Plato’s Forms in Response to Bonnie Honig

Socrates’ Antigone has been the subject of countless debates over the the course of nearly two and a half millennia. Who performed the first burial? How do we make sense of Antigone’s dirge? What, if anything, do the characters symbolize? In 2009, a profound political theorist by the name of Bonnie Honig approached the last question in this article. In summary, she interprets this play as Creon representing democratic values, while Antigone represents that of the aristocracy. Honig asserts that Creon’s emphasis on total equality and the replaceability of individuals is demonstrative of democracy. On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, Antigone believes her brother is utterly unique, prompting her to wail in excess at his death; Honig takes this as an example of her Homeric/aristocratic values.

Naturally, at the end of the play, just about everybody Creon loved has killed themselves, leaving him to feel mournful, for he seems to realize that his wife and son were utterly unique to him. All the while he mourns in silence. Creon mourns these losses and decides to bury all those who he swore not to bury, in respect for the dead (an Homeric/aristocratic act). However, at the same time, his mourning is subdued and not outward (a democratic response to death). Honig assesses this to mean that Creon has become a combination of both himself and Antigone.  This poses the problem I will attempt to address.

For now, let’s briefly set this aside and think about Plato’s Forms.

Plato believed that everything existed in both a physical and metaphysical sense. The physical world is constantly changing, but in the metaphysical world, everything is constant and unchanging. A good explanation of Plato’s Forms can be found here. What we see are not physical objects, but rather “Forms” of the object. Why is a rotting apple still an apple? Because its Form is still an apple. A rotting apple still holds the same “apple-ness” as that of a perfectly ripe one because it still holds the Form of an apple.

But how does this relate to Honig’s analysis?

As stated before, Honig suggests that by the time Antigone draws to a close, Creon is the embodiment of both Homeric/aristocratic values and democracy. In other words, Creon has “Creon-ness” and “Antigone-ness.” According to the Theory of the Forms, one’s Form exists only as one’s self. Creon should theoretically exist as Creon, not Creon and Antigone. Therefore, Honig’s reading of Antigone does not adhere to the Theory of the Forms; by these standards, Plato would deem her reading incorrect. Of course, it was Plato, not Socrates who came up with the Forms, so Honig’s reading can still be considered a plausible analysis.

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