Blood Bonds: Antigone And The Eumenides Essay, Research Paper
Every human on this earth has a bond to another. These bonds, as well as their significance, differ between people. This paper will focus on the bonds of marriage and blood, and their role in the plays Antigone and The Eumenides. How do they relate to each other? Is one more important than the other? How does the divine and mortal world interpret these? Through a review of the two plays and a comparison of their presentation of the bonds of blood and marriage, this paper will answer these questions.
Upon initial examination, the bond of blood seems to be the prevailing one in Antigone, but upon closer examination, it is obvious that the bond of marriage plays a strong role as well.
Sophocles introduces these bonds through Antigone’s troubled ancestry; she was born of an alliance between her brother and her mother. (This alliance also produced Ismene, Polyneices, and Eteocles.) This disobedience of natural laws clearly shows the disrespect that this family has for bonds of marriage and of blood. This disobedience may be innate, as some argue that Oedipus knew nothing of his wife’s relation to him when he killed the king, his father. (Coles Notes, 20-21)
In any case, this disrespect has been passed onto Antigone. She sees marriage as a kind of death. (Sophocles, 504-508) She also states that she would not have buried her husband against the city’s orders, as she did for her brother. (Sophocles, 960-964) Her logic is that although she may have another husband or child, she will never have another brother, since her parents are dead. (Sophocles, 966-969) This leads to the conclusion that the death of her parents has strengthened the blood bond. (In other words, the destruction of marriage causes stronger blood ties, where marriage weakens blood ties.) This is why Antigone sees marriage as a kind of death, and why she believes that it will weaken her ties with her family. (Sophocles, 506-512)
Antigone first expresses her sense of duty to her siblings in lines 81 to 89:
“Be as you choose to be; but for myself
I myself will bury him. It will be good
To die, so doing. I shall lie by his side,
Loving him as he loved me; I shall be
a criminal-but a religious one.”
This conviction is tested indirectly many times throughout the play, but most strongly in a confrontation with Creon, where she maintains and restates her original beliefs. (Sophocles, 509-515) This is especially noteworthy considering the times in which she lived. Her place is in the household, or oikos, not to look for glory or bravery, or challenge authoritative figures.
The lines are not as clearly drawn in The Eumenides. The divine and mortal worlds have different opinions about the sanctity of blood and marriage bonds. The issue here is one of justice, as it is in Antigone, but in a different respect. In addition, a complicated family history leads up to the conflict. During the Trojan War, King Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter. When he returned, his wife, Clytaemestra, in revenge for his crime murdered him. Many years later, their son, Orestes, murdered Clytaemestra (who was not punished) in revenge for his father’s death. (Aeschylus, 454-464) Questions arise, such as: Is the crime of Orestes more severe than that of Clytaemestra? Should Orestes be punished or is his crime one of justice?
In the beginning, the lines seem clearly drawn. The gods, specifically Apollo, see the marriage bond as equal to one of blood. His logic behind this is that Zeus and Hera have sanctified the marriage oaths. (Aeschylus, 213-222) Mortals, as represented by the chorus, see a marriage bond as inconsequential compared with a bond of blood. (Aeschylus, 211-12) However, later in the play, Athene agrees with the mortals, although her judgement of Orestes’ punishment does not reflect this belief. (Aeschylus, 739-41, 752-753) These contradictions highlight the conflict between divine and mortal, and marriage and blood.
In both plays, a blatant disrespect for the marriage bond is shown. In Antigone, it is seen in Oedipus’ destruction of his parent’s marriage. (Coles Notes, 20) The king, Creon, also shows disrespect for this bond, as shown in lines 626-629 and in lines 632-633:
“Ismene: Will you kill your son’s wife to be?
Creon: Yes, there are other fields for him to plough.
Ismene: Not with the mutual love of him and her.
Creon: I hate a bad wife for a son of mine.
Chorus: Will you rob you son of this girl?
Creon: Death-it is death that will stop the marriage for me.”
In The Eumenides, the disrespect for this bond is shown most clearly by the refusal of mortals (Aeschylus, 211-13) and Athene (Aeschylus, 739-40) to accept the bond of marriage as one equal to the bond of blood.
In contrast, a strong respect for the bonds of blood is shown in both plays. For Antigone, her siblings are the most important people to her. She is willing to bury her brother against the city’s orders even if it means her execution. (Sophocles, 82-89) This seems to be contradicted by the awkward position that she puts her sister, Ismene, in by asking her to participate in Antigone’s crime. (Sophocles, 90-101) However, Antigone does this out of respect and obedience for her oikos, the realm of the household. Everything that she does throughout the play is out of this respect and obedience.
Creon disrespects Antigone’s obedience to her oikos, as shown by his consistent belief that what Antigone did was wrong, no matter what her reasons. (Sophocles, 526-40) He is also disrespecting the bond of blood of uncle and niece between him and Antigone. (Sophocles, 530-534) His pride dominates ancient customs and his love for his family. (Sophocles, 585-587.)
The rivalry of respect and disrespect for these bonds is seen again in The Eumenides. As previously stated, Apollo sees the bond of blood and the bond of marriage as equal (Aeschylus, 213-23), where mortals (Aeschylus, 211-13) and Athene (Aeschylus, 739-40) see the bond of blood as superior to that of marriage. This causes conflicts between the gods. In the beginning of the play, this conflict is between Apollo, who believes Orestes should not be punished, and the Furies, who believe he should be punished for matricide. When judgement on Orestes is passed (”Athene: The man before us has escaped the charge of blood.” line 752), the wrath of the Furies moves from Apollo to Athene. This conflict lasts from line 778 to the end of the play.
It is obvious after close examination between these two texts that the bonds between marriage and blood are often complicated. They are often intertwined (as seen by Antigone’s ancestry) and their importance differs between cultures and societal positions, as seen in The Eumenides. Antigone and The Eumenides are important Greek societal statements on the bonds of blood and marriage.