Romantic Elements in Antigone
The ancient Greeks believed in restraint and moderation in all spheres of life and thought. The Greeks believed in the sovereignty of reason and intellect rather than imagination. For obvious reason, therefore, love and romance, both expressions of emotion and imagination do not figure prominently in Greek poetry and drama. We can hardly imagine an Elizabethan tragedy or comedy, in which the play wrights have not paid glowing tributes to love. All the tragedies and comedies of Shakespeare are essentially songs of love. Love is represented as a force that can transcend death and change. “In this climate of romance,” says Gordon, “it is, of course, the rule that all the lovers shall love at once, and love absolutely. Nothing else, in this world, is to be permitted.”
This, however, was not true in the Greek tragedies. The Antigone is perhaps the only ancient play, in which Love had a major role to play. But it is a play in which the lovers are never to be seen together on the stage. With Aeschylus Love, as a critic points out, is simply the divine and eternal principle of fecundity, a law, and not a passion. The only passage in which Aeschylus speaks of the divine influence of Love is a fragment of the Danaidae, where Venus says:
“The pure Heavens are enamoured of the Earth; and Love impels Earth to embrace the Heavens, and Rain falling from the Heavens kisses Earth; and she brings forth corn and sheep for the sustenance of man; and from these rainy nuptials the fruits of autumn come to their perfection; and it is I, Love, who am the cause of all these things.“
Sophocles does not speak of abstract love, as has been referred to in Aeschylus. He speaks of the passion of love that defies death. The chorus have celebrated the supreme power of love that is a mighty leveller, removing all distinctions.
“Unconquered Love! whose mystic sway
Creation’s varied forms obey;
Who watchest long at midnight hour
On the soft cheek of beauty’s flowers:”
Not in the Antigone alone, in certain other plays of Sophocles also love has been exalted. Dejanira, for example, said:
“Whose challenges Love to have a round
Of fisticuffs, has lost his wits: for he
Rules even gods according to his will,”
Sophocles enunciates the popular view in a Fragment that love is, at times, irresistible. Heracles had his devoted wife Dejanira, and yet he felt irresistibly. One may object to this sort of impulsiveness. But it was occasionally inevitable. In the Fragment, Sophocles says:
“For love is death, imperishable force,
And love is raving madness, is desire
Unmixed, is lamentation. And in her
Is all that leads to action, peace or force,
Deep into every living breast she sinks:
Who is not prey to this divinity?”
Coleridge once wrote that Love was the supreme principle life:
“All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
Whatever stirs this mortal frame,
Are but the ministers of love,
And feed the sacred flame.”
Not to speak of man, even the gods are often the victims of the passion of love. If we recount the life of Zeus, Apollo, or Neptune we will easily realize that they were often swayed away by love. Zeus particularly had affairs with the mortals, and the Greek mythology is full of it.
In the Antigone Sophocles speaks of love that is not mere infatuation or the lust for flesh. Haemon and Antigone loved, and yet their love did not attain fruition. Their love has something unearthly about it. It has the light that never was on land-the consecration of a poet’s dream.
Haemon is a martyr to the cause of love. He asked his father to reconsider his decision to bury Antigone alive. And yet he never appealed to his father’s sentiments that he should honour his love for her.
“That of all women she the least deserving
Foully perishes for deeds most honourable.”
The man, who once told his father:
“My life is ruled
I cannot, Value any marriage tie
Above your own good guidance.”
Was certainly a weakling, always at his father’s beck and call. But it was love that brought about a sea-change. He had the temerity to stead face to face with his tyrannical father. Love gives a man a measure of strength of which he was not conscious before. That explains why Haemon could ask his father:
“Has she not rather earned a Crown of gold?”
“You’ll never marry her this side of death.”
And the reply of Haemon was firm and brief:
“Then, if she dies, she does not die alone.”
Antigone was having her last journey. She was presumably thinking of her frustration in love when she said:
“Going to my rest, where death shall take me
Alive across the silent river.
No wedding day; no marriage-music;
Death will be all my bridal dower,”
We learn from the Messenger that Antigone had hanged herself. Haemon stood with his arms around her dead body. His spurting blood was staining her pale cheeks.
“Two bodies lie together, wedded in death.”
Haemon and Antigone may be described as Romeo and Juliet of the classical age in the sense that despite their passionate love they never indulge in romantic extravagances, even when torn asunder they never take tender farewells that compel the tears of the audience. They are locked in a passionate embrace at the end in the tomb; life has separted them, and death has united them. And yet the Spectators cannot watch them while they are in the arms of each other. The hints are broad enough.
Creon sought to stifle love, and Haemon and Antigone by their death upheld its dignity. Eros and Aphrodite are represented as great powers and ordinances.
“Love sits on his throne, one of the great Powers;
Naught else can prevail against invincible Aphrodite.”