Antigone, a heroine, icon, and role model has survived the test of time for over two thousand years, and with valid reason. Her actions depicted in the play Antigone by Sophocles are those of courage and fearlessness. She also conveys a sense of deep conviction in the pursuit of truth as she stared deep into the eyes of injustice by her oppressor. Valiance is a quality that Antigone has in abundance; she exhibits this with virtually every word she speaks as if she is possessed by the Gods on a righteous journey to lay her brother’s body to rest in an act of defiance against the newly appointed king of Thebes, Creon.
It is no surprise that today Antigone is regarded as a role model for women and more specifically feminists. To truly appreciate the character we must take a closer look into the context of her environment. Patriarchy was alive and strong in ancient Greece and men dominated the political and social spectrum. Their methods of justification stemmed from classical mythology. This assisted them in establishing their authority over women. One example of Greek mythology that represents their ideologies is Pandora, a mortal woman who unleashed all evils by opening the forbidden box as depicted by Hesiod an ancient Greek poet whom modern scholars refer to as a major source of Greek mythology. Hesiod’s writings supported the notion that women were inferior to men and these writings were the basis of man’s control over women (Batista 1).
With such a myopic view from men towards women we can already see that the odds have been stacked against Antigone many-fold, which makes the case for her being a leading example for feminists around the world even more valid. Of course with every hero there is indeed a villain. In this case we encounter Creon, the King of Thebes. Creon’s perspective on women reflects the society in which Sophocles grew up. Ancient Athens was regarded as a male dominated culture, a culture where men associated themselves with other men and women were viewed as having no place in the business of men. Creon viewed women as having a less important role in Greek society which included their family life as well as their lives in the city. Creon’s view point that a woman’s role in society is limited justifies itself when Creon utters the words “from now on they’ll act like women. Tie them up, no more running loose” (Sophocles 668). This quote reflects his opinion that women should be restrained at all times and failure to do so would ensue in chaos and also what he considers disobedience to men and the city of Thebes. You could say a sense of insecurity flows through Creon’s psyche when it comes to the idea of a woman conveying strength and determination. His words reflect an underlying paranoia over his dominance and can be seen when he is discussing who could have possibly buried the body of Polynices; “Certain citizens who could hardly stand the spirit of my regime, grumbling against me in the dark, heads together” (Sophocles 661). One of the first signs of weakness in Creon is shown here and this echoes his subconscious feelings as he is fueled by his ego and irrationality.
Sophocles paints Creon as a sexist ruler with a low opinion towards women and this leads to Creon’s downfall. This conclusively concedes that holding inequitable traits can result in one’s collapse. The combination of ignorance and insecurity can be a destructive cocktail of characteristics. Justifying your own self-worth by bringing down another through prejudices has the potential to alienate yourself to those that you truly hold dearest. Creon’s thoughts and actions were the catalyst for his son, Haemon, to commit suicide and towards the end of Antigone he himself realizes the error of his ways by saying “the guilt is all mine, can never be fixed on another man, no escape for me. I killed you, god help me, I admit it all!” (Sophocles 687). Reality eventually catches up to Creon’s twisted mindset and goes to show that a lack of introspection can send you spiraling down to a dark abyss of regret and sorrow.
Creon sets the stage throughout Antigone for our heroine to commit her acts of civil disobedience. The first feminist quality that Antigone shows to the audience occurs when she chooses to challenge Creon's authority. The challenge represents an act of rebellion towards Creon’s laws and during Antigone’s first interaction with Creon in the play she exhibits a very bold and firm tone in regards to her opinion. “I’ve been accused of a folly by a fool” (Sophocles 665). This specific line points towards Antigone’s feminist attitude by implying that Creon is a fool. This is an indication that Antigone has no respect for Creon’s status as a king or, to a further extent, as a man. By portraying the strength of a man in the face of oppression, Sophocles plants the seed of admiration in the reader’s mind as Antigone’s reputation of being a strong and fearless woman begins to grow when she regards herself as equal to men and superior to Creon.
In the beginning of Antigone we are shown the contrasting personalities between Antigone and Ismene, her sister. Ismene’s reluctance to participate in the burial of their brother shows her obedient and submissive nature towards authority and men. Ismene tells Antigone “Remember we are women, we’re not born to contend with men” (Sophocles 655). Ismene would be regarded as a fitting model of what a woman should be in ancient Greece and the differences between her personality and Antigone’s highlights the type of character Antigone portrays.
Many people would define the term feminist as a person who supports and fights for women’s rights, but my belief is that Antigone goes beyond this definition. She is not so much an advocate for feminism or women’s rights; instead she is an example of the ideology that many feminists hold. Her actions were not committed for the sole purpose of fighting for equality between genders. Her actions were committed in the name of love, truth and justice. These are the reasons that make Antigone such an admirable character and role model for women and men alike.
There are many ways we can view Antigone and what motivated her to do the things she did. Through Emmanuel Kant’s categorical imperative we can see if her actions were morally justified. Emmanuel Kant states that it is irrational to perform an action if that action’s maxim contradicts itself once made into a universal law of nature. For example, the maxim of lying to get what you want will result in contradiction once applied as a universal law that all agents should lie in order to get what they want (Kant's Moral Philosophy, par. 37). The way we can apply this to Antigone’s moral compass is to view the opportunities she receives to plead any form of innocence towards Creon. When asked if she was aware that she had disobeyed the law, Antigone responds “Well aware. How could I avoid it?”(Sophocles 665). Her avoidance of lying to save her life is an example of Antigone’s rationality in not contradicting herself. However, if we move to the part where Antigone commits suicide we can see that this contradicts Kant’s maxim that committing suicide failed the conception test. Kant believed that refraining from suicide is a perfect duty towards oneself (Kant's Moral Philosophy, par. 35-36). In other words, the act of committing suicide goes against self-preservation which in turn goes against the duty we have towards the body in regards to life.
There are some qualities that Antigone has that you can consider moral and in accordance with Kant’s categorical imperative but for the most part Antigone is not driven by morals. Instead she is fueled by anger. This is a woman who has seen her life crumble before her very eyes, a life of suffering has swallowed her soul and the final straw was the refusal to bury her beloved brother’s body. Every human has a limit and Antigone’s limit was reached. Laws, rules, and social doctrines no longer mattered to her if it meant that she would spend the rest of her life in regret. She was not limited by gender. She never once considered herself to be inferior. She remained strong in the face of death. She was a true heroine.
Batista, Mikaela. "Ancient Greek Women: Weavers, Painters and Patrons." State University of New York at Stony Brook, 2016. Ann Arbor: ProQuest.
Kant's Moral Philosophy. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Plato.stanford.edu. 2017.
Sophocles. Antigone. Ed. Martin Puchner. Norton Anthology of World Literature, Volume 1. W.W. Norton and Co. Inc. New York, 2017.