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Bobrick, E. (2015). Sophocles’ Antigone and the Self-Isolation of the Tragic Hero. Psychoanal. Inq., 35(1):40-46.

(2015). Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 35(1):40-46

Sophocles’ Antigone and the Self-Isolation of the Tragic Hero

Elizabeth Bobrick, Ph.D.

When Antigone opens, the sons of Oedipus, cursed by their father, lie dead at each other’s hands. Both considered themselves rightful heirs to the throne, but only Eteocles had the support of the citizens to assume the kingship of Thebes. His brother, Polynices, had marched on the city with troops from neighboring Argos. Antigone and her sister, Ismene, are the last of the house of Laius. Creon, Antigone’s maternal uncle, is now head of the family and ruler of Thebes.

Creon buries Eteocles as a king who died defending the city, but leaves the corpse of Polynices to rot outside the city walls. Creon has declared him a traitor, an enemy of the state, and, as such, undeserving of proper burial. No one is to perform the rites of burial for his nephew, or even mourn him, on punishment of death. Although this decree is shocking to other characters in the play, Creon sees it as a political necessity. The body of an enemy cannot be honored, especially the body of an exile who returned to regain his city by force. This final punishment of an exile who is already dead is the most extreme form of isolation possible. It sets in motion a series of events in which Creon and Antigone’s beliefs about divine and civic justice lead to isolation and death.

One learns in the first 50 lines of the play that Antigone has no intention of obeying her uncle. When brought before him, she proudly admits that she has gone against his decree, and claims that the dictates of religious ritual justify her actions (I.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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