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even gentle Longfellow and optimistic Lowell have exalted
the Firegiver far beyond any classical poet's judgment of
him. Any such modern treatment must be carefully dis-
tinguished from the ancient view, -^schylus does

-^schylus and the Prometheus loi

indeed credit the Titan with higher motives than the mere
trickery ascribed to him by Hesiod. But he is as unques-
tionably in the wrong, and foredoomed to failure, as is
Milton's Lucifer.


The version of the Prometheus here used in abridged form is
that of Miss Anna Swanwick in the Bohn Classical Library.
Other recent translators of all the seven extant plays are Plumptre
and Campbell. The finest rendering from any ancient drama is
Morshead's "House of Atreus," a somewhat free paraphrase of
the Oresteian trilogy. Mrs. Browning's spirited version of the
"Prometheus" is well known. Mr. Browning's "Agamem-
non" is hard reading. The present writer has a complete trans-
lation, and very full discussion of the "Prometheus" in the Atlantic
Monthly for July and August, 1888. "The Persians," the only
surviving Greek tragedy on a contemporary event, was similarly
treated in the Atlantic for September, 1892. In the collection of
essays called "Hellenica," edited by Evelyn Abbot, is a fine study
of w^schylus' spirit and style by E. Myers.



Human Law vs. Divine ordinance.

While ^schylus had fought against the Persians
early in the fifth century B.C., Sophocles was the friend
and associate of Pericles, at the epoch of Athens' greatest
power and splendor, in the next generation. The gods
take relatively little part in his plays. Neither did he link
three plots or generations together, like his senior. To
him the individual seemed quite capable of working out
his own doom. More even than either of his famous
OEdipus-dramas, the fate of Antigone has always appealed
to tenderest human sympathy. In the contest between
human edict and divine law the heroine perishes fearlessly
through the performance of a holy duty.

As the music of the choral interludes has perished, and
the songs themselves have little essential connection with
the plot, they are here omitted, as a rule. Next to An-
tigone the student's attention should be fixed on the char-
acter of King Creon, — narrow, jealous, unfit to rule, yet
sincere, often wise in word though misguided in action.
Ismene is not cowardly, but a typical woman.

The scene is before the royal palace of Thebes. The
royal brothers Eteocles and Polynices have perished a few
hours before by each other's hands. The invader, Poly-
nices, had really the better title to the crown. Antigone
and Ismene, who appear in the first scenes, are his sisters,
and the new king Creon is their maternal uncle.


Sophocles and the Antigone 103

Antigone and Ismene appear from the palace.


sister-life, Ismene 's, twin with mine,
Knowest thou of the burden of our race
Aught that from us yet Uving Zeus holds back?
And even now what edict hath the prince
Uttered, men say, to all this Theban folk?

Thou knowest it, and hast heard? or 'scapes thy sense.
Aimed at thy friends, the mischief of thy foes?

To me of friends, Antigone, no word
Hath come, or sweet or bitter, since that we
Two sisters of two brothers were bereaved,
Both on a day slain by a two-fold blow :
And, now that vanquished is the Argive host
Ev'n with the night fled hence, I know no more.
If that I fare the better or the worse.

y Antigone

1 knew full well, and therefore from the gates
O' the court I led thee hither, alone to hear.

There's trouble in thy looks; thy tidings tell.

Yea, hath not Creon, of our two brothers slain.
Honoured with burial one, disdained the other?
For Eteocles, they say, he in the earth
With all fair rites and ceremony hath laid,
Nor lacks he honour in the world below;
But the poor dust of Polynices dead
Through Thebes, 'tis said, the edict hath gone forth
That none may bury, none make moan for him.
But leave unwept, untombed, a dainty prize

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For ravening birds that gloat upon their prey.
So hath our good lord Creon to thee and me
Published, men say, his pleasure — ay, to me —
And hither comes, to all who know it not
Its purport to make plain, nor deems the thing
Of slight account, but whoso does the deed,
A pubhc death by stoning is his doom.
Thou hast it now; and quickly shall be proved
If thou art noble, or base from noble strain.


O rash of heart, if this indeed be so.
What help in me, to loosen or to bind?

Consider, toil and pain if thou wilt share.


On what adventure bound.? What wouldst thou do?

To lift his body, wilt thou join with me?


Wouldst thou indeed rebel, and bury him?


My brother will I bury, and thine no less,
Whether thou wilt or no: no traitress I.


O all too bold — when Creon hath forbid?

My rights to hinder is no right of his.

Sophocles and the Antigone 105


Ah, sister, yet think how our father^ died,

Wrapt in what cloud of hate and ignominy

By his own sins, self-proved, and both his eyes

With suicidal hand himself he stabbed:

Then too his mother-wife, two names in one.

Forbid with twisted noose her woeful life:

Last, our two brothers in one fatal day

Drew sword, O miserable, and each to each

Dealt mutual slaughter with unnatural hands:

And now shall we twain, who alone are left, '

Fall like the rest, and worse — in spite of law.

And scorning kings, their edicts and their power?

rather let us think, 'tis not for us.
Who are but women, to contend with men:
And the king's word is mighty, and to this,

And harsher words than this, we needs must bow.
Therefore will I, imploring of the dead
Forgiveness, that I yield but as I must.
Obey the king's commandment: for with things
Beyond our reach 'twere foolishness to meddle.


I'll neither urge thee, nor, if now thou'dst help

My doing, should I thank thee for thine aid.

Do thou after thy kind: thy choice is made.:

I'll bury him; doing this, so let me die.

So with my loved one, loved I shall abide.

My crime a deed most holy : for the dead

Longer have I to please than these on earth.

There shall I dwell forever: be it thine

To have scorned what gods have hallowed, if thou wilt.


Nay, nothing do I scorn; but how to break
My country's law — I am witless of the way.

1 CEdipus, who unknowing had slain bis own father and married his mother.

io6 Ideals in Greek Literature

Be this thy better part: I go to heap
The earth upon my brother, whom I love.


Alas, unhappy, how I fear for thee!

Fear not for me: guide thine own fate aright.

Yet breathe this purpose to no ear but mine:
Keep thou thy counsel well — and so will I.

Oh speak: for much more hatred thou wilt get
Concealing, than proclaiming it to all.

Not to attempt the impossible is best.

Hated by me, and hated by the dead —
To him a hateful presence evermore —
Thou shouldst be, and thou shalt be, speaking thus.
, But leave me, and the folly that is mine.
This worst to suffer — not the worst — since still
A worse remains, no noble death to die.

Go if thou wilt, but going know thyself
Senseless, yet to thy friends a friend indeed.


{Enter chorus oj aged royal counsellors, singing.)

Lo, the sun upspringing! Fairest light we hail thee
Of all dawns that on Thebes the seven-gated

Sophocles and the Antigone 107

Ever broke! Eye of golden day!
Over Dirce's fount appearing,
Hence the Argive host white-shielded,
That in complete arms came hither.
Headlong homeward thou didst urge
Faster still with shaken rein.

But now of Victory be glad:

She meets our gladness with an answering smile,

And Thebes, the many-charioted.

Hears far resound her praises :

Now then with war have done, and strife forget!

All temples of the gods

Fill we with song and night-long dance;

And Theban Bacchus, this our mirth

Lead thou, and shake the earth!


But lo the ruler of this Theban land,
Son of Menoeceus, Creon comes.
Obedient to whose summons we are here.


Creon {Appearing from the palace)

Sirs, it hath pleased the gods to right again
Our Theban fortunes, by sore tempest tossed;
And by my messenger I summoned hither
You out of all the state; first, as I know you
To the might of the throne of Laius^ loyal ever :
Also, when CEdipus upheld the state.
And when he perished, to their children still
Ye with a constant mind were faithful found:
Now they are gone, both on one fatal field
An equal guilt atoned with equal doom.
Slayers of each other, by each other slain:

1 CEdipus' father.

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And I am left, the nearest to their blood,

To wield alone the sceptre and the realm.

There is no way to know of any man

The spirit and the wisdom and the will.

Till he stands proved, ruler and lawgiver.

For who, with a whole city to direct.

Yet cleaves not to those counsels that are best.

But locks his lips in silence, being afraid,

I hold and hold him ever of men most base :

And whoso greater than his country's cause

Esteems a friend, I count him nothing worth.

For, Zeus who seeth all be witness now.

Not for the safety's sake would I keep silence.

And see the ruin on my country fall.

Nor would I deem an enemy to the state

Friend to myself ; remembering still that she.

She only brings us safe ; her deck we pace,

Unfoundered 'mid the storm, our friends and we.

So for the good of Thebes her laws I'll frame:

And such the proclamation I set forth.

Touching the sons of CEdipus, even now —

Eteocles, who fighting for this land

In battle has fallen, more valiant none than he.

To bury, and no funeral rite omit.

To brave men paid — their solace in the grave:

Not so his brother Polynices; he.

From exile back returning, utterly

With fire his country and his father's gods

Would fain have burnt, fain would with kinsmen's blood

Have slaked his thirst, or dragged us captive hence :

Therefore to all this city it is proclaimed

That none may bury, none make moan for him.

But leave him lying all ghastly where he fell.

Till fowls o' the air and dogs have picked his bones.

So I am purposed; not at least by me

Shall traitors be preferred to honest men:

But, whoso loves this city, him indeed

I shall not cease to honor, alive or dead.

Sophocles and the Antigone 109

Creon, son of Menoeceus, 'tis thy pleasure,
The friend and foe of Thebes so to requite:
And, whatso pleases thee, that same is law.
Both for our Theban dead and us who hve/

Look to it, then, my bidding is performed.

Upon some younger man impose this burden.

To watch the body, sentinels are set.

What service more then wouldst thou lay on us?

That ye resist whoever disobeys.

Who is so senseless that desires to die?

The penalty is death: yet hopes deceive.
And men wax foolish oft through greed of gain.

Sentinel (Entering)
That I come hither, king, nimble of foot,
And breathless with my haste I'll not profess:
For many a doubtful halt upon the way
And many a wheel to the right-about, I had.
Oft as my prating heart gave counsel, ''Fool,
What ails thee going into the lion's mouth?"
Then "Blockhead, wilt thou tarry? if Creon learns
This from another man, shalt thou not smart?"
So doubtfully I fared — much haste, scant speed —

» He has the power: they will not say, he has the right.

no Ideals in Greek Literature

And, if the way was short, *twas long to me.
But to come hither to thee prevailed at last,
And, though the speech be nought, yet I will speak.
For I have come fast clutching at the hope
That nought's to suffer but what fate decrees.

What is it that hath troubled thus thy mind?

First for myself let me this say: the deed
I neither did, nor say who was the doer,
And 'twere not just that I should suffer harm.

Wisely, thyself in covert, at the mark
Thou aimest: some shrewd news, methinks, thou'lt tell.

Danger to face, well may a man be cautious.

■ Speak then, and go thy way, and make an end.

Then will I speak. Some one even now hath buried
The body and is gone; with thirsty dust
Sprinkling it o'er, and paying observance due.

How? By what man was dared a deed so rash?

I cannot tell. No mattock's stroke indeed.
Nor spade's upcast was there; hard was the ground,
Baked dry, unbroken : track of chariot-wheels
Was none, nor any sign who did this thing.
But he who kept the watch at earliest dawn
Showed to us all — a mystery, hard to clear.
Not buried was the dead man, but concealed.

Sophocles and the Antigone ill

With dust besprinkled, as for fear of sin:^

And neither of dog nor any beast of prey,

That came, that tore the body, found we trace.

Then bitter words were bandied to and fro.

Denouncing each the other; and soon to blows

Our strife had grown — was none would keep the peace —

For every one was guilty of the deed,

And none confessed, but all denied they knew.

So all in vain we questioned: and at last

One spake, and all who heard him, bowed by fear,

Bent to the earth their faces, knowing not

How to gainsay, nor doing what he said

How we might 'scape mischance. This deed to thee

He urged that we should show, and hide it not.

And his advice prevailed, and by the lot

To luckless me this privilege befell.

Unwilling and unwelcome is my errand,

A bearer of ill news, whom no man loves.


king, my thought hath counselled me long since.
Haply this deed is ordered by the gods.'

Cease, ere my wrath is kindled at thy speech,
Lest thou be found an old man and a fool.
Intolerably thou pratest of the gods.
That they to yonder dead man have respect.
Yea, for what service with exceeding honour
Sought they his burial, who came here to burn
Their pillared shrines and temple-offerings.
And of their land and of their laws make havoc?
Or seest thou that the gods allow the wicked?
Not so: but some impatient of my will
Among my people made a murmuring.
Shaking their heads in secret, to the yoke

1 Three handfuls of dust constituted technical burial, and any passer-by
who refused so much might fear the curse- of the dead.

8 This is a timid protest against Creon's decree.

Ill Ideals in Greek Literature

With stubborn necks unbent, and hearts disloyal.

Full certainly I know that they with bribes

Have on these men prevailed to do this deed.

Of all the evils current in this world

Most mischievous is gold. This hath laid waste

Fair cities, and unpeopled homes of men;

But, who took hire to execute this work.

Wrought to his own undoing at the last.

Since, if the dread of Zeus I still revere,

Be well assured — and what I speak I swear —

Unless the author of this burial

Ye find, and in my sight produce him here.

For you mere death shall not suffice, until

Gibbeted alive this outrage ye disclose,

That ye may know what gains are worth the winning.

And henceforth clutch the wiselier, having learnt

That to seek gain in all things is not well.

May I speak a word, or thus am I dismissed?

Know*st thou not that ev'n now thy voice offends?

'Tis pity men should judge, yet judge amiss.

Talk you of ** judging" glibly as you may —
Who did this deed, I'll know, or ye shall own
That all your wondrous winnings end in loss.

With all my heart I wish he may be found:
But found or no — for that's as fortune will —
I shall not show my face to you again.
Great cause I have to thank the gracious gods.
Saved past all hope and reckoning even now.

Sophocles and the Antigone 113

Omitting a choral song of some length, we pass to the



What strange portentous sight is this,

I doubt my eyes, beholding? This —

How shall I gainsay what I know? —

This maiden is — Antigone!

Daughter of OEdipus,

Hapless child of a hapless sire,

What hast thou done? It cannot be

That thou hast transgressed the king's command —

That, taken in folly, thee they bring!

/^ Sentinel

This same is she that did the burial:

We caught her in the act. But where 's the king?

Back from the palace in good time he comes.

What chance is this, to which my steps are timed?

Sentinel '

Nothing, sir king, should men swear not to do ;
For second thoughts to first thoughts give the lie.
Hither, I made full sure, I scarce should come
Back, by your threats berufiled as I was.
Yet here, surprised by most unlooked-for joy,
That trifles all delights that e'er I knew,
I bring you — though my coming breaks my oath —
This maiden, whom, busied about the corpse.
We captured. This time were no lots to throw:
My own good fortune this, and none but mine.
Now therefore, king, take her yourself and try her,

114 Ideals in Greek Literature

And question as you will : but I have earned
Full clearance and acquittal of this coil.

How was she seen, and taken in the act?


So it fell out. When I had gone from hence,

With thy loud threats yet sounding in my ears.

We swept off all the dust that hid the Hmbs,

And to the light stripped bare the clammy corpse.

And on the hill's brow sat, and faced the wind,

Choosing a spot clear of the body's stench.

Roundly we chid each other to the work;

'* No' sleeping at your post there," was our word.

So did we keep the watch, till in mid-heaven

The sun's bright-burning orb above us hung.

With fierce noon-heat: and now a sudden blast

Swept, and a storm of dust, that vexed the sky

And choked the plain, and all the leaves o' the trees

O' the plain were marred, and the wide heaven it filled:

We with shut eyes the heaven-sent plague endured.

And when, after long time, its force was spent,

We saw this maiden, and a bitter cry

She poured, as of a wailing bird that sees

Her empty nest dismantled of its brood:

So she, when she espied the body bare.

Cried out and wept, and many a grievous curse

Upon their heads invoked by whom 'twas done.

And thirsty dust she sprinkled with her hands,

And lifted up an urn, fair-wrought of brass.

And with thrice-poured libations crowned the dead.

We saw it and we hasted, and at once.

All undismayed, our captive, hemmed her round.

And with the two offences charged her there,

Both first and last. Nothing did she deny.

But made me glad and sorry, owning all.

For to have slipped one's own neck from the noose

Sophocles and the Antigone 115

Is sweet, yet no one likes to get his friends
In trouble: but my nature is to make
All else of small account, so I am safe.^

Speak thou, who bendest on the earth thy gaze.
Are these things, which are witnessed, true or false?

Not false, but true: that which he saw, he speaks.

So, sirrah, thou art free; go where thou wilt.
Loosed from the burden of this heavy charge.

{Exit Sentinel)
But tell me thou — and let thy speech be brief —
The edict hadst thou heard, which this forbade?

I could not choose but hear what all men heard.

And didst thou dare to disobey the law?

Nowise from Zeus, methought, this edict came,
Nor Justice, that abides among the gods
In Hades, who ordained these laws for men.
Nor did I deem thine edicts of such force
That they, a mortal's bidding, should override
Unwritten laws, eternal in the heavens.
Not of to-day or yesterday are these.
But live from everlasting, and from whence
They sprang, none knoweth. I would not, for the breach
Of these, through fear of any human pride,
To heaven atone. I knew that I must die:

1 Antigone's return here described is almost more courageous than her
original resolve and deed. The frank and light-hearted selfishness of the
loquacious guardsman is set in most artistic contrast with her serene self-sacri-

Ii6 Ideals in Greek Literature

How else? Without thine edict, that were so.
And if before my time, why, this were gain.
Compassed about with ills who lives, as I,
Death, to such life as his, must needs be gain.
So is it to me to undergo this doom
No grief at all: but had I left my brother,
My mother's child, unburied where he lay,
Then had I grieved; but now this grieves me not.
Senseless I seem to thee, so doing? Belike
A senseless judgment finds me void of sense.

How in the child the sternness of the sire
Shows stem, before the storm untaught to bend !

Yet know full well that such o'er-stubborn wills
Are broken most of all, as sturdiest steel.
Of an untempered hardness, fresh from forge.
Most surely snapped and shivered should ye see.
Insult on insult heaped! Was't not enough
My promulgated laws to have transgressed,
But, having done it, face to face with me
She boasts of this and glories in the deed?
I surely am the woman, she the man,
If she defies my power, and I submit.
Be she my sister's child, or sprung from one
More near of blood than all my house to me.
Not so shall they escape my direst doom —
She and her sister: for I count her too
Guilty no less of having planned this work.
Go, call her hither: in the house I saw her
Raving ev'n now, nor mistress of her thoughts.

To kill me — wouldst thou more with me than this?

This is enough: I do desire no more.

Sophocles and the Antigone 117

Why dost thou then delay? I have no pleasure
To hear thee speak — have not and would not have :
Nor less distasteful is my speech to thee.
Yet how could I have won myself a praise
More honourable than this, of burying
My brother? This from every voice should win
Approval, might but fear men's lips unseal.
But kings are fortunate — not least in this.
That they may do and speak what things they will.

All Thebes sees this with other eyes than thine.

They see as I, but bate their breath to thee.

And art thou not ashamed, from them to differ?

To reverence a brother is not shameful.

And was not he who died for Thebes thy brother?

One mother bore us, and one sire begat.

Yet, honouring both, thou dost dishonour him.

He in the grave will not subscribe to this.

How, if no less thou dost revere the guilty?

*Twas not his slave that perished, but his brother.

ii8 Ideals in Greek Literature

The enemy of this land: its champion, he.

Yet Death of due observance must not fail.

Go to the shades, and, if thou*lt love, love there:
No woman, while I live, shall master me.

See, from the palace comes Ismene —
Sisterly drops from her eyes down-shedding:
Clouded her brows droop, heavy with sorrow;
And the blood-red tinge of a burning blush
Covers her beautiful downcast face.

Thou, who hast crept, a serpent m my home,
Draining my blood, unseen; and I knew not
Rearing two pests, to overset my throne;
Speak — wilt thou too confess that in this work
Thou hadst a hand, or swear thou didst not know?

I'll say the deed was mine, if she consents:
My share of the blame I bear, and do not shrink.

Justice forbids thy claim : neither didst thou
Agree, nor I admit thee to my counsels.

I am not ashamed, in thine extremity.
To make myself companion of thy fate.

Whose was the deed, know Hades and the dead:
I love not friends, who talk of friendliness.*

» li some of Antigone's speeches seem harsh, it must be remembered that
she is striving to save her sister's life.

Sophocles and the Antigone 119


Sister, disdain me not, but let me pour

My blood with thine, an offering to the dead.

Leave me to die alone, nor claim the work
Thou wouldst not help. My death will be enough.


What joy have I to live, when thou art gone?

Ask Creon that: thou art of kin to him.

Why wilt thou grieve me with thy needless taunts?

If I mock thee, 'tis with a heavy heart.

What may I do to serve thee even now?

Look to thyself: I grudge thee not thy safety.

One of these two, methinks, proves foolish now;
The other's folly with her Hfe began.

Nay, for, O king, misfortunes of the wise
To madness turn the wisdom that they have.

'Tis so with thee, choosing to share her guilt.

How should I live alone, without my sister?

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