GR US

Antigone’s Lesson for America

The National Herald

Pen and ink sketch of Antigone by Penelope Eleni Gaitanis-Katsaras. (Photo: Courtesy of the artist)

Over the past four years we have witnessed America become more divided.  We block, unblock, and block again our siblings, cousins, friends and even Koumbara over politics. Gone are the days when we (Gen X for me) were children watching the grown-ups argue about current events at the dinner table; who afterwards, still loved and respected each other. In those lost days, a regular debate was as normal a part of a mutual friendship as a game of cards or chess. 

But today each side says the other is team bad. In fact, they say they are so bad that they are evil incarnate through endless memes. Today, we sit, isolated in our internet bubbles, unwilling to venture out of our circles to connect, to have good old fashion dialogue with our neighbors. We have lost face to face humanity online through our polarized covered smiles.   

But if you listen to both camps, you will find that we are saying the exact same thing about the other side. I know it’s hard to believe. But it’s true. In our core, we share the same human values. But we are blind and can’t see it. 

Step back and understand that what is happening is exactly the same thing that has happened in all wars for all of history. Each side uses the power of language and emotions (primarily fear) to make the other team monsters. 

Recently I read an article by Joel Christensen titled, “Ancient Greek Desire to Resolve Civil Strife Resonates Today – But Athenian Justice Would Be a ‘Bitter Pill’ in Modern America.” Here, he talks about stories of ancient conflict and resolution by the Goddess Athena who comes in to negotiate and resolve hostility. The “Bitter Pill” being that they, “demanded that residents prize peace over vengeance, and perhaps even over justice.”

The article by Christensen led me to think about what lessons my daughter’s namesake, Antigone, could teach us. Her story illuminates what happens when Athena does not intervene.   

In Sophocles’ play Antigone, Antigone’s brothers fought on opposite teams in the war.  Her uncle, the king, declared that the brother who fought for his side should receive a proper burial while the other is left out in the elements for the dogs and vultures. To King Creon, one brother was a traitor and the other a hero. But to Antigone, they were both her brothers, her beloved family. She understood there was a law above the King coming from the Gods and blood.

Creon 

And you are not ashamed to think alone? 

Antigone 

No, I am not ashamed.  When was it shame to serve the children of my mother’s womb? 

Creon 

It was not your brother who died against him, then? 

Antigone 

Full brother, on both sides, my parent’s child. 

Creon 

Your act of grace, in his regard, is crime. 

Antigone 

The corpse below would never say it was. 

Creon 

When you honor him and the criminal just alike? 

Antigone 

It was a brother, not a slave, who died. 

Creon 

Died to destroy this land the other guarded. 

Antigone 

Death yearns for equal law for all the dead. 

Creon 

Not that the good and bad draw equal shares. 

Antigone 

Who knows that this is holiness below? 

Creon 

Never the enemy, even in death, a friend. 

Antigone 

I cannot share in hatred, but in love. 

Creon 

Then go down there, if you must love, and love the dead. No woman rules me while I live. 

(Translation by Elizabeth Wyckoff) 

Bingo, let me repeat, “I cannot share in hatred, but in love.”  

Take heed because the Ancient Greeks were wise.   

The conclusion of the play speaks symbolically of the potential destruction of America and all nations who continue to block their loved ones on social media and real life.  

For the little statement of equal love of both brothers, Antigone is met with the wrath of her uncle, the King. Creon locks Antigone in a cave for the illegal faux pas of burying her brother who fought on the losing team. The play ends with the death of: Antigone, the sad son of Creon (Antigone’s fiancé), and Creon’s mourning wife (the mother of the fiancé). The last two die because of broken hearts-a grieving chain linked to the death of Antigone. After all it is a tragedy. In the finale, for his murderous stubbornness, Creon is left standing alone, with crown, in his dead kingdom.   

Hence, this story teaches us that nothing good will come from our division. 

Here lies my wish for 2021, we learn to love again. 

Let’s get back to playing cards with the people we used to love but who are now blocked on Facebook (but wait till after we all get the vaccine).   

Xronia Polla

Penelope Eleni Gaitanis-Katsaras is an artist with an MFA in ceramic art from the Cranbrook Academy of Art. A former educator (adjunct college professor and public school teacher) as well, she currently resides in East Elmhurst, Queens, NY.