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Antigone’s Lament, Creon’s Grief: Mourning, Membership and the Institution of Exception

September 10, 2008 Antigone, Interrupted

Bonnie Honig develops a historically situated reading of Sophocles' Antigone as an exploration of the politics of lamentation and the larger ideological conflicts these stand for. The play is supposedly about Antigone’s defiance of her uncle Creon’s sovereign decree that her brother Polynices, who attacked the city with a foreign army and died in battle, be left unburied as a lesson to all regarding the consequences of treason. But, she  argues, the play is not about Polynices and his treason. These are merely occasions for something else: The play explores the clash in 5th century Athens between Homeric/elite and democratic mourning practices. The former memorialize the unique individuality of the dead, focus on the family’s loss and bereavement and call for vengeance. The latter, the democratic, memorialize the dead’s contribution to the immortal polis and emphasize (as in the Funeral Oration) the replace-ability of those lost by other, future citizens yet to come. Both economies of mourning are limited, necessary and insufficient to the bereavement we feel in the face of death. By staging their critical agonistic engagement, the play calls attention to each one’s limits, but also mounts a criticism of democratic Athens' (represented by Creon) intolerance of the Homeric view.

Forthcoming publication in the Journal of Political Theory.

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