Death is inevitable. We live our lives as best we can and then, just as we were brought into this world, we are removed from it. People attempt to live their lives to the fullest, and succeed. However, more commonly, we fall short of these expectations. Our lives are somehow derailed, no longer allowing this fulfillment to be our primary concern. Yet behind each choice and action lies our desire. Faced with day-to-day obligations, this ideology becomes rather self-indulgent. However, fulfilling our desires always seems to make life worth the while. In Sophocles play Antigone, Antigone knowingly breaks the law by burying her deceased brother, and as a result is murdered. Aware of the consequences of her actions, she disobeys her uncle Kreon’s law and follows through with her choice. Antigone is propelled by her desire to do the right thing.
To the people of Thebes, Antigone’s brother, Polyneikes is seen as an exile that declared war on their city. However, his actions were driven by his own desire to be king instead of his brother Eteokles. At this point in time, Eteokles was in power of Thebes. Yet, when Polyneikes attacked the peaceful city, Thebes lost more then a war. Their ruler and his enemy of a brother became casualties. Polyneikes’ corpse was thrown on the outskirts of Thebes to rot while Eteokles was given the proper burial. Antigone, the sister of both brothers, finds her uncles decision insolent, thus she must overthrow his request, and do what is morally right. [i]” Of our two brothers with a tomb and dishonored the other? They say he has covered Eteokles with earth, as justice and law require, so down below among the dead he will be honored. But the body of poor Polyneikes, who died so miserably- they say a proclamation has been cried to all the citizens that no one may hide it inside a grave, wail over it or weep for it, it must be left unmourned.” Antigone’s choice reflects her desire to honor her brother. Although Polyneikes is dead, he should still be honored as a human being, whom once lived. In Ancient Greece, the afterlife was a common belief. Therefore, by justifying her brother’s death and fulfilling her desire, Antigone’s efforts will not go to waste. [ii]” A changed state of being, for better or worse. Ethics is one of the motivations to this belief. Life here is unjust or intolerable. So there must be a better one somewhere else.” Antigone knew the circumstances of her actions, however, to her they were irrelevant. Although Antigone has no fear of death, her motivation was based upon her ethics.
Ethics are and will always be the backbone to any society, throughout any time period. Therefore, the same common courtesy and respect will always be enforced. In Thebes, at this point in time, under the ruling of Kreon, people knew the state of Polyneikes’ corpse was unjust. Kreon’s law seemed like a personal vendetta rather then an ethical decision. Once his niece, Antigone, crosses him it becomes obvious that Kreon only wants revenge. Therefore, he acts upon his own selfish desires throughout his decisions in the play. Ultimately this leads to the death of his son and niece. The loss of both of his family members could not possibly be meaningless. Loss has an effect on anyone, as it finally does on Kreon by the end of the play. [iii] “Ah! Miserable me, I see this second horror! What fate, what fate, is waiting for me still? Only now I held my son in my arms, miserable me and now I see her body before me. Ah! Ah! Pitiful mother! Ah! My son!”
As Simon Blackburn explains, [iv]”The distinction fits with a deontological cast of mind, insisting that it is what we do that raises questions of right and wrong, justice and duty. It is as if we allow to happen, or what happens anyhow, without our intervention, isn’t our criminal record.” Antigone’s desire was not internalized; rather, she exposed her drive and commitment to exonerate her brother’s death. As the cliché goes, “actions speak louder then words”. This remains true in Antigone’s case, as her words only introduced the action she was to further follow through with. Each of which were impelled by her strong desire. By gratifying this desire, Antigone gives greater meaning to her own life. If we live to pleasure ourselves in addition to our peers, then she only attained a richer, more value state of being. When were gone, all we have to show for is what we did while we were alive. Antigone decides her life is automatically more rewarding if she honors her brothers death, regardless of the circumstances.
Although Haimon’s suicide is tragic, he dies for a worthy cause as well, making his life that much more meaningful. Haimon, Kreon’s son is set to marry Antigone, though when trouble arises Kreon turns on his son and his fiancé. Haimon persists to defend Antigone to his father, until the pressure becomes unbearable for him. However, he becomes that much more commendable for having loved at all. [v]” Then she will die. And dying, she’ll destroy someone else.” With the exception of Kreon, most of the characters in the play remain dignified even in their time of grief, and tragedy.
The play ends tragically, as most Ancient Greek plays do. Kreon finally murders the heroic Antigone, Haimon has commited suicide, and Ismene is nowhere to be found. All that remains is Kreon with his broken mind, the last remainder of his family. Yet, this alone does not quite make the play completely tragic. Behind each travesty, was a sense of want and desire. Antigone knew the circumstances of her actions, yet she felt it was necessary to follow through with them. She fulfilled her desire and although she receives nothing but grief for it, she did the right thing. To her, it was all made worth it to know her brother would have the proper burial and libations. In fact, by the end of the play, Kreon gives Antigone’s body libations to honor her bravery. Death, is inevitable, Antigone had no fear of death so the circumstances to her actions, did not pose much of a threat to her. Despite her pending death sentence, she acted upon her desire. [vi] “It is inconsistent to urge, for instance, both that death is perfectly all right, even a luxury, in itself, but that one thing that makes life meaningless and delusive is that it ends in death”.
Meaning is subjective, what is meaningful to me may most likely not be to another. [vii] “When we ask if life has meaning, the first question has to be, to whom? To a witness with the whole space and time in its view, nothing on a human scale will have meaning.” I found meaning in Antigone’s choices, despite what others may think. Desire enables us to act in a certain way and ultimately what we desire will be our final choice. Like meaning, death is a subjective matter as well. Some fear it, as others may desire it. What we desire impacts how we act translating our internal thoughts to others. Antigone may or may not have found death enviable, but regardless her choices resulted in her own annihilation.
[i] Sophocles. Antigone, Edited by Alan Shapiro and Peter Burian. New York: Oxford University Press, 200728-34
[ii] Simon Blackburn, Being Good, (New York, Oxford University Press, 2001) 68
[iii] Sophocles. Antigone, Edited by Alan Shapiro and Peter Burian. New York: Oxford University Press, 20071381- 1388
[iv] Simon Blackburn, Being Good, (New York, Oxford University Press, 2001) 73
[v] Sophocles. Antigone, Edited by Alan Shapiro and Peter Burian. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. 811
[vi] Simon Blackburn, Being Good, (New York, Oxford University Press, 2001) 74
[vii] Simon Blackburn, Being Good, (New York, Oxford University Press, 2001) 79