...on heroism without Δίκη: Antigone versus Emerson

Gethyn and I have enjoyed some of our best discourse at the dinner table (is there a food correlation here?); and recently, we briefly discussed Emerson’s essay Heroism, wherein he (Emerson; not Geth!) observed that he had not witnessed, in literature, a person “so earnest and cordial and on such deep grounds of character” as Sophocles, who had only to ask Martius to spare the lives of he and his wife, Dorigen, following the conquest of Athens; he did not beg, and both were executed.


Here, was I obliged to dissent, and also immediately drew upon Classical literature (a love I share with my hero); Sophocles’ heroism was hardly unique in Classical literature; and my archetype: Antigone. Why did Emerson not extol the virtue of this woman: was Antigone under-appreciated owing to the irredeemably sexist sentiments of 19th century America and Europe; at the very least sexist: and possibly misogynistic?


And what is Emerson’s heroism? Succinctly, it is inherent, rather than schooled, it is not complacent, it is inexhaustible, it is persistent and above all, the hero must be true to him or herself and his or her beliefs (because this heroism speaks directly to the individual) and prepared to risk his or her own life for these ideals. To wit:”The characteristic of a genuine heroism is its persistency."  "Times of heroism are generally times of terror."


Δίκη; or dike, or justice, along with an extensive collection of values, was prevalent in Greek tragedy; and is illustrated in this dialogue between sisters, Antigone and Ismene:


Ant: Look—what’s Creon doing with our two brothers?
He’s honouring one with a full funeral
and treating the other one disgracefully!
Eteocles, they say, has had his burial
according to our customary rites,
to win him honour with the dead below.
But as for Polyneices, who perished
so miserably, an order has gone out
throughout the city—that’s what people say.
He’s to have no funeral or lament,
but to be left unburied and unwept,
a sweet treasure for the birds to look at,
for them to feed on to their heart’s content.

That’s what people say the noble Creon
has announced to you and me—I mean to me—
and now he’s coming to proclaim the fact,
to state it clearly to those who have not heard.
For Creon this matter’s really serious.
Anyone who acts against the order
will be stoned to death before the city.
Now you know,
and you’ll quickly demonstrate
whether you are nobly born, or else
a girl unworthy of her splendid ancestors.
Ism: Oh my poor sister, if that’s what’s happening,
what can I say that would be any help
to ease the situation or resolve it?
Ant: Think whether you will work with me in this
and act together.
Ism: In what kind of work
What do you mean?
Ant: Will you help these hands
take up Polyneices’ corpse and bury it?
Ism: What? You’re going to bury Polyneices,
when that’s been made a crime for all in Thebes?
Ant: Yes. I’ll do my duty to my brother—

and yours as well, if you’re not prepared to.
I won’t be caught betraying him.
Ism: You’re too rash.
Has Creon not expressly banned that act?
Ant: Yes. But he’s no right to keep me from what’s mine.
Ism: O dear. Think, Antigone. Consider

how our father died, hated and disgraced,
when those mistakes which his own search revealed
forced him to turn his hand against himself
and stab out both his eyes. Then that woman,
his mother and his wife—her double role—
destroyed her own life in a twisted noose.
Then there’s our own two brothers, both butchered

in a single day—that ill-fated pair
with their own hands slaughtered one another

and brought about their common doom.
Now, the two of us are left here quite alone
Think how we’ll die far worse than all the rest,
if we defy the law and move against
the king’s decree, against his royal power
We must remember that by birth we’re women,
and, as such, we shouldn’t fight with men.
Since those who rule are much more powerful,
we must obey in this and in events
which bring us even harsher agonies.
So I’ll ask those underground for pardon—
since I’m being compelled, I will obey
those in control. That’s what I’m forced to do.

It makes no sense to try to do too much.
Ant: I wouldn’t urge you to. No. Not even
if you were keen to act. Doing this with you
would bring me no joy. So be what you want.
I’ll still bury him. It would be fine to die
while doing that. I’ll lie there with him,
with a man I love, pure and innocent,
for all my crime. My honours for the dea
must last much longer than for those up here.
I’ll lie down there forever. As for you,
well, if you wish, you can show contempt
for those laws the gods all hold in honour.
Ism: I’m not disrespecting them. But I can’t act
against the state. That’s not in my nature


In a broad sense, dike had myriad connotations, depending upon the conditions to which it was applied. The ancient Greeks were of the belief that good and moral — heroic? — acts were rewarded by the gods in much the same way as immoral acts were subject to retribution; the ancient Greek notion of justice was rather expansive and encompassed both reward and punishment.


Antigone is adamant in championing her intended actions to Ismene; and that the disposal of Polyneices’s body sans interment expected justice; that being provoking Creon by interring Polyneices. Ismene’s vision of justice differs from Antigone’s; she is true to herself in her utterance in this context; and their loss, as his sisters, is equally profound.


σοφός; or sophós, or wisdom, is another value present in this dialogue; the two (wisdom and justice) are frequently interwoven in discourse in tragedies and specifically this between Antigone and Ismene: wisdom versus foolishness, in either the quest for vengeance or the choice to remain silent and accept the current condition; not defying the State and Creon. Antigone further petitions Ismene’s senses of justice and goodness — ἐσθλός, and ξένος — loyalty to kin/guest-friends, and that action reaps godly rewards.


In The Politics, Aristotle avers that justice is relative to individuals; therefore, Antigone’s and Ismene’s senses of justice will inevitably diverge; and he further insinuates that justice should be perfectly corresponding. Given the structure of ancient Greek society, its philosophy and mindset towards women, would Antigone and Ismene — as Polyneices’ sisters who carried out different actions — be equal under the gaze of justice?


Antigone’s impassioned plea to her sister may be interpreted as reminiscent of Homeric monologues, which were noted to have engaged in the art of reason; if Ismene is nobly born and worthy of her ancestors, she will assist Antigone.


Antigone invokes the gods; a concept called ἄτη; or ate, or delusional behaviour: the notion of belief in divine intervention; and one may decipher this as Antigone proffering the gods also require justice. By the fifth century, humans in lyric poetry were possessed of the capacity to form and be chargeable for their own actions and self-determination; therefore, acceptance of this argument nullifies the probability of Antigone’s confidence in divine reward. Another worthwhile question: does Antigone experience vindication because her act was ultimately successful?


Ancient Greek values associated with Antigone’s beliefs and actions notwithstanding, her very beliefs and actions belie Emerson’s assertion of the absence of heroes in literature worthy of Sophocles; and furthermore, her heroism satisfies all criteria established by Emerson: it is in her nature, is unwavering, unconceited, speaks to her and she risks her life for justice.


And now I must away to order my Antigone tribute tshirt...


Paul Discher Added Sep 15, 2017 - 7:11am
Who's gethyn?
Whats the story with that weird symbol in your title?
A Classicist Writes Added Sep 15, 2017 - 8:01am
Hiya--Gethyn's my husband.  And Δίκη (dike) is Greek for "justice" = )
Ari Silverstein Added Sep 15, 2017 - 9:17am
Between Emerson, Gethyn, Martius, Dorigen, I have no idea who anyone is you mention in your articles.  I have heard of Sophocles.  Don’t you think you should tailor your articles for an audience that isn’t enamored or knowledgeable about the classics?
A Classicist Writes Added Sep 15, 2017 - 9:27am
Seriously, if you don't like my articles, don't read them! And certainly don't take the time to comment on them! Or am I wrong? Something's drawing you here.
Ari Silverstein Added Sep 15, 2017 - 9:40am
Just offering some friendly advice.
A Classicist Writes Added Sep 15, 2017 - 9:46am
Well, thanks for the advice.  Not every subject here holds my interest; and some do; every reader here can make a similar claim.  Some here will enjoy my articles on ancient Rome and Greece and some won't.  I wrote about cats the other day and atheism a few days back.  I write about what makes me happy and Emerson and Classics make me happy...  
Ari Silverstein Added Sep 15, 2017 - 9:57am
You should write about whatever subject interests you but should also keep your readership in mind.  Your readership will not know who these people are.  An article about cats, while boring, is something any reader can grasp without much by way of an introduction.  
A Classicist Writes Added Sep 15, 2017 - 10:06am
You appear an expert on what is boring; therefore, you must be equally versed on what is not; why do you not write yourself on more exciting subjects and leave me to continue to write what I want and risk boring you...
A Classicist Writes Added Sep 15, 2017 - 10:47am
DY, my friend, what can I say?
All throughout my, life, I have heard the words: "he or she is an old soul." Although I know what this means, I can honestly say I have never *met* one of those people. But, I think you, my friend, are the embodiment of that phrase. The wisdom you possess and the lessons you put forth seems to me, much deeper than any that can be attained in a typical human lifespan.
Ari, DY is correct, you would benefit from reading articles that are "not your cup of tea;" you never know what some knowledge will be imparted.
And you never know when you will be gifted with a new tool.
DY, thanks for the stains on my hands = )
A Classicist Writes Added Sep 15, 2017 - 10:52am
DY -- I admire your wisdom; you honour me with it, and I am humbled.  I am sure I could not count the lives your have touched with your wisdom and knowledge.  
Although it is only through this site, I am humbled and privileged by the time you spend in discourse with me.  I can become a better person if I allow myself to absorb the knowledge you impart...
Wisdom. That's you!  σοφός!  σοφός to YOU, my friend!!
Dr. Rupert Green Added Sep 15, 2017 - 12:51pm
I get lost when too much information is presented.  I usually dont read beyond the 20th paragraph of any post that is not gripping. Still, was it the women of Antigone who planned to put an end to their husband long away time at war by withholding their box from men?
A Classicist Writes Added Sep 15, 2017 - 12:57pm
Haha!  DRG, that was actually Aristophanes' "Lysistrata." = )
Dr. Rupert Green Added Sep 15, 2017 - 4:10pm
@ Classicist. "Haha!  DRG, that was actually Aristophanes' "Lysistrata." = )"
Ahh. You are wise. Thanks. Hope to hear more on the arts and classics. I have for gotten. In past times, what did colleges offer to constitute a sound education? 
A Classicist Writes Added Sep 15, 2017 - 4:19pm
Thank you, DRG; I am now following you; so, I can read more of your work.
Dr. Rupert Green Added Sep 15, 2017 - 4:32pm
OK. Lets get at it. In the enlightened days in Europe, they cut off boys nuts to have them singing classical like girls. Did they do that in America?
A Classicist Writes Added Sep 15, 2017 - 4:35pm
Cackle!  Probably!!!
A Classicist Writes Added Sep 15, 2017 - 4:36pm
OG...google Joseph Pujol and prepare to be dazzled!
Dr. Rupert Green Added Sep 15, 2017 - 4:48pm
Anal impressionist. I did not see if they cut his nuts.
A Classicist Writes Added Sep 15, 2017 - 4:49pm
Saint George Added Sep 17, 2017 - 2:33am
And lest there be any snickering from the peanut gallery, it's two syllables, pronounced, "dee-kay."
Saint George Added Sep 17, 2017 - 2:45am
You should write about whatever subject interests you but should also keep your readership in mind.
Maybe the readership should exercise selectivity.
You made the same puerile argument in my thread on television music, which was titled, 'TIPTOEING DOWN MEMORY LANE," an obvious (to the point of being heavy-handed) reference to the fact that my selections were from old (and I believe, classic) television shows. Your complaint that you hadn't heard of any of them except "Hawaii Five-O", and why weren't there any selections from recent shows, required my reply at the time: "READ THE TITLE OF THE THREAD".
You might try the same thing in this thread.
And, by the way, you mean you've really never heard of the show "Mission Impossible"? Really? Many years after the show, Tom Cruise made several movies with the same title, based (extremely loosely) on the same idea.
Wait a second. You've never heard of Tom Cruise . . . .?
A Classicist Writes Added Sep 17, 2017 - 8:23am
Hey SG -- yes! Thanks for clarifying the pronunciation on my neglectful behalf! You're right; it carries limitless hilarity when the mind can make whatever it wants of it.  So, I ask myself if I had a subconscious motive for omitting that = )
I think you are correct (this is the same point you made to me in my atheism article; that the title should carry sufficient clarity; so, the reader goes in with his or her eyes wide open...I think I finally took that on board!).  And if I am reading an article on a subject I don't know or find burning, I will not comment.  
PS I read the article you mentioned a few days ago; I thought I had commented; but, I hadn't.  Do you mind if I copy and paste it to email my father?
Saint George Added Sep 17, 2017 - 6:00pm
Salvē, O magne amice! Gaudeo te congnoscere!
Of course you can copy/paste anything I've posted to WB (not sure I even remember which article you're speaking of but it makes no difference; copy/paste away!).
Regarding the classical mind, you might consider taking a look at these two excellent books if you don't already have them on your shelf:
The Discovery of the Mind:
The Greek Origins of European Thought
by Bruno Snell
https://archive.org/details/discoveryofmindg00sneluoft The Discovery of the Mind:
The Greek Origins of European Thought
by Bruno Snell Online version (with links to various downloadable files, including PDF)
Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek
by Thorleif Boman
Hebrew Thought Compared with Greek
by Thorleif Boman
Free PDF download
Dr. Rupert Green Added Sep 17, 2017 - 6:09pm
@Saint. "The Discovery of the Mind:
The Greek Origins of European Thought
by Bruno Snell"
Really. Did they not borrow. from the Egyptians? 
Saint George Added Sep 17, 2017 - 6:25pm
Really. Did they not borrow. from the Egyptians? 
They also discarded much. From the Egyptians. And added many original elements of their own.
But I see you've read the book. That was fast.
Saint George Added Sep 17, 2017 - 7:31pm
The Discovery of the Mind:
The Greek Origins of European Thought
by Bruno Snell
Online version
(with links to various downloadable files, including PDF)
[Begin Excerpt]
Hector says: 'It is not unseemly to defend one's fatherland.' Callinus: 'It is honourable and glorious to fight for one's country.' Where Homer speaks of defence, Callinus talks war and loudly proclaims the glory of the battle. Tyrtaeus goes even further: 'It is a beautiful thing for a brave man to die in the foremost ranks, fighting for his country.' He bestows his praise, not merely on the defence, or on the battle, but on the very death of the hero, and his 'beautiful' is more than 'honourable' or 'glorious'. Callinus, and to an even greater degree, as we have seen, Tyrtaeus, affirm this heroism for the sake of glory, as a means of warding off ill repute. In this they follow Homer. But Callinus cites additional reasons why a man should be brave, reasons which are themselves devised in the spirit of the Iliad. 'Death will come to pass whenever the Fates decide. Often someone escapes from battle, only to die at home.' This reminds us of words spoken by Hector, but in an entirely different situation. When Hector takes his leave from Andromache before going into the fight he says:
'Do not sorrow overmuch in your heart. None will send me into Hades against the wish of fate. For I say that no one has ever escaped his fate, neither a bad man nor a good, once he is born.'
There is a very decided difference between the man who, like Hector, ponders his own fighting and his own death and says: everybody must die in the end; and the singer who points to this fate with the purpose of encouraging others to deeds of heroism.
Tyrtaeus, it would appear, is the first to react to the incipient differentiation of the aretai and to secure a clear and unequivocal idea of the nature of arete as such. What is more important, he tries to find the common bond, the supraindividual unit for which the individual is called into action, and he discovers it in nothing so concrete as the family or the country, but in a more abstract formulation: 'It is a common good, for the city and for the people, when a man proves himself in battle.' The concept of the State is about to be born."
[End Excerpt]
A Classicist Writes Added Sep 18, 2017 - 3:43am
SG -- <<Salvē, O magne amice! Gaudeo te congnoscere>>
Many thanks for the recommendations!  As far as I am concerned, my Classics library (and Emerson library) can never be too large.
I want to send my father your article on old telly theme songs; I know he will love it (Mannix!!!  I remember him watching that before I was sentient)...
Saint George Added Sep 18, 2017 - 6:36pm
I want to send my father your article on old telly theme songs . . .
By all means. Hope he likes them (the Mannix intro by Lalo Schifrin is superior "coffee house jazz", performed by a sizeable orchestra of real acoustic instruments.
And sorry for my Latin typo. Although it's pronounced "congnoscere", it should be spelled "cognoscere." It's been a while . . .
A Classicist Writes Added Sep 19, 2017 - 9:48am
It was good enough for me = )

Recent Articles by Writers A Classicist Writes follows.