Plato’s Forms in Response to Bonnie Honig

March 9, 2015

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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Reading questions for “Antigone”

January 21, 2015

(1) Once again, here is the general question you should be grappling with throughout your reading of the play. If a tragic narrative depicts a kind of inevitable disaster, then what is the source of the “inevitability” in this play? Or another way of coming at this same question is this: Many characters–Angtigone, perhaps Ismene, Creon, and Eurydice–are all finally undone by forces that are much greater than they are. What are these forces? What do they represent? A quick set of issues about this question: there is no “right” answer, but some are better than others; second, it is useful to try to start with specifics. What is the precise nature of the problem that these characters face?

(2) List out the main characters, particularly Antigone, Ismene, and Creon. What characteristics do they have? Use specific examples from the play to illustrate the ones you identify. Oh, and here’s another interesting question: who is the “tragic hero” in this play? Why?

(3) How many times is Polynices buried? What are the differences between the various burials? What is the significance of each?

(4) How does Creon view Antigone’s actions? What are some of his main concerns about them?

(5) What are some of the ways Antigone explains her own actions?

(6) Following up on question (5), focus in particular on Antigone’s last major speech (lines 960-1020, pp. 104-106), a speech that effectively functions as a “dirge” for herself. There she claims that she would not have defied Creon for a husband or a child, but only for her brother. This speech is perhaps the most controversial in the whole play: Goethe detested it and suggested that it was not actually part of the original, that it was “added in”; others have suggested that it is an expression of an illicit and incestuous desire. What do you think Antigone is trying to say in this speech?

(7) Is Antigone’s defiance of Creon’s order correct? Is she an admirable or likable character? And what of Creon? Was he wrong to refuse to honor a traitorous enemy? Why or why not?


Re-Posting Reading questions on Honig’s “Antigone’s Laments, Creon’s Grief”

February 10, 2013

Reading questions on Honig’s “Antigone’s Laments, Creon’s Grief”

(1)  Focus for a moment on Honig’s epigraph. What does the epigraph mean? In what sense is it true?

(2)  What is Honig’s thesis? More specifically, what does she think “Antigone” is about?

(3)  One way to get at this reading is to focus on how Honig interprets some of the main characters: what does the character Antigone represent? What does Creon represent?

(4)  One of Honig’s more unusual claims is that the play is not really about burying Polynices, but is instead about the question of how one should grieve in general (p. 7). Why does she emphasize this point?

(5)  Honig also offers a critique of “dissident” politics (p. 8). What is her critique? You should think of this in two ways: first, you need to be able to explain why dissident politics does not adequately comprehend what is at stake in the play, and second, you need to think about what is possibly wrong with the idea of dissidence in general. Honig’s critique, I must add, moves on both levels.

(6)  How does Honig defend her idea that Creon actually represents democracy? Pay attention, first, to pp. 9-10, but also look to the other evidence she points out throughout the article.

(7)  The first body section of Honig’s article contains a brief overview of traditional burial practices and some of the efforts to reform them. Try not to get too bogged down in details (though you might want to look up “goos” and “threnos”; Honig defines them, but google is also your friend here). What are some of the main features of the traditional burial rituals? What are some of the reforms that were being instituted during the time Sophocles was writing?

(8)  In her second body section (starting on p. 13), Honig begins to make her case that the play is really about the clash between democratic and “Homeric” (or more specifically, aristocratic) burial practices. What is some of the evidence she presents?

(9)  What is Honig’s interpretation of the Antigone’s use of the phrase “son of my mother” to describe Polynices (p. 15)?

(10) What is Honig’s interpretation of Antigone’s famous speech, wherein she declares that she would not have defied Creon’s orders for a son or a husband, because they would be, unlike her brother, replaceable (see pp. 16ff)

(11) Honig points out that Antigone’s reasoning about the irreplaceablity of her brother also cites another story from Herodotus, the story of Intaphrenes’ wife (see pp. 18-19). What is this story and how is it similar and different from Creon and Antigone’s interactions? What conclusion does Honig draw from her comparison of the two stories (p. 19, last two paragraphs, primarily)?

(12) What are some of the critiques of democracy embedded in the play, according to Honig?

(13) What are some of the democratic critiques of aristocracy that are embedded in the play, according to Honig?

(14) How does Honig interpret Eurydice’s death (pp. 22-24)?

(15) What is Honig’s conclusion about the play’s perspective on the rival positions it explores? Pay attention in particular to pp. 25ff.

(16) If the play is about mourning, then how does Creon mourn? Is his mourning more “democratic” or “aristocratic”?


Differences in Philosophizing Leadership

April 24, 2011

When comparing the ideal leaders of Socrates and Plato from The Republic and the leaders found in the works of Sophocles, one finds that they are very different. We see leaders in the works of Sophocles such as Oedipus and Creon. Creon was clearly not chosen to lead Thebes because he was the most qualified candidate but that he was next in the bloodline after the deaths of Oedipus, Eteocles, and Polynices. After seeing his ways of dealings with his cities issues, it is clear that he would not fit the bill for a leader in The Republic. He is not wise because he is stubborn and unmoving about the decisions he makes until it is too late and he refuses to follow the advice of the supposed wise man, Tiresias. He not only causes pain for himself, but for the entire city. Oedipus is selected to be a leader by the people somewhat for his wisdom because he solves the riddle of the sphinx; however, he is also superstitious and refuses to listen to other when he believes he is right. In either case, neither man had to go through the rigorous training that Socrates believes is necessary in order to be an effective leader. In fact, in my opinion, Socrates would probably believe that Tiresias would be better leader because he is a philosopher of sorts and he is able to foresee when there is danger lingering in the near future.


Antigone and Socrates, hmm?

April 8, 2011

So, I was flipping through some old notes of mine and I stumbled upon some things I had written out for blogs a while back. I have a few ideas that will meet future creation, but this also sparked a new idea. What if  Thebes during the setting of “Antigone” had been formed into a Republic, and the characters in Sophocles’ tragedy met a structure loosely based on thoughts of Socrates. Also, what might Socrates think of Antigone?

For one, Antigone would not actually have a real story such as this to be told of if her world was made a Republic. Everyone would have been trained to avoid the traumatic events that came forth and tragedy itself would not exist or be spoken of. She would not have even had anything to cry about because her brother would not be dead due to the training that would be used to eradicate the violent nature in people. In this republic, it’s hard to tell who may be chosen to be the ruler of who we met in this tragedy, because everyone seems to have something a little bit crazy going on. If I were to pick the best fit, Ismene would definitely be up there due to her seemingly level head she displays. Creon may be a guardian, and the rest would fall under the lower tier in the Republic.

I would like to have asked Socrates to read Antigone and see what he would have to say about it. My guess would be that Greek tragedy would not be on the top of the list of “Socrates’ Favorite Casual Readings”, but it may prove to intrigue him a bit. I could imagine him maybe being proud of Creon since he was able to hold strong and not performed the irrational end that everyone around him did, but even he may have disappointed Socrates due to the unfairness that he treated Antigone with and looked at it as a form of injustice. It may be argued that Antigone stepped out of her place, but at the same time she had been following her own beliefs which may spark some favor in Socrates’ eyes. Although he may have liked Creon, he may hold a heavy distaste for him as well due to the views of ruling a city that Socrates created for himself anyways (which we know he holds strongly to due to the fact that he sacrificed his own life for his beliefs).

I feel like Antigone may be Socrates’ character, though, due to the fact that she died to defend her own cause, just as Socrates did. Also, it seems as they both did not fear death at all, but rather accepted it due to their strong beliefs in what defined them- Socrates and his philosophies and Antigone’s loyalty to her brother. They may be looked at as ancient anarchists in the sense that they both fought the law, but as the song goes, “I fought the law and the law won”

Alas, two tragic heroes, two people fighting for a cause.


Similarities between Burial Systems of Ancient Greece and Modern Day

February 10, 2011

In class we spoke about the system used in Ancient Greece for burial procedures and mourning practices of soldiers. We talked about how much more emphasis was placed on the how all of the soldiers being honored collectively died in the most honorable way possible by dying to defend their state. Not much of the emphasis was placed on each individual’s life and how he interacted with and touched other people while not on the battle field. Although we spoke about how modern burial practices involve a more intimate relationship with the deceased individual, I would like to argue that many times this is not the case. Today many families of many soldiers are only involved in a few days of mourning for the lost individual. These include a couple of days for a wake to receive guests and one day for a funeral and burial. After that is taken care of, the individual is slowly forgotten and many times memorial services are held for an entire troop of solider or for deceased veterans in which someone of political or military prominence speaks on behalf of all of the families discussing how each person among the group of deceased individuals died in the line of duty in order to protect their country and better support those living there. This why I believe that much of what we think is different really has not changed between then and now.


Another Demagogue

February 8, 2011

At the risk of possibly stirring some ill political feelings, I wanted to draw everyone’s attention to a political cartoon that I was recently shown. I was instantly reminded of it when we began our discussion of demagogues and our comparison between Sara Palin and Creon today. http://i.imgur.com/rgOmL.jpg . This cartoon focuses on Ronald Reagan and the way that many people overlook the major mistakes that he made during his presidency because they were infatuated with his personality and ability to relate to the “common man”. The specific panel that resonated with me the most and most clearly illustrates the idea of a “demagogue” is the one that says “He crushed worker rights, but he was someone you could sit down and have a beer with.” Although it contains some exaggeration, this cartoon really emphasizes some of the fears that Americans have about the ways the our leaders are elected. I believe that this is one of the many critiques of democracy that, according to Honig, Sophocles includes in “Antigone