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Antigone by Sophocles: the Themes of Tragedy, Rebelliousness, and Free Will

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Despite Greek philosophy not having an accurate meaning of “free will”, it can be either considered good or bad. The act of having “free will” generally comes from what you think is the right thing to do. It is a will that allows us to choose what we feel is right based on how we interpret different ideas and the environment around us. It is believed that everyone has one from the day we are born and we can choose how our actions may cause different consequences and determine our fate.

In the play, Antigone, Sophocles explores the idea of tragedy, rebelliousness, and family. A person that signifies a precise idea of free will and fate is Antigone. Although many characters in the story are flawed, Antigone’s determination, recklessness, and impulsiveness leads to the downfall of everyone, including herself. Antigone is known as one of the four siblings of Oedipus and Jocasta. She is considered to have a tragic family history and because of this, she gives an occasion for the audience to gain sympathy and compassion for her role in the play. At the beginning of the story, she finds out that her two brothers died while fighting in battle and makes it her purpose to make sure they both have a proper burial. “The general has put an edict over the whole city. Have you heard of it? Or have you avoided learning how our friends suffer the fate of foes?” Antigone questions Ismene while talking to her about the tragedies. By friends, she mostly means her dear family. She has heard of the horrible things happening lately, and yet, death has took away her parents, and now both of her brothers.

“For our two brothers, Crean gives honorable burial to one, but dishonors the other. They say that he hid Eteocles beneath the Earth with well-deserved pomp and circumstances, as one honored among the dead…” Antigone cries, “but the corpse of Polynieces, who died so sadly, they say it has been declared to the citizens that no one may bury or mourn him, but must see him unlamented, unburied, a sweet find for the birds to feast upon”. This following quote states how Antigone obviously thinks it’s unfair that one brother will be honored and the other will be left for dead, seen as a person who deserved death, who shouldn’t gain respect from anyone. Furthermore, Antigone’s selfless decisions and what she considered right in her book lead to her own dreadful death. Regardless, she did not regret on exceeding religious law over the law of the state because she knew that she would be rewarded in her afterlife. She strongly agreed with having free will and being able to do what she thought was right as she claimed “Be whatever you want, and I will bury him. It seems fair for me to die doing it. I will lie dear to him, with one dear to me…” while arguing with her sister, who on the other hand, valued and kept it safe with the law of the state.

In the following quote, she implies that in the end, she will make the decision to go out of her way to give her brother a proper burial, even if this act results in death. At the beginning of the story, as Antigone is arguing with her sister, Ismene, she tends to have a completely opposite view than her, asserting “If you say this, you will be hateful to me, and the dead will hate you always-justly. But let me and my foolish plans suffer this terrible thing, for I shall succumb to nothing so awful as a shameful death”. This following quote that Antigone states displays a precise description on how strongly she believes on the act of doing the right thing or what she feels is right, which is to go out of her way and to bury one of her loved one. Due to this judicious step, Antigone lets herself accept the fate of dying to descend into the afterlife, even if she does or doesn’t get caught. Her fall of grace due to a tragic flaw soon becomes a cause of downfall for others, being Haemon killing himself because of his infuriated emotions towards his dad concerning Antigone, his bride and his mother, as she hears of the death of the son and can’t live with herself furthermore. I have a hard time believing that Antigone has admitted her “mistakes and failures” as they didn’t seem like errors to her. She sticks to believing what she considers is right and doesn’t let anyone tell her otherwise, even when Creon discovers that she has disobeyed the law by burying her brother and tries to tell her that she was wrong for doing so. Regardless, she takes accountability for the things she did and is not ashamed to take a stand on what she believes was right. Antigone replies with, “Therefore, there is no pain for me in meeting this fate, whereas if I were to endure that one born from my mother die unburied, that would cause me pain”. She, furthermore, justifies her actions and refuses to give into Creon’s beliefs or anyone’s for that matter. She does redeem herself throughout the story, as she is able to bury her dear brother and wish him an honourable path in the afterlife. “I did not intend to pay the penalty to the gods for violating those laws in fear of some man’s opinion, for I know I will die,” Antigone proclaims. In the following quote, Antigone makes her actions known, she states that she isn’t scared of Creon or what he’s going to do because she would die either way, from getting killed or killing herself, for disobeying god’s will.

Gathering all the thoughts up, Antigone is considered a tragic hero to many. Although many characters in the story are flawed, Antigone’s rebelliousness, recklessness, and impulsiveness leads to the downfall of everyone, including herself. She had been standing by to what she believed was the right thing to do and not letting anyone decide for herself, which turned out to be the cause of her downfall. In the result, she accepted her fate and therefore was ready to die. Going back to the moral that Sophocles might have intended the topic of fate and free will. Fate being the consequences and actions taken between individuals. Free will being the free choices chosen to be acted upon based on someone’s consuosness and how they view the world around them. If Antigone had gave up on thinking the way she did, thinking that she was wrong all along for burying her brother who was conceived as a “traitor”, what would you think would happen to Antigone’s perspective on the situation and the world itself, would she be like her sister?

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