Madness And Logic In Antigone


(Ancient Greek Funeral Procession, Fresco Painting http://people.uncw.edu/deagona/ancientnovel/kristina.htm)

Antigone Vs. Creon

Creon and Antigone represent the madness in the world when a certain dimension of life is taken to the extreme. Their lives are destroyed by the close-mindedness of their beliefs. They both believe a certain aspect of life holds superiority over every other element. For Creon, the King of Thebes, the political sphere of life is all that matters. There is no truth, unless it is written in law. For Antigone, the private sphere holds the truth. She wants her family to suffer no more dishonor, and to bury her brother, Polynices. A proper burial for those killed in battle was essential for the Ancient Greeks. To give Polynices his proper burial, she decides the only option is to break her uncle Creon’s laws. She wishes to follow the traditions and rituals the divine gods expect, and therefore conflicts with Creon’s politics.

Ismene and Haemon, Antigone’s sister and Creon’s son respectively, represent the logical dimension of Sophocles’ tragic play. Ismene begs her sister to be reasonable and remember how their father, Oedipus, was scorned upon his death. She urges her sister to be rational, and warns Antigone of her impending death if she defies Creon by breaking the law and burying their treacherous brother. Then she asks Antigone to look at the two of us, left so alone…think what a death we’ll die, the worst of all if we violate [Creon’s] laws and override the fixed decree of the throne, it’s power—we must be sensible. Remember we are women, we’re not born to contend with men…We’re underlings, ruled by much stronger hands…I must obey the ones who stand in power. Why rush to extremes? It’s madness, madness. (p.62,lines 70-81).


(Ancient Greek Krater in red figure ware, often used in funerary rituals. Similar to what Antigone may have wanted for the proper burial of Polynices http://carlos.emory.edu/ODYSSEY/GREECE/d&b.html .)
Sophocles reflects the Ancient Greek ideals of Antigone and Ismene and the logic they possess. Ismene believes they have a responsibility to the city-state to follow the logic of Creon’s law. Antigone only wishes to fulfill the sacred rituals burying the death, therefore not defying the gods and their divine statutes. She feels she has no obligation to the city-state, or her fellow Thebans. Her striving to live by her own rules makes her appear to readers as though she is mad. She is completely irrational, because she knows the consequences if she defies her uncle. Ismene becomes the portrait of common sense, while Antigone represents complete insanity.

Antigone’s youth is a major part of her immaturity and impulsiveness. This is not the case for Creon, however. As Ismene and Antigone are foils to each other, so is the case for Creon and his son, Haemon. Creon’s obsession with the state and civil order cause him to literally destroy his family. He condemns Antigone to be enclosed in a tomb, destroying the engagement between she and his son, Haemon. Haemon tries to reason with Creon numerous times throughout the play, but is told by Creon to “never lose [his] sense of judgment over a woman,” (p. 93, line723). In Creon’s view, Antigone abandoned the state, so the state is validated in its abandonment of her.

Similarities Between Antigone And Creon

Creon and Antigone represent the madness in the world when a certain dimension of life is taken to the extreme. Their lives are destroyed by the close-mindedness of their beliefs. They both believe a certain aspect of life holds superiority over every other element. For Creon, the King of Thebes, the political sphere of life is all that matters. There is no truth, unless it is written in law. For Antigone, the private sphere holds the truth. She wants her family to suffer no more dishonor, and to bury her brother, Polynices. A proper burial for those killed in battle was essential for the Ancient Greeks. To give Polynices his proper burial, she decides the only option is to break her uncle Creon’s laws. She wishes to follow the traditions and rituals the divine gods expect, and therefore conflicts with Creon’s politics.

Ismene and Haemon, Antigone’s sister and Creon’s son respectively, represent the logical dimension of Sophocles’ tragic play. Ismene begs her sister to be reasonable and remember how their father, Oedipus, was scorned upon his death. She urges her sister to be rational, and warns Antigone of her impending death if she defies Creon by breaking the law and burying their treacherous brother. Then she asks Antigone to look at the two of us, left so alone…think what a death we’ll die, the worst of all if we violate [Creon’s] laws and override the fixed decree of the throne, it’s power—we must be sensible. Remember we are women, we’re not born to contend with men…We’re underlings, ruled by much stronger hands…I must obey the ones who stand in power. Why rush to extremes? It’s madness, madness. (p.62,lines 70-81).


(An interesting painting entitled "Antigone" by Mark Rothko. It represents the many faces of Creon, the tragedy, and the chaos of the play http://www.nga.gov/cgi-bin/pimage?66300+0+0.)
After looking at the two examples listed above, and many others that are in the play, it is apparent that the language of madness v. logic is a major theme throughout the story. In a sense, Antigone and Creon are enemies, yet they think alike. They both acted irrationally, crazy, and through madness. In the end they both paid for this common flaw. On the other hand, Ismene is like the citizens of Thebes. They are able to look at the situation logically, without letting emotions get involved. They try to warn the two of what could happen if they don’t listen to logic, but in the end the madness wins out. It destroys Antigone and Creon, and could have been prevented if they had only been able to think logically. This is not only a theme throughout the play, but also a hidden lesson, that madness will eventually cause destruction if it is allowed to win over logical thinking.

Who Is Really Mad?

‘Antigone’ is an interesting play in a way that it confuses the readers about whether there is a such thing as madness or logic. In the play one hears Ismene thinking of her sister, Antigone, as a mad person when she talks about burying their brother. Also, Creon tells Antigone that she is mad as well as her sister when they confront him. Anyhow, when the readers look at Antigone insisting to bury her brother without giving any slight concern about possible penalty for taking the action, they could easily think of her as a mad character who does not seem to fit into society but only shows sheer courage, which a normal female in the society would show.

However, as the play gets to the end, Creon who declares that Antigone is mad, seems to be madder than her by showing irrational judgments and cruelty toward his citizens. Furthermore, Antigone’s courage and loving heart toward death even appeal to the readers and make them think that her action of burying him is justifiable, though she broke the law. Also, when one sees Ismene telling her sister that she would follow her to the death, such laws in the society seem too weak in front of these sisters who are being loyal to family members.


(The statue conveys the feeling of Antigone and her father struggling. This, especially, helps the viewers to see these two characters not only emotionally attatched to each other, but also persuing the same desire in life, which might be justice and equal rights for all human beings http://homepage.mac.com/cparada/GML/Oedipus.html.)
Therefore, one might take pity on these madly acting characters rather than having the same feeling like Creon toward these sisters. Creon tells his son that he is mad when Haemon tells him to release Antigone. One sees Haemon who stands on the side of Antigone, not necessarily because she is his fiancé, but more because of justice. Haemon, by confronting his powerful father in order to protect Antigone for justice, seems to be mad from his father’s point of view.

Additionally, Creon says that his sentry is mad when he tells him that the burial might be the work of gods. So, the readers hear everyone calling each other “mad” at least once, however, no one actually seems to be truly mad from the third point of view. They call each other mad when one’s action or what he/she is saying does not go along with common sense or the laws in the society. It is true that when a character is mad, he/she is more courageous and wild enough to not be afraid of death, and that is what makes other people think of this character as “mad.” However, no one is really mad in the play. Although it can be decided whether a character is injust or just as the way Haemon decides on this notion when he judges someone. In other words, there is no such thing as madness and madness-looking attitudes or beliefs. It could be justifiable depending on the circumstances and personal situations.

For a biography on Sophocles, click here.
For a better understanding of Ancient Greek tragedy and Antigone's family history, click here.
To test your knowledge on Sophocles and Antigone, click here.
(Production of Antigone in English translation http://users.ox.ac.uk/~apgrd/images/sophocles/.)

 

Related C101 Links

This website explains the function of the chorus in Sophocles' tragedy; the songs convey the main themes and significance of the play.

For a website focusing on the language of love and hate in "Antigone," visit here.

To view Sophocles' political perspectives, which are reflected in his play, visit here.

Copyright © 2002 Stacey Cohee, Choonghee Goo, Natalie Stewart. All rights reserved.