Thursday, October 20, 2011

Returning to the Return of the Repressed

Man playing the double aulos

With this post, I’d like to round out what I was saying in lecture on Wednesday.  Take a look at page 111 of our edition of Antigone.  I think that here more than anywhere else in the text we see the return of the feminine sensibility—or the sensibility Creon associates with the feminine—that he has suppressed in the polis.
And, indeed, suppressed in himself.  As I pointed out in lecture, “[t]he care for the dead [including wailing, keening for them] was especially the prerogative of women” (Gibbons and Segal 5).  Creon has his own mourning to do, and not just for Eteokles, whom he “will bury … [and for whom he] will perform all pure and proper rites” (ll. 219-220).  There is a loss even closer to home that Creon has not acknowledged.  The chorus drop a hint about it when they call Haimon “your / Last and youngest offspring” (ll. 672-73), but this particular repression does not break the surface of the text until very late in the play, when the Messenger names that elder dead son: “Megareus” (1390), who, it seems, has also died during the battle between the Thebans and the Argives (along with both of Antigone’s brothers).  The last thing Eurydike did before she committed suicide, the messenger reports, was mourn the loss of both her boys.

So now, with a cruel swing of fate’s pendulum, Creon has two sons to mourn.  When his sorrow breaks through, as he carries or accompanies Haimon’s body on p. 111, out comes a storm of grief.  He expresses a grief so raw that his utterances hit and cross the limits of language: “Aiee! / Aiee!” (ll. 1353-54). 

Gone are his appeals to reason and his rationalizations.  “[A]ccompanied by the aulos, the double wind instrument … that was felt by the Greeks … to be particularly emotional,” Creon sings, he keens, a song of lamentation, “a funeral dirge, the traditional task of women” (24).  He had vowed that “while I am alive, a woman will not rule,” but now, out here in the public space of the polis and not confined to the private space of the oikos  (as off-stage Eurydike was in her lamentation), his “feminine” self comes to the fore.  A line he threw earlier at Haimon—“It seems this man is fighting on the woman’s side” (ll. 800)—now rebounds upon him.  And Haimon, if you recall, had responded by saying, “If you’re the woman …” (ll. 801).

By his cultural and personal standards, Creon now is the woman.  The repressed has returned, in both the psychic and political spaces.  And so we join with the chorus in exclaiming, “See her!  She is no longer hidden deep within” (ll. 1380).

                                                                                                —Robert Cremins

1 comment:

  1. I 100% agree. I love your final quote. Here is what I write in the forthcoming, any day now, Blackwell Companion to Sophocles ("Lament as Speech Act in Sophocles"): "For an ancient audience, the sights and sounds of Creon employing the traditional form of women's lament to mourn his wife and son at the culmination of the play would have been deeply moving. What he tried so desperately to suppress has proved to be more powerful than his political authority. Like Electra, Antigone and Eurydice have asserted their right to speak through lament and their power to act by means of the violence that lament engenders."