Thursday, May 10, 2012

Book 143: Antigone by Sophocles.

“Go then if you must, but remember, no matter how foolish your deeds, those who love you will love you still.”

The only other time I have read Antigone was during a college literature course. In fact, it was during the very first literature course I took in school, and in the same class where my love affair with The Odyssey began. So, I have a soft spot for it, like I do all Greek literature.

Reading Antigone brought me back to that place in college. I took that course in the spring of my freshman year, and our class was located at the Union building on campus. The Union was a musty older building, and our classroom was nestled way up on the top floor (amidst a few conference rooms). The room smelled, there were only two windows, and the rest of my classmates hated it as much as I did.

But I can also remember going to class early and sitting in the Women's Lounge on the bottom floor to look over reading notes and refresh my memory. This was a class that met twice a week, and on Mondays, we had impromptus over our reading assignments. The professor would pick the best two and have us read them out loud to the rest of the class on Wednesdays. It was an intense experience, and I always freaked out about being chosen (I was chosen three times during the semester and yes, once was for Antigone). I would agonize over word choices in my impromptus so that if I was chosen, I would sound just as smart as my classmates.

In any case, reading Antigone the other night brought back those memories. I read it out of the same Norton edition that I had for that class (I kept it), and seeing my post-its, notes, and highlighting reminded me of those college experiences. It also showed me how much I needed to learn, since I over highlighted (and in multiple colors, which drove me insane on this read). But some of my insights were funny and it was a great trip down memory lane for me.

And I think I loved Antigone even more this time around. There is something so passionate and perfect about the play that you simply have to feel inspired and moved by the time you finish it. Antigone is a strong heroine, and one with strong convictions on what is right and wrong. I've always loved her character, well, since I read the play in the first place, and I am sometimes reminded of her need to do the right thing when I am also faced with a tough decision.

To recap the basics of the play for those unfamiliar with the plot: Antigone is a daughter of Oedipus (from Oedipus Rex and Oedipus at Colonus). Before the play begins, there is a war, leaving her two brothers dead on opposites of the battlefield. The victor of the war, Creon, mandates that only one of her brother may be buried with full funeral rights. The other can rot on the battlefield and be food for scavengers and birds. Antigone goes against his wishes and buries her brother. This causes a division between her and her sister, Ismene. Antigone truly believes in her decision, and does it knowing she will be severely punished.

Of course it all ends in some tragic way, as a lot of old Greek works do.

But I just love Antigone. She sticks with her beliefs, even while knowing the consequences. She does what is right even when she will be prosecuted for doing so. There is something to be admired about that. It takes a strong individual to do the right thing in the face of adversity.

That was what I loved about the play when I read it back as a college freshman. Back then, being an English major felt like the right choice. My dad always wanted me to get a degree in Engineering or business-something marketable. But I always resisted  for a number of reasons. Mainly, that I am horrible at math. But also because I have always felt a huge draw to language and words. So even as a freshman in college, I knew that being in the English program was the right choice (he wasn't a big fan of my history degree either).

And since graduating, I have often questioned my decision to go with my gut. You know, since I still don't have a permanent job. But reading Antigone last weekend? For some reason, it just affirmed that I was some way. I followed my passions. And after all, I only have one life to live-I should live it by doing what I feel is right. And I have, so far.

That seems like a lot to pull from a reading of an Ancient Greek play, but if this process has taught me anything, it is this: Literature will always find a way to dive into your soul and make you think about the life you lead and the choices you make.

And so far? I'm okay with everything.


  1. Oh, my gosh.. I love Antigone so much. It was the first piece of classical literature I ever read that made me feel like, okay, yeah, these old dead dues have something to say. The entire Theban Plays collection is amazing, though. Rock on, Sophocles!

    I'm glad you enjoyed it just as much (or more, as you say) the second time around. This is one I've read a few times, too... I wonder if I'll encounter it again during my doctoral studies (probably not - but I could read it for pleasure again!).

  2. Sounds like a great play. I am still in the over-highlight phase. :P

  3. Antigone is a great play to remind you (and all of us) the wonders of classic literature and why they'll always have a special place in our (academic) lives. As to how to choose our educational path... in our days, I would tend to believe we have to follow our dreams and wishes, as I honestly can't see anything marketable anymore!

  4. I have read Oedipus, maybe I should try Antigone too. Thanks for reviewing!

  5. Love this book. I once tried to lead a book group on this with a bunch of 8th graders. Of course they had trouble with some of the language, but once they understood Antigone's dilemma (the king demands that my brother's body rot on the battlefield vs the gods' demand that my brother be buried) they were off and running with the discussion. And when you think about how long ago this was written and how it still captures our imagination...that's why we use the phrase "Great Books".

  6. Yay! I really want to re-read this one. It had such an effect on me the first time, I can't imagine why I've waited so long to re-read.

  7. Isn't it fun to look back at books you've read eons ago to see how you've grown as a reader? I was looking through one of my high school reads recently and surprised by all the vocabulary words I didn't know then.

    I barely remembered Antigone until I read through this post. It's on my list to re-read, sometime!

  8. And it is such an important play too. When former President G.W. Bush said, "You're either with us, or you're against us..." (Shortly after 9/11) I was struck by how much those words reminded me of Creon's words. Big time lessons wrapped up in moral dilemmas in that play. Well reviewed, Allie. If you're interested, do check out Seamus Heaney's version of Antigone, "The Burial at Thebes". Cheers! Chris

  9. sorry to comment late. If I may suggest for a rewarding odyssey: when I was studying in France, Antigone was the theme in my literature classes. we read of course the one by Sophocles, but also the one by the German Bertolt Brecht and by the French Jean Anouilh. it was really a fascinating comparative study. on this goodreads page, you can see the 3 of them: