Theban Plays

By Sophocles; Peter Meineck et al. | Go to book overview

Appendix: Hegel on Antigone

Hegel presents so many difficulties to the reader that “he is cited much more frequently than he is read and discussed far oftener than he is understood” (Wood 1991, p. xxvii). Although Hegel's influence on subsequent readings of Antigone has been powerful, many readers (such as Bradley 1950) overlook the importance of Antigone to Hegel's phenomenology. As a result, they miss the subtlety of Hegel's account of the play. Hegel's theory does not lend itself to summary, but here is a sketch of the main points that bear on Antigone.

Reading Antigone is not merely an aesthetic exercise for Hegel. Its heroine provides him a clear statement of the absoluteness of right. The unwritten laws that Antigone cites simply are; they are beyond human investigation and evaluation: “If they are supposed to be validated by my insight, then I have already denied their unshakeable, intrinsic being….” (Miller 1977, 437, references by paragraph number).

Nature has assigned different ethical concerns to women than to men. Women guard the divine law on which family bonds depend; men guard the human law that supports community and government. But men grow up within the family, and women reside in the larger community, so the assignment by gender does not free either group to follow its own law without attention to the other. In any event, both laws are believed to be supported by gods, and, in Hegelian terms, both laws belong to the same ethical substance. But it is only by action—the kind of action taken in a tragic play—that a superior ethical consciousness comes, through suffering, to recognize this.

Because of her conscious action, Antigone is Hegel's clearest instance of ethical consciousness. “Ethical consciousness must recognize its opposite as its own actuality … it must recognize its guilt” (Shannon 2001, p. 24; Miller 1977, p. 469). Antigone, Hegel says, commits her crime knowingly—or, more accurately, her knowledge comes with her action. In the case of Oedipus, Hegel says, “A power that shuns the daylight lies in wait for the ethical self-consciousness, and sallies out and catches it red

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Theban Plays
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vi
  • Introduction ix
  • Suggestions for Further Reading lxxii
  • Note on the Translations lxxv
  • Acknowledgments lxxvi
  • Theban Royal Family Tree lxxviii
  • Antigone 1
  • Oedipus Tyrannus 61
  • Oedipus at Colonus 125
  • Endnotes 208
  • Appendix: Hegel on Antigone 214
  • Selected Bibliography 217
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