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Guide to Sophocles' o
Antigone's Last Speech
ANTIGONE
[ 891 - 9 28 ]
A Student Edition with Commentary,
INTRODUCTION

Grammatical Notes, & Vocabulary T H E FOURTH EPISODE has three parts: The kommos between
An. and the Cho., the impatient order from Cr. (883-90), and
r- finally, An.'s speech (891-943) before the guards lead her away
10 her death. The Commentary and Grammatical Notes included
below (891-928) are for most of the third part.
JOAN V. O'BRIE'N A kommos is a dirge, usually sung by the surviving members
of a family after the death of a loved one. I Since An. considers
I::;o.me. bObk QS herself the last of the house, she sings her own lament, one of

\ fir-\--\ de. \. \ i1 r+ic.l.e.s \ 0, 12,/3, L{ the most lyrical kommot of Greek tragedy. chanting it alternately
with the unresponsive Theban elders instead of with a more suppor-
(
So only, one. !a·lb. tive chorus of her own sex.
Qo..rd is VI e.e.J €oJ In beautiful, emotionallyrics,she laments her fate as a "rnetic,"
Southern Illinois University Press a foreigner with no home (852), like the foreign settlers in Athens
who had no rights of citizenship. Theword metoikos 2 poignantly
.that she.Is
expresses her realization[}ftd"l one.~.
a. citizen of neithe~ .,.
Thebes
CARBONDALE AND EDWARDSVILLE nor the nether world. fieAfja~ unwittingly become the IJpsijJolis-
polis figure t at t eCho. sang of in the Ode on Man, the eatriot
Feffer & Simons, Inc. f5°)'le. without a citYrSh-e laments. too, her friendless state (846, 876 ff.),
.A11 r\-s but mostly she expresses her obsession with one theme: her loss
\G\.",e-Vl Qf the joys of marriage (813-76). All the suppressed desire of the
LoNDON AND AMSTERDAM I-,t-r e5 young girl now bursts forth in anguished lyrics. 3 She does not
\DSS
100
A ntigone 's Last Speech
Guide 10 Sophocles' ANTIGONE I
mention her lover by name-thus contributing to the pattern of ~
utter isolation even in her references to marriage. . \e- o "S tomb~d lovers (1155 ff.) giv~s dramatic realization offstage to these
As t~e elders chastise ber the.ir Judgment madvertently evokes CY,o' ~~:ICS. In th: !ymhos she WIll find union ?ot o~ly as she expects
the audIence's admIration and pIty for An: she is aulonomos (82 I), ith her family, but also beyond expectanon WIth her spouse.
-rrfollowing her own law," a word conveying both blame and admi- . In the Creon-Haemon Debate, Hae. applied An. 's word for
rallon; 4 she is presumptuous, they frigidly observe, in comparing "Isolated," aim os, to his father (739). The father, in turn, uses it
herself to Niobe who, unlike An., was of divine parentage (834); 5 ) \ of An. In 887, where he consciouslv willed her complete isolation.
she IS pItiable In that she i~ying f~r Oedipus' sin; but, like L-rh rl-,.,oS J Now, at 9 19, An. herself agam expresses her desolation, as she IS
Oedip~s:-;he has rushed tOthe, li~~853).6 TheU11~ e. ~ ~~eft of all philo), "dear ones." and of divine assistance (9 21-26).. I
comphmentary remark IS theIr grudging admISSIOn that there IS ll
b Y! one whose whole stance has been based on hilla and eros, 1\5 vJ?e-
a certain reverence in her reverent action (872) in burying her reo-c' an~ On assurance th~t phz/ia is true piety. such isolation is the. \(1.1\01\
brotheI,i. but they immediately retreat, blaming her self-willed 0-\ Jro uillmat~ woe 10 and IS a necessary psychological precondition fot"IS oit-ide-
~ ( aulognotos ..
-
orga) Clor h er d estrucllon
.. .
s!,n.c.e• .a.':!~hori C)'.
!.'.r,t,ty 0 rJi, e.~\
1. her SUICide 11 OS"
"cannot brook such disobedience" (873-75), 7 Their cold unsym-
pathetic attitude adds to our feeling for the isolated girl.
A's \
,
o.f'/\
. .

f'
l'
r02 o.bo vI(;
-\"

Creon returns to the stage long enough to command the guards p' \ 0::' ,L-
to remove
_ _ An. immediately
. and . entomb
. her,"alone,. deserted" [. p ".J
,' K n 0 x ' s exp Iana tiIon 0 f t h e passage captures t h e moo d
(mon~n eremon, 887) to live ~r die, b.ut In any case to be :"Ithout and motives of An. here:
metoikia, the fights of a resident alien, The guards refrain from
immediate action, however, tacitly granting An. time to give her
This is the moment when in the face of death nothing matters but the
last speech (891-928) after which Cr. reappears to see to the execu-
truth. She is not trying to justify her action to others, she is trying to
tion of his command. understand it herself. In the loneliness of her last moments in the sunlight,
In such a setting, An. begins her last speech. It is an emotional ~,,,')
.( all that was secondary in her motives, . , dissolves before her eyes. ,
apostrophe to her tomb-bridal chamber, and yet it is spoken in I).t-~ The gods she championed have failed her., Antigone is given no
the reflective, analytic iambic meter (891 ff.) instead of the earlier r' ..\'" 'fl sign of approval., . She is reduced to purely human feelings; all that
emotional lyric of the kommos. She expresses her overwhelming '(..."o is left her is the love she bears the dead of her own blood. For
desire for union with her family who are all dead and for whom [Polynices] she has sacrificed her hfe as a woman-the husband and
she has sacrificed herself. But the lines contain, too, a love of life children she might have had. In the almost hysterical hyperbole of her
and a desire for marriage absent from the twentieth-cen tury exis- claim that she would not have run such a risk for that husband and
tential An. of Anouilh. Where the latter rejects life because it does those children she will now never live to see, she is telling Pclvnicee that
not live up to the absoluteness of her demands, Soph.'s heroine no other lover could surpass her love for him. The illogicality of
embraces death as the only embrace of love left to her. s her explanation cannot be denied. > But the illogicality can be under-

stood; for Antigone the distinction between living and dead has ceased
In this speech. the two central images for An., those of marriage
to exist . she IS dead and about to be entombed in the land of the
and death. that began to converge in the preceding kommos final I" living, he .ia alive- in the world of the dead. IS
;;;;ite. D tymbos, 0 nympheton, "0 tomb. 0 bridal chamber," elo-
-quently expresses her realization that her love will be consummated Knox perhaps overstates An.'s rejection of her husband and
only in death. children. After all, she only touches upon this thought in a
Later, the messenger's report of the double death of the en- contrary-to-fact clause (see 905 n.). She does not have a husband
~ .
/ofl~t'~).
lor or children; she has not experienced the physical or psychological
fulfillment of Hae.'s love. She/must now cling to the one love she
l6. °
",'- \
If "l
has known, especially since she lacks the knowledge that Hac. has' \
championed..hereause. ! o3 J
· - • - •·• ........ou'U' ..... UJ~ IJliotY. ::inc nas proven llersell
It: "mar....:uI 1ne" doer. darer. and hunter after impossibilities. Now.
ce the enlightened men of Pericles' Athens. she instinctively feels
(
L r 03 Antigone's Last Speech

the need to find a compelling rational explanation for her deed t ;


\.
they cry: "God!" 20 The heroine now has recouped her androgynous
of love. And Soph. gives her this bit of contemporary sophistry, strength despite-no. because of her loneliness. In the labored prose
of psychiatrist Robert Weiss. loneliness is "a deficit condition. a
a crass "masculine" exercise in mental gymnastics. But An. is no \ response to the absence of specific relational provisions." An.'s
sophist. Here she is pure woman. trying to justify herself to herself.
Because her reason is not logical but instinctive. her analysis can anguish stems from the lack of any divine or human "relational
only produce a formal "masculine" tone and an illogical. inappro- provisions." However, the poet understands what the psychiatrist
priate syllogism. The rhythm she employs shows she is trying to apparently does not: this "deficit condition" is not a disease to
be "masculine". she has put aside the lyrical meters of the kommos be cured but a necessary element in all heroism. indeed in all
for the composed iambs of discursive analysis. The form and the self-knowledge. Delphi would now approve: she knows herself. The
matter are thus the "masculine" elernen ts in the scene. But the Cho, was right: she is autogniitos (875).
anguish the words convey reveals her full femininity.17
Her religious instinct. too, here proves to be "feminine." Jebb
objected to this passage because "her feet slip from the rock on
105
which they were set; she suddenly gives up that which. throughout
the drama. has been the immovable basis of her action-the uni-
versal and unqualified validity of the divine law." 18 But even in
the passage in which she attested to the universal and unqualified
validity of the agrapta nonuma (450-70), even there she gave every
indication that she came to perceive their validity as they were
fleshed out in the corpse of her brother (see 465-68 n.). She never
gives the impression that she proceeds from the universal to the
concrete, but that, in the face of the concrete needs of one she
loves, she comes to understand and believe In the universal law.
At this later momenL then as she stares down the paredes to her
Dealh. she does not' back down in her concern and belief in her
loved ones. but she does momentarily lose sight of the connection fl's loss;
that she earlier perceived between the concrete and the universal.
It is one thing to perceive and believe the great religious truths reo..\\ 1-e.S
when there is still some distance between one and death; it is quite QoS+
another to have the strength to believe In articulo mortis. Sorh. shows
,!!ow deeply he understood human psychology in allowing his ::. -h-hL'
heroine this moment of doubt when the gods' laws escape her and ISo\o..-h on
the gods themselves seem to desert her (921 ff.). Only after this
moment 01 doubting sophIstry does her vision clear again. She
faces Death down, recovers her au tonamy as a truly Iiberated whole
human being,IO firm in her pious belief despite the gods' silence
(943). Camus's complaint against a certain school of artists is appli-
cable here. Faced with absurdity, they will not cry: "Absurd!"

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