Antigone and Olivia
For the nineteenth-century idealist German philosopher Hegel, Antigone
is one of the most sublime(Woodruff X11), and in every respect most consummate, work of art human effort ever produced. Not a detail in this tragedy but is of consequence.(1)Hegel’s dazzling accolade is typical of the high esteem for the play in the early nineteenth century.(2) For Hegel, Antigone plays a major role in the evolution of European consciousness, one of whose early stages is exemplified by Antigon’s conflict between State and individual, or more accurately between the public law of the State and the instinctive family-love and duty towards a brother .
This division in turn is an aspect of a larger conflict between Nature and Spirit and so a step toward the emergence of Spirit. The individual bearer of such consciousness is essentially tragic because he or she enters into the division between the divine law, embodied in the family, and in entering into that division is destroy.
And yet it is precisely this destruction, as George Streiner explains Hegel’s view, which constitutes man’s eminent worth and which allows his progression towards the unification of consciousness and of Spirit on the other side of history. In terms of Hegel’s emphasis on action and his conception of fate in Greek tragedy, Antigone rather than Kreon, is the full bearer of the tragic because she self-consciously decides to act and therefore chooses the path of her destiny. The classical perfection of Antigone lies not only in the clarity and purity with which it develops this conflict but also in its representation of divinity, which goes beyond the horrific gods of the old myths and the old religion to more impersonal gods, who do not appear on the stage as anthropomorphic beings and are more important for the principles they endorse than for any visual effects.
Even Antigone’s devotion to family love, or philia, is problematical, given the incestuous bonds within this family and her harsh treatment of her sister, Ismene. Antigone, to be sure, may be identified with the emergence of an individual ethical consciousness that resists the domination of certain laws that heve been imposed by Thebe’s present ruler, but the play calls into question whether these laws may be associated with an abstract , impersonal law of the State. It is questionable to identify a small fifth-century city state or polis with the modern abstract notion of States. The polis of Antigone is rather the total civic space in which the religious and the political, the private and the public are closely interviewed, and the fact that they are so intertwined creates the tragedy.
Political, historical, and social considerations add further nuances. Antigone is opposing not the city’s Law as a totality, but rather Kreon’s specific decree forbidding the burial of her brother’s body. She is primarily the champion not of the individual against the State but of the ties of blood and birth that rest on the solidarity of the family.
More specifically, she opposes to Kreon’s authority the traditional authority of the old aristocratic families to honor and buy their dead. The care for the dead was especially the prerogative of women , and it was increasingly restricted in Athens in the sixth and fifth centuries as the democracy sought to limit the power of the aristocratic clans, but it was nevertheless widely respected.(7)The Athenian institution of the public, city funeral for warriors who died in battle, established around the middle of the century, sharpened the conflict between the family’s mourning and the public ceremony, and this conflicts is doubtless in the plays background.(8)Against Kreon’s Laws(nomon) Antigone sets the unwritten laws that pertain to the burial of the dead, which are also the custom-laws that have a place within every city and rest on the sanctity, as she says, of Justice who resides in the same house with the gods below the earth and on the authority of Zeus himself.
Viewed more broadly, Antigone brings down to earth and to purely human characters some of the conflicts of Aiskhylos Oresteria. Antigone’s position has some affinities with that of the Furies in Aiskhylos conflict between Olympian and chthonic, upper d lower worlds, in the last play of the Orestria, the Eumenides.
Heat and Dust, a novel by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (Jhabvala 1991), won the Booker Memorial Prize for common wealth Literature in 1975. It narrates with exquisite skill, the story of two English women, Olivia and the young narrator, and their experiences of India. Jhabbvala describes how India overwhelms their sensibilities.
Heat & Dust presents a two –generation gap: Olivia and the young narrator. The latter is Jessie’s granddaughter. She was three years old when Douglas died. Douglas had married Jessie after securing divorce from Olivia. The narrator arrives in India to reconstruct Olivia’s life and to this end, makes judicious use of her letters and diaries. Her experiences of modern India are different in tone, rhythm and spirit from those of Olivia, and the creative use of dust and heat, the symbols of India, demonstrates the process of the primary imagination.
Olivia is apparently happily married to Douglas who is excessively preoccupied with office work. Her prosaic dull married life is enlivened by her secret meeting with the Nawab of Kabatum, who impresses her by his authority, strength, wealth and lavish hospitality. Her attitude to the Nawab is totally different from Douglass. She doesn’t believe in the Nawab’s secret connections with the dacoits and his lack of morals. Olivia, in her escapades, falls into his arms, and the miracle of the Shine of Baba thus ironically comes true. She becomes pregnant. The narrator who meets idental, a lower middle class clerk struggling against poverty and falls in love with him. She gives in to him at the same shrine and becomes pregnant. Thus, she has an experience similar to Olivia’s years before. The story of Olivia’s pregnancy and forced abortion is a sad aftermath of her queer world. She had to leave Douglas to enter the Nawab’s private apartments. The young narrator who is pregnant finally seeks refuge in a Himalayan ashram.
Heat and Dust is thus an odd combination of the sacred and the profane, the spiritual and the sexual, the ideal and the real that encompasses situation of great diversity and oddily in the novel’s structure. Jhabvala’s portrayal of the princely India of the thirties is exotic and spirituality forms a recurrent pattern. However, the novel is very skillfully designed, and the description of situation and character are evocative of heat and dust of modern as well as feudal India.
Why Antigone is the heroic one and not Olivia?
Unlike Olivia, to be sure, the issue of Antigone is burial, not vengeance; the cosmic order is in the background, not the foreground’ and the focus is on the family as a whole and not on the rights of the father as against those of the mother. Antigon also presents the conflict in terms of the more impersonal eternal laws of the gods rather than through the awe-inspiring mythical presences of the Furies.
In this opening scene Antigone not only sets out the main issues but also display all the contradictions and dangers that define her character: her intensity of feeling, the single-mindedness of her devotion to family, her unbending will, her readiness to defy the entire city in the name of what she believes, her involvement with the dead, and her willingness to face death if necessary. with sarcasm she shows her independence and bitterness when she recounts that the noble Kreon has proclaimed his order against the burial of Polyneikes, while at the same time she personalizes the conflict and dramatizes its immediacy and the consequent need to act decisively. She has a visceral sense of Polyneikes exposed corpse, she not only recounts that no one may hide it inside a grave, wail over it or weep for it, but she also pictures it as horribly desecrated by vutures, a sweet-tasting treasure that birds will spy and feed on with their greed joy. That this image is distinctive, we see from comparing Olivia’s otherwise similar description of her decree later.
The paradox of what Antigone calls her “holy crime” shows her understanding of her isolation but also signals the moral complexity of her forthcoming act (33) When Ismene refuses to help, Antigone turns abruptly from affection to hatred. She openly accepts the folly of her own resolve, and she is determined to die the “noble death” of the male warrior, on the model of the Homeric hero. Her claim to the honor that she will win from her deed, her determination to “lie beside” her brother in death in her holy wrongdoing,;’ and her open defiance of the city at a time of crisis, would almost certainly alarm the audience of male Athenian citizens, accustomed to the view that women do not challenge men especially in the all-male areas of politics and public life.
As always in Sophokles , the interaction of human circumstances and human character are sufficient to account for the tragedy. Sufficient, perhaps, but not final for in Sophokles tragic view, human life is always part of a larger continuum, which includes the natural world and the divinities whose power, immanent in the world, makes it what it is. Antigone follows and reverses her values with an intensity for which she is ready to pay with her life. Yet, she lives in a world defined by the needs of a city that she rejects.
Like many tragedies divine retribution, the action has an hourglass shape as the power flows from Kreon to Antigone. He is tested by a series of challenges until he is completely destroyed in the last scene. The encounter with Haimon brings the challenge closer to home as his own son question his authority over both city and house. In sending Antigone to her death in the cave, Kreon reasserts his power, but the entrance of Teiresias shifts the balance back to Antigone. The reversal reaffirms the two areas that Kreon has tried to subordinate to his civic authority, the underworld and family ties. He enters the dark cave where he has ordered Antigon immured and where both she and Haimon kill themselves. He thereby makes a symbolical journey to the underworld, parallel to Antigone’s, and this subterranean space now wreaks its vengeance on him and fulfill Antogone’s parting curse.
According to Haimon citizens hold that Antigone deserves golden honour for her most glorious deeds. The citizens admire Antigone because she cared about her brother. He may expect the people admiration for Antigone to be mingled with horror at the awesomeness of her deed.
In the realm of death Antigone and Ismene are opposed as hubris to prudence. Whereas Antigone is certain that she will die nobly, like a patriotic soldier, thus, no doubt that she is the Heroic one.
Here we are confronted with Sophocles duality of perspective. From the divine point of view, there is the eternally circling wheel of generation and destruction, the perfect divine order, but for concrete things like the moon and man there is no divine order. In tragedy we are confronted with the simultaneousness of the divine and the moral points of view, and with the fact that these perspectives are irreconcilable. Only when he stops living is man able to adopt the divine perspective.
The duality of the divine and the human perspective is the major subject of the Antigone. The first stasimon shows how nature and man have their boundaries apportioned to them. But the finite beings are unable to stay within these boundaries.
Humphrey, D., Findley, Kitto. Antigone, Oedipus the Kin, Electra; Oxford University
Jhabvala, R. P. Heat and Dust, New York: Simon And Schuster, 1991
Woodruff, Paul. Antigone, Hackett Publishing, 2001
Cite this Antigone and Olivia
Antigone and Olivia. (2016, Jul 03). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/antigone-and-olivia/