and death and that he was wrong to “send the living [Antigone] into a tomb.” Further, the gods were displeased by Creon’s actions, and so could be said to uphold Antigone. So many defended Antigone’s actions as just, and in hindsight, I know seen and unseen that my family and friends were my champions as well.
I may not have been accused of wrongdoing by a king or defended by a prophet. I wasn’t persecuted. I wasn’t thrown in a cave. My life is in no way a parallel of Antigone’s, yet thousands of years later, the virtues that rise within us by God’s grace and by life’s challenges are ever clear in our shared humanity.
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Editor’s Note: The featured image is “Antigone au chevet de Polynice” (1868) by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1845-1902), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.