Women were rarely talked about as a symbol of power in ancient Greece, but Antigone changes that paradigm by standing up for what she believes. In this lesson we'll analyze her personality traits as they connect to the play 'Antigone' and Greek culture.
A Woman's Role
In ancient Greece, women were subjected to the lordship of either their father or husband, and were expected to stay home and raise a family. Their rights were limited, and women were only respected if they stayed out of the public eye. In Sophocles's play Antigone, we definitely can't fit our protagonist Antigone into that role. She stands up for herself, fights for what she believes in, and fears nothing.
Let's take a look at her actions throughout the play and analyze her personality as it connects to Greek values and the other characters in the text.
When the reader first meets Antigone, she is recounting a problem to her sister Ismene. Their brothers both fought for power and died in the process. Eteocles defended Thebes and was given an honorable burial, but their brother Polyneices had been banished and came back to fight his brother for the throne. Since the male bloodline ended with these two men, their uncle Creon was next in line and ascended to the throne when they both died. Partial to Eteocles, Creon decreed that anyone who tried to bury Polyneices' body will be stoned to death; instead, the body must rot in the street.
Antigone is floored when she hears the order and tells her sister they must bury the body. Ismene thinks Antigone is crazy and refuses to help her, but says she will keep this plan a secret. Antigone, flooded with anger toward her sister and uncle, buries the body by herself, knowing this is the definition of piety.
Antigone risks her life to bury her brother, which she feels is the honorable thing to do for a family member.
Antigone is taken into custody by the King and does not deny what she has done. She wants everyone to know she buried Polyneices because she strongly believes her actions were honorable and dignified. The King cannot believe this to be true. Antigone explains her actions, saying that if she had ignored her brother's body and thus not been sentenced to death, she would have suffered every day knowing she didn't do the honorable thing. She would rather die with honor than live with the guilt and shame of her brother's soul left to wander the earth.
Creon banishes Antigone to a cave, but ends up having a change of heart and goes to free her. Unfortunately, it's too late; Antigone had already hanged herself, turning to death to be her savior.
Antigone believes in herself, her culture and the gods. She will fight for what she believes in, even if it may cost her life.
First we can say Antigone is a strong person, or someone who is confident and strong-willed. From the beginning of the play, Antigone is outspoken, passionate, and confident. Even though her brother was just retaliating for being banished, she knows the right thing to do is give him a proper burial, honoring his life, their culture, and the gods. She looks past Polyneices's flaws and puts his soul to rest. She sees the problems arising from power running rampant in her city and ignores the politics surrounding the brotherly battle.
Next we can describe Antigone as brazen. A brazen individual does things without fearing what others will think. Without help from her sister or fiancé, Antigone buries Polyneices's body, and she doesn't care who knows. She even tells Ismene to tell everyone; this is not a secret. Antigone feels she is in the right by burying him and knows the people are on her side. She boldly and shamelessly follows her heart to ensure her brother will make it to the Underworld.
Finally, Antigone displays stubborn traits. We think of stubborn people who are determined to hold a position or perform an action in spite of other people's arguments or objections. Antigone reads like a tragic hero, but we have to remind ourselves that every hero has a flaw. Antigone, we love you, but your pride is showing. She is so stubborn when it comes to her beliefs that even though she may be doing the right thing for her brother and culture, several people, including herself, lose their lives in this conflict. She is similar to Creon in this regard. They both have an enormous amount of pride in their beliefs, and because of this flaw, destruction falls on those around them.
Antigone has her strengths and weaknesses. Her strengths stem from her unstoppable passion to do the right thing. She cares for her family, exhibiting loyalty and honor. She knows she could never live with herself if she didn't do right by her brother by burying him, and would rather live among the dead in the Underworld than embody the walking dead on Earth. However, though she is fighting for her family, ironically her actions harm her family more than help them. Creon and Antigone's sister Ismene are the only two surviving family members at the end of this tragic tale, left to lament their decisions and solitude.
Antigone was presented with the conflict of either burying her brother and facing death or living with the emotional and spiritual consequences of letting her brother's body rot in the street. She is a strong and brazen character who stood up for what she believed in, honoring the dead and remaining loyal to her family name. However, Antigone's stubbornness, mixed with that of her uncle's pride, ends up harming her family more than helping. In the end, the reader finds the bodies of her fiancé, her aunt, and herself, deaths that could have been avoided through compassion and communication.
Antigone was a strong woman who stood apart from the typical expectations for female behavior in ancient Greece. No matter what her flaws may be, she reminds us all to care for family, believe in yourself, and fight for the good of the many.