Antigone: Metaphor Analysis
Fate as a Storm
When Creon condemns Antigone to death for defying his order not to bury Polyneices, the Chorus laments the fate that never leaves the house of Oedipus: “Once a house is shaken of Heaven, disaster/ Never leaves it, from generation to generation” (lines 583-84). They compare this fatal disaster to a storm, as when the “roaring wind from Thrace” (line 589) makes the water black and “It bears up from below/ A thick, dark cloud of mud” (lines 591-92). Boreas, the god of the north wind, was believed to live in Thrace, and the storms from the north could be fierce. Even so is the murky fate that continues to get stirred up for the descendents of Labdacus, Oedipus’s paternal grandfather. Labdacus was a grandson of the founder of Thebes, Cadmus. He died young by being ripped apart by women in a Bacchic frenzy for his disrespect to Dionysos. Dismemberment or dying is the main consequence in a tragedy, and tragedy is presided over by the god Dionysos. In a tragedy, the dismembered person, like Antigone (or Creon’s family), is often thought of as a sacrifice that restores order. Creon created the imbalance in nature with his prideful decree, and Antigone’s defiance and death brings the storm that clears the air. The house of Labdacus is thus a house of storm, and its curse is passed on as an inheritance. Just as the Thracian storms come from the north regularly, so does the curse strike the family of Labdacus in every generation.
Trees that Bend, and Trees that Break
Haemon, the son of Creon, lectures his father on how to be a wise ruler, hoping to influence him to change his mind on the death sentence for his fiancée, Antigone. He says the wise man is not the one who never changes his mind. A wise man listens to others and can admit when he is wrong. There is no disgrace in “learning more, and knowing when to yield” (line 711). Haemon tells Creon information that he does not know, such as the fact that the populace of Thebes backs Antigone. They see his act towards her as injustice. They will not thus think him weak if he relents. He will gain trust. Haemon compares the situation to “trees that grow beside a torrent” (line 712). If the trees bend, they keep their branches. If they “resist, [they] are torn out, root and branch” (line 714).
This metaphor works well with the storm metaphor, for Creon has created a crisis, and Antigone stepping in, with her family curse, is raising a storm in Thebes. Creon will only make it worse by becoming rigid. Haemon points out he needs to bend in order to make it through this storm. Instead, Creon is stubborn, and so the second example of the trees that break uncannily predicts what happens to Creon’s family line, which is indeed “torn out, root and branch.” Haemon explains that wisdom is a subtle gift of the gods. Creon is too crude, however, and without the spiritual perspective that can make him see how he disrupts the traditions of the city with his rigid law.
Death as a Bridegroom
Antigone is an expectant bride-to-be at the end of the war. She will marry within the royal house, with her cousin Haemon. As soon as her uncle Creon condemns her to death for disobeying him, she begins speaking of herself as the bride of Death: “I / Go to espouse the bridegroom, Death” (line 816). This proves to be an extended metaphor used in the rest of the play. The Chorus tries to tell her that her death will be glorious for “you go to the home / Of the dead while yet you are living” (lines 821-22). This is a reference to her punishment of being buried alive in a cave, so that Creon will not be directly responsible for the death of a kinswoman. Their praise is reminiscent of the bride who visited the underworld while still alive and returned—Persephone—queen of the dead. She truly married Death, Lord Hades. Yet Antigone will not return and says her death is cruel, like Niobe’s, who was worn out with grief. The Chorus answers that she will then be famous for “shar[ing] the doom of a god” (line 836). These comparisons raise the status of her death to a heroic or godlike act.
When Creon reverses his decision and goes to “the cavern, the home of death” (line 1204) to liberate Antigone, he hears lamentations. It is as though he enters the underworld itself, for the cave suggests that supernatural realm. Creon hears Haemon’s voice in the land of the dead, in Antigone’s tomb, and is shocked, for Haemon is still alive at that point. The messenger describes the corpse of Antigone where she hanged herself, with Haemon holding on to her as though to keep her among the living. Other myths come to mind, such as Orpheus trying to rescue his bride Eurydice from the underworld. Eurydice had to remain there, like Antigone. Haemon falls on his own sword in anger at his father, and in order to stay with Antigone. The messenger says, “Side by side they lie, and both are dead, / Not in this world but in the world below / He wins his bride” (lines 1240-1242). The lovers are immortalized by choosing honor in death, rather than a life of shame and compliance. They embrace death as their only spouse, for their lives are tragically cut off before they can flower.