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Antigone, on the other hand, is fulfilling one of the most
Antigone's position.
sacred and the most imperative duties known to Greek religion; and it is a duty which could not be delegated. She and her sister are the nearest kinsfolk of the dead. It is not to be expected that any stranger should brave the edict for the dead man's sake. As the Chorus says, ‘no man is so foolish that he is enamoured of death’ (220). Creon is furious when the Chorus suggests that the rites so mysteriously paid to the corpse may have been due to the agency of the gods (278 f.). That very suggestion of the Chorus shows how impossible it seemed to the Theban mind that Polyneices could receive the ministration of any human hand. A modern critic, taking the view that Antigone was wrong, has observed (not ironically) that she ought to have left the gods to provide the burial. It would have been ill for the world if all who have done heroic deeds had preferred to await miracles. As to another suggestion,—that Antigone ought to have tried persuasion with Creon,—the poet has supplied the answer in his portraiture of Creon's character,—a character known to Antigone from long experience. The situation in which Antigone was placed by Creon's edict was analogous to that of a Christian martyr under the Roman Empire. It was as impossible for Antigone to withhold those rites, which no other human being could now render, as it was impossible for the Christian maiden to avoid the torments of the arena by laying a grain of incense on the altar of Diana1. From both alike those laws which each believed to be ‘the unfailing statutes of Heaven’ claimed an allegiance which no human law could cancel, and it was by the human ruler, not by his victim, that the conflict of loyalties had been made inevitable.

1 Mr Long's beautiful picture, ‘Diana or Christ,’ will be remembered by many,— and the more fitly, since it presents a counterpart, not only for Antigone, but also for Creon and for Haemon.

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  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Sophocles, Antigone, 220
    • Sophocles, Antigone, 278
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