+1 (208) 254-6996 [email protected]
  

apropos of the burial that offended the sensibilities of Massachusetts voters.)

But just as strong as Creon’s convictions are those of his niece Antigone, sister to both of the dead young men—Eteocles enshrined in his hero’s tomb, Polyneices lying naked on the ground, his nude, weapon-torn body exposed to the elements, to the ravenous birds. From the moment she appears on stage, outraged after having heard about the new edict, Antigone’s argument is for the absolute imperative of burial—indeed, for the absolute. For her, burial of the dead is a universal institution that transcends culture and even time itself: the “unwavering, unwritten customs of the gods … not some tri$e of now or yesterday, but for all eternity.” (She mockingly asks whether these can be overruled by the mere “pronouncements” of Creon.) This conviction is what leads her to perform the galvanizing action of the play: under cover of night she goes to the desolate place where Polyneices’ body lies out in the open and performs a token burial, scattering some dirt on the body.

Don't use plagiarized sources. Get Your Custom Essay on
apropos of the burial that offended the sensibilities of Massachusetts voters.)
Just from $13/Page
Order Essay

It is to this symbolic burial that a terri”ed soldier—one of the guards whom Creon had set around the body, to make sure no one would inter it—presumably refers later on, when he anxiously reports to Creon that someone has performed the rite. Enraged, Creon orders the man to go back and “unbury” the body: to strip off the thin covering of dirt and expose the corpse once more to the elements. It is upon his return to the foul-smelling site that the soldier discovers Antigone, who at that moment is arriving, and who cries out in despair when she sees the denuded corpse. She is taken prisoner, has her great confrontation with her uncle (from which I quote above), and, in one of the diabolically symmetrical punishments so beloved of Greek tragedians, is herself buried alive as punishment for her crime of burying the dead—walled into a tomb of rock, to expire there. (By not actually killing her, Creon, who has the master bureaucrat’s deep feeling for the small procedural detail, hopes to avoid incurring ritual pollution.)

There she does die—imperious to the end, she hangs herself, rather than waste away as anybody’s victim—but not before Creon has been persuaded of the folly of his policy. As often happens in tragedy, the persuasion takes its “nal form as a heap of dead bodies: not only Antigone’s but those of Creon’s son, the dead girl’s “ancé, who has slain himself over the body of his beloved, and Creon’s wife, too, who kills herself in despair at the news of their child’s violent end. The king who had refused to recognize the claims of family is, in the end, made horribly aware of how important family is.

“The claims of family” is just one way to describe what Antigone represents. The titanic battle between her and Creon is, in fact, one of the most thrilling moral, intellectual, and philosophical confrontations ever dramatized; inevitably, it has been seen as representing any number of cultural con$icts. Certainly in the play there is the tension between the family and the community, but there is also that between the individual and the state, between religious and secular worldviews, between divine and human law, feminine and masculine concerns, the domestic and political realms.

But perhaps a broader rubric is applicable, too. For you could say that what preoccupies Antigone, who as we know is attracted to universals, is simply another “absolute”: the absolute personhood of the dead man, stripped of all labels, all categories—at least those imposed by temporal concerns, by politics and war. For her, the defeated and disgraced Polyneices, naked and unburied, is just as much her brother as the triumphant and heroic Eteocles, splendidly entombed. In the end, what entitles him to burial has nothing to do with what side he was on—and it’s worth emphasizing the play is not at all shy about enumerating the horrors the dead man intended to perpetrate on the city, his own city, the pillage, the burning, the killing, the enslavement of the survivors —but the fact that he was a human being, anthropos. (This tragedy is, indeed, famous for expressing a kind of astonished wonder at what human beings are capable of, accomplishments for which Sophocles uses the ambiguous adjective “deina,” which means both “terrible” and “wonderful”—“awesome,” maybe, in the original sense of that word.) This is why, during her great debate with Creon, while the king keeps recurring to the same point—that Eteocles was the champion of the city, and Polyneices its foe, and that “a foe is never a friend”—such distinctions are moot for Antigone, since the gods themselves do not make them. “Nonetheless,” she “nally declares, putting a curt end to another exchange on the subject, “Hades requires these rites.” The only salient distinction is the one that divides gods from men—which, if true, makes all humans equal.

* * *

It was hard not to think of all this—of the Iliad with its grand funereal “nale, of the Odyssey strangely pivoting around so many burials, and of course of “Antigone”—as I followed the story of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s unburied body over the past few weeks. I thought, of course, of canny politicians eyeing the public mood, and of the public to whom those politicians wanted to pander. I thought even more of the protesters who, understandably to be sure, wanted to make clear the distinction between victim and perpetrator, between friend and foe, by threatening to strip from the enemy what they saw as the prerogatives of the friend: humane treatment in death. The protesters who wanted, like Creon, not only to deny those prerogatives to an enemy but to strip them away again should anyone else grant them—to “unbury the body.” I thought of Martha Mullen, a Christian, who insisted that the Muslim Tsarnaev, accused of heinous atrocities against innocent citizens, be buried just as a loved one might deserve to be buried, because she honored the religious precept that demands that we see all humans as “brothers,” whatever the evil they have done.

This “nal point is worth lingering over just now. The last of the many articles I’ve read about the strange odyssey of Tsarnaev’s body was about the reactions of the residents of the small Virginia town where it was, “nally, buried. “What do you do when a monster is buried just down the street?” the subhead asked. The sensationalist diction, the word “monster,” I realized, is the problem—and brings you to the deep meaning of Martha Mullen’s gesture, and of Antigone’s argument, too. There is, in the end, a great ethical wisdom in insisting that the criminal dead, that your bitterest enemy, be buried, too; for in doing so, you are insisting that the criminal, however heinous, is precisely not a “monster.” Whatever else is true of the terrible crime that Tamerlan Tsarnaev is accused of having perpetrated, it was, all too clearly, the product of an entirely human psyche, horribly motivated by beliefs and passions that are very human indeed —deina in the worst possible sense. To call him a monster is to treat this enemy’s mind precisely the way some would treat his unburied body—which is to say, to put it beyond the reach of human consideration (and therefore, paradoxically, to refuse to confront his “monstrosity” at all).

This is the point that obsessed Sophocles’ Antigone: that to not bury her brother, to not treat the war criminal like a human being, would ultimately have been to forfeit her own humanity. This is why it was worth dying for.

* * *

Sometimes, a less elevated instinct, a raw practicality, could lead the characters in Greek plays to a version of the same conclusion: that because we will all want to be treated like human beings at some unimaginably low moment—because we all die—we must treat the “monsters” thus, too. This, too, is a possibility worth considering right now.

It is, in fact, the point of the tart ending of another play by Sophocles—one he wrote about Ajax, the good soldier turned evil terrorist. At the end of this tragedy, written not long before “Antigone” was composed, a con$ict arises over whether the body of the criminal should be buried. His enemies—Agamemnon and Menelaus, the leaders of the Greek expedition, whom Ajax had plotted to murder—insist, of course, that his body be cast forth unburied, like the body of an animal, “food for the birds.” (Again.) Yet unexpectedly, there springs to his defense a man who also had been his enemy. That man is Odysseus, who in a climactic confrontation with the two Greek generals—who are his allies and commanding officers—persuades them that to pursue their hatred after death would be grotesque. Rather typically for this type, the swaggering Agamemnon worries that to relent would make him appear “soft”; but Odysseus, wily as he always is, argues that “softness” is nothing more than justice—nothing more than acting like a human being. Then he makes his “nal, stark point, one with which, you suspect, even Creon wouldn’t argue:

Agamemnon: You will make us

appear cowards this day.

Odysseus: Not so, but just men in

the sight of all the Greeks.

Agamemnon: So you would have

me allow the burying of the dead?

Odysseus: Yes; for I too shall

come to that need.

announced

announced

announced

announced

announced

announced

announced

announced

announced

announced

announced

announced

announced

announced

announced

announced

announced

announced

announcedannounced

the

the

the

the

the

the

the

the

the

the

the

the

the

the

the

the

the

the

the the Times

Times

Times

Times

Times

Times

Times

Times

Times

Times

Times

Times

Times

Times

Times

Order your essay today and save 10% with the discount code ESSAYHELP