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Culture

Antigone Found “Not Guilty” at National Hellenic Museum Trial

 

CHICAGO, IL – A modern-day trial of Antigone spared the tragic heroine from death by stoning as judges and the attending crowd found her not guilty of treason. Part of an annual series of trials hosted by the National Hellenic Museum (NHM) in collaboration with some of Chicago’s most esteemed law professionals, the “Trial of Antigone” was held at the historic Field Museum, March 10.

Though prosecutors past President of the Chicago Bar Association Robert Clifford, and former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb, offered strong arguments in favor of convicting Antigone, the defense, former U. S. Assistant Attorneys Patrick Collins and Patrick Fitzgerald, fought back using Plato’s philosophy and humor to support their position.

THE STORY

A classic ancient play written circa 442 BC, Sophocles’ “Antigone” is one of civil disobedience, family love, and loss. Antigone is both the daughter and sister of fallen king of Thebes, Oedipus, who has had his own share of tragedy. He unknowingly kills his birthfather Laius and weds his own mother Jacosta, who in turn takes her life upon recognizing the situation.

After Oedipus realizes his life story, he falls into despair, wanders, and dies. Antigone’s brothers, Etocles and Polynices then arrange to equally share the kingdom of Thebes by alternating rule every year. But Etocles refuses to give up his throne at the end of his presumed reign, enraging Polynices and prompting him to fight his brother with the help of an army.

Both brothers die in battle against each other, and Creon, Jacosta’s brother and uncle to Antigone, ascends to the throne. He decrees that Polynices deserves no mourning and no burial and makes it known that anyone defying his orders will be sentenced to death by stoning.

Determined to give her brother a proper burial, Antigone speckles his body with dust, but is caught in the act. Having accepted her fate, she decides to take her own life by hanging, just as Creon changes his mind about Antigone, who happens to also be his son Haemon’s betrothed.

It’s too late, however, for both the young Antigone, and her beloved, who stabs himself upon finding her lifeless body. When Creon’s wife Queen Eurydice learns of her son’s suicide, she shares his fate. King Creon is rendered a tragic and lonely ruler, full of despair in the cursed house of Oedipus.

THE TRIAL

The “Trial of Antigone” in Chicago saw prosecutors arguing that Antigone had taken action with full knowledge of the law and consequences, showing no remorse.

“We cannot grow as a society without the rule of law,” said Clifford, who argued that Antigone’s actions assert she felt she was above the law. “When she was told about the possibility of death…she said ‘I accept death proudly,’” he said. “Well, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, give her what she requested. She has it coming,” he concluded.

The defense argued Antigone did not deserve her fate, claiming that Creon’s ascent to the throne was unlawful in the first place, and that he ruled unjustly as a tyrant.

“She doesn’t deserve to die. The person who should be on trial is Creon himself,” Fitzgerald said.

Further strengthening their argument, the defense claimed Antigone acted out of bravery and love for her kin, honoring an oath she had taken.

“Burying the dead is a fundamental right,” Collins said. “She acted out of love for her brother,” he added.

Collins continued his support of Antigone’s decisions, even drawing in laughter from the crowd with some comic remarks. The Oedipus family’s immense struggles and unfortunate twists “make the Kardashians look like the Waltons,” he said.

Audience members were then asked to cast their vote as the panel of twelve jurors deliberated. Though it was a split decision with half the jurors claiming the law should be upheld, the three judges, William J. Bauer, Charles P. Kocoras, and Richard A. Posner, unanimously ruled in Antigone’s favor.

“When you talk about a dead person, there is a serious question of whether anyone can legislate on what to do with a body, irrespective of how he died and what he did with his life…that’s God’s law,” Kocoras said.

The audience agreed, as their voting chips were collected and weighed, tipping the scale in support of Antigone, who defied her uncle’s rules to honor her fallen brother.

“I can understand why you might not have the courage to do it, but can you imagine if nobody stood up to Hitler or nobody stood up against slavery?” said Connie Mourtopalas, president of cultural affairs at the National Hellenic Museum.

Participating in the juror panel were Judges Anthonly C. Kyriakopoulos and Peggy Chiampas, as well as Fox 32 reporter Larry Yellen, WGN news anchor Andrea Darlas, and Field Museum Associate Curator of Eurasian Anthropology William Parkinson, among others.

[The trial] really showed how things that people were wrestling with in ancient Greece are relevant to modern society today,” Parkinson said. “We still have a lot of the same arguments and basic issues…it was a blast,” he added.

 

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