Character Analysis in Haemon in Antigone
Who is Haemon in Antigone?
In ancient Greek tragedy love and romance were very sparingly dealt with. And, therefore, Haemon, perhaps the only ‘lover, in the entire literary corpus of the time’, has a special significance. He came to plead to his father for the life of his betrothed. But nowhere did he appeal in the name of love. He wanted to vindicate justice and recorded his protest against the tyranny of his father. It was a conflict between two forces, and in the ultimate analysis it was the son, who won in spite of his physical death.
Never disobedient, Haemon was undoubtedly a loving and affectionate son. He said:
“I am your son, sir; by your wise decisions
My life is ruled, and them I shall always obey.
I cannot value any marriage-tie
Above your own good guidance.”
The father seemed to be pleased:
Your father’s will should have your heart’s first place.
Only for this do fathers pray for sons
Obedient, loyal, ready to strike down
Their fathers’ foes, and love their father’s friends.”
Haemon patiently listened to Creon’s long harangue on filial duties and responsibilities. But he was not a person to accept every word of his father as an article of faith. He would accept his advice with a grain of salt. Naturally, therefore, there was a clash of wills, equally strong. With no pride or arrogance, which characterized his father, Haemon was the symbol of reason and patiently he sought to impress upon his father the supreme importance of justice and reason. In his impassioned speeches, Haemon tried to make his father realize his unreasonableness in sentencing Antigone to death. He was impassioned, but his sense of dignity was never undermined.
Haemon also appealed to his father to honour the public opinion, which was in favour of Antigone. But all his entreaties proved unavailing Haemon represented the ordinary citizens point of view. His approach was fundamentally democratic, for he sincerely believed that the voice of the people should not be dishonoured. A state, for all practical purposes, is the aggregate of the people. Creon with his characteristic obstinacy and arrogance curtly dismissed him:
“Am I to be taught by a mere boy?”
Creon’s waywardness was too much for Haemon. Normally dignified, he lost his temper. This was only too natural. An ardent well wisher of his father, he could not reconcile himself to the fact that he would completely lose his reason. He plainly said that it was a “childish thing” that his father was determined to ignore public opinion. Creon blurted out with pontifical solemnity:
“I am King, and responsible only to myself.”
It was a fantastic claim. Haemon realized that the benevolent king had degenerated into a ruthless tyrant. He impatiently asked:
“A one-man State? What sort of State is that?”
As Creon charged him with being a supporter of a woman, Haeman replied:
Unless you’re the woman. It’s you I’m fighting for”
Creon was at the end of his tether,
“What, villain, when every word you speak is against me?”
Haemon’s reply is unequivocal:
“Only because I know you are wrong, wrong”
The advice of Haemon provoked Creon all the more. He said:
“By all the gods in heaven,
I’ll make you sorry for your impudence.
Bring out the she-devil and let her die
Now, with her bridge groom by to see it done!”
And yet Haemon’s speeches, based on reason could brushed aside. After all, Creon was not an unmitigate His conscience, lying dormant, was profoundly stirred. He did appreciate Haemon’s point of view, which was the voice of reason. But it was pride, the besetting sin of Creon, which prevented him from admitting his folly. “He (Haemon)” says Bowra, “is the voice of the ordinary conscience, of common morality, and through him Sophocles shows his trust in the average man when it comes to a real question of right and wrong.” Creon had a glimmering consciousness that by ignoring Haemon he had ignored public opinion. That consciousness was clearly manifest in his action. He once decided to punish both Antigone and Ismene. Later he recanted, and felt pricks of conscience about Ismene. This concession, however small, was the outcome of Haemon’s counsel.
Haemon is not, however, the symbol of public opinion alone. He was a true lover, who became a martyr to the cause of love. Unlike Romeo or the romantic lovers, he never become rhapsodical about love. Reticence in art and expression was Sophocles’ strong point. That explains why there are no heart-warming farewells and passionate embraces. As a matter of fact, Haemon made no references to love in his speeches to his father. His appeal was not to emotion but reason.
Haemon and Antigone were never shown on the stage together. We are simply informed by the Messenger that Antigone had already hanged herself. Haemon with his arms about her stood lamenting his dead bride. Creon, a sadder and a wiser man, wanted to undo the wrong. He asked Haemon in a soft and affectionate tone:
“O my unhappy boy…
What have you done? What madness bring you here
To your destruction? Come away, my son,
My son, I do beseech you, come away.”
Haemon spat in his face, and without a word tried to strike him with a sword. Mad in grief, he plunged the sword in own heart. What he could not say was illustrated in his action. He embraced maid, his spurting blood staining her pale cheeks red.
The Messenger rightly commented
“Two bodies lie together, wedded in death,
Their bridal sleep a witness to the world
How great calamity can come to man
Through man’s perversity”