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Such, then, are the general characteristics which mark the treatment of this subject by Sophocles. In a drama of rare poetical beauty, and of especially fine psychology, he has raised the question as to the limit of the State's authority over the individual conscience. It belongs to the essence of the tragic pathos that this question is one which can never be answered by a set formula. Enough for Antigone that she finds herself in a situation where conscience leaves her no choice but to break one of two laws, and to die.

These distinctive qualities of the play may be illustrated by a glance at the work of some other poets. The Antigone of Euripides is now represented only by a few small fragments,

and its plot is uncertain. It would seem, however, that, when Antigone was caught in the act of burial, Haemon was assisting her, and that the play ended, not with her death, but with her marriage1. Some of the fragments confirm the belief that the
love-motive was prominent2. The Roman poet Attius (c. 140 B.C.) also wrote an Antigone. The few remaining verses—some of which have lived only because Vergil imitated them—indicate eloquence and spirit, but give no clue to the plot3. Statius, in
his epic Thebaid, departs widely from the Attic version of the story. Argeia, the widow of Polyneices, meets Antigone by night at the corpse. Each, unknown to the other, has come to do the same task; both are put to death by Creon,— “;ambae hilares et mortis amore superbae4. This rapturous welcoming of death is, as we have seen, quite in the manner of Massinger and Alfieri, but not at all in that of Sophocles.

Alfieri's Antigone (published in 1783) follows Statius in

associating Argeia with Antigone; besides whom there are only two other actors, Creon and Haemon. The Italian poet has not improved upon the Greek. There are here two heroines, with very similar parts, in performing which they naturally utter very similar sentiments. Then Alfieri's Creon is not merely a perverse despot of narrow vision, but a monster of wickedness, who, by a thought worthy of Count Cenci, has published the edict for the express purpose of enticing Antigone into a breach of it. Having doomed her to die, he then offers to pardon her, if she will marry his son (and so unite the royal line with his own); but Antigone, though she esteems Haemon, declines to marry the son of such a parent. So she is put to death, while Argeia is sent back to Argos; and Haemon kills himself. It is not altogether unprofitable to be reminded, by such examples, what the theme of Sophocles could become in other hands.

1 All that we know as to the plot is contained in the first Argument to this play: ‘The story has been used also by Euripides in his Antigone; only there she is detected with Haemon, and is given in marriage, and bears a son Maion.’ In the scholia at the end of L we also read, ‘this play differs from the Antigone of Euripides in the fact that, there, she was detected through the love of Haemon, and was given in marriage; while here the issue is the contrary’ (i.e. her death). That this is the right rendering of the scholiast's words— “φωραθεῖσα ἐκείνη διὰ τὸν Αἵμονος ἔρωτα ἐξεδόθη πρὸς γάμον”—seems probable from a comparison with the statement in the Argument; though others have understood, ‘she was detected, and, owing to the love of Haemon, given in marriage.’ She was detected, not, as in the play of Sophocles, directly by Creon's guards, but (in some way not specified) through the fact that Haemon's love for her had drawn him to her side. Welcker (Griech. Trag. II. pp. 563 ff.) has sought to identify the Antigone of Euripides with the plot sketched by Hyginus in Fab. 72. Antigone having been detected, Haemon had been commissioned by Creon to slay her, but had saved her, conveying her to a shepherd's home. When Maion, the son of their secret marriage, had grown to man's estate, he visited Thebes at a festival. This was the moment (Welcker thinks) at which the Antigone of Euripides began. Creon noted in Maion a certain mark which all the offspring of the dragon's seed (“σπαρτοί”) bore on their bodies. Haemon's disobedience was thus revealed; Heracles vainly interceded with Creon; Haemon slew his wife Antigone and then himself. But surely both the author of the Argument and the scholiast clearly imply that the marriage of Antigone was contained in the play of Euripides, and formed its conclusion. I therefore agree with Heydemann (Über eine nacheuripideische Antigone, Berlin, 1868) that Hyginus was epitomising some otherwise unknown play. M. Patin (Études sur les Tragiques grecs, vol. II. p. 277) remarks that there is nothing to show whether the play of Euripides was produced before or after that of Sophocles. But he has overlooked a curious and decisive piece of evidence. Among the scanty fragments of the Euripidean Antigone are these lines (Eur. fr. 165, Nauck); —“ἄκουσον: οὐ γὰρ οἱ κακῶς πεπραγότες σὺν ταῖς τύχαισι τοὺς λόγους ἀπώλεσαν”. This evidently glances at the Antigone of Sophocles, vv. 563 f., where Ismene says, “οὐδ᾽ ὃς ἂν βλάστη μένει νοῦς τοῖς κακῶς πράσσουσιν, ἀλλ᾽ ἐξίσταται”. (For similar instances of covert criticism, see n. on O. C. 1116.)

2 Eur. fr. 160, 161, 162 (Nauck). The most significant is fr. 161, probably spoken by Haemon:—“ἤρων: τὸ μαίνεσθαι δ᾽ ἄρ᾽ ἦν ἔρως βροτοῖς”.—Another very suggestive fragment is no. 176, where the speaker is evidently remonstrating with Creon:— ‘Who shall pain a rock by thrusting at it with a spear? And who can pain the dead by dishonour, if we grant that they have no sense of suffering?’ This is characteristic of the difference between the poets. Sophocles never urges the futility of Creon's vengeance, though he does touch upon its ignobleness (v. 1030).

3 Only six fragments remain, forming, in all, ten (partly incomplete) lines: Ribbeck, Trag. Rom. Frag. p. 153 (1871). The Ismene of Attius said to her sister (fr. 2), “quanto magis te isti modi esse intellego,
Tanto, Antigona, magis me par est tibi consulere et parcere:

” with which Macrobius (Sat. 6. 2. 17) compares

quantum ipse feroci
Virtute exsuperas, tanto me impensius aecum est
Consulere atque omnes metuentem expendere casus.

Again, he notes (Sat. 6. 1. 59) fr. 5, “iam iam neque regunt
Néque profecto deúm supremus réx [res] curat hominibus

”, as having an echo in

iamiam nec maxima Iuno
Nec Saturnius haec oculis pater aspicit aequis.

This latter fragment of Attius is well compared by Ribbeck with Ant. 921 ff.: the words were doubtless Antigone's.

4 Stat. Theb. 12. 679.

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (7):
    • Sophocles, Antigone, 1030
    • Sophocles, Antigone, 921
    • Sophocles, Antigone, 563
    • Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 1116
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 12.19
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 4.371
    • Statius, Thebias, 12
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