Bend or Break: Oikos, Polis, and Love in Haemon’s Argument with Creon

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

Sophocles’ play Antigone centers around a conflict between oikos and polis. Oikos, “home,” is the concept of the household, dominated by women and kinship; polis, “city,” is the concept of the collective city-state, dominated by men and power or money. Antigone, bound by the family duty of proper burial, comes into deep conflict with the king, Creon, who is obsessed with personal control of the state. These characters, symbols of oikos and polis, are so diametrically opposed that it seems no one can reconcile them or convince Creon to spare Antigone, who buried her brother in defiance of Creon’s proclamation. The play’s last hope for deliberative reconciliation is Haemon, Creon’s dutiful son and Antigone’s loving fiancé®  Haemon’s view of oikos and polis are not as extreme as either Creon’s or Antigone’s, but his love for Antigone draws him to her side. The subtle interplay of oikos, polis, and love, which is seen as a power that women, creatures of the oikos, have over men, is painfully evident in the argument between Creon and Haemon and the following choral stasima (Antigone, 701-899). While love leads to both the origin and outcome of the argument between Creon and Haemon, differences in the fundamental conceptions of polis and oikos doom reconciliation from the start.Love is the reason Haemon approaches his father to plead for Antigone’s life. Though he feels duty bound to keep his father from committing a great injustice, the place Antigone holds in his heart compels him to argue for her life and join her in death. Like many fathers, Creon warns his son to “never lose your sense of judgement over a woman” (Antigone, 723) and assumes that love is the only reason for his son’s protest.This assumption draws on Creon’s notions of oikos and polis, making him deaf to Haemon’s reasoning. Creon sees the struggle between the civilized order of polis and the clannish chaos of oikos as a battle between men and women. He tells Haemon his truth that woman is oikos, and oikos is Anarchy in no uncertain terms: Anarchy ? show me a greater crime in all the earth! She, she destroys cities, rips up houses?. We must defend the men who live by law, never let some woman triumph over us. Better to fall from power, if fall we must, at the hands of a man ? never be rated inferior to a woman, never. (Antigone, 752-761, my emphasis)That Haemon dare defend Antigone’s right to bury her brother in violation of Creon’s law is a betrayal of his sex, making him a “woman’s slave.” (Antigone, 847) Moreover, it is double sacrilege that Haemon contravenes his father’s and king’s authority. Creon’s view of the oikos is his vision of the polis in miniature. Just as “the city is the king’s ? that’s the law,” (Antigone, 825, italics in original) a father’s goal is “to produce good sons” who “subordinate to [their] father’s will in every way.” (Antigone, 714-715) After the chorus leader says Creon and Haemon “both are talking sense,” (Antigone, 813) Creon complains that the elders of the chorus and he, a grown man, should not be “schooled by a boy [Haemon’s] age.” (Antigone, 814) Creon’s will is absolute: even the prospect of bowing to the will of the Theban people galls him (Antigone, 821). The prospect of taking advice from his son, advice which will lead to a woman’s victory over his decree against a traitor, offends and outrages Creon so much that he cannot seriously consider the substance of Haemon’s argument on its merits.Haemon’s ideas of oikos and polis are different from those of his father, and therefore it is hard for them to find common ground in argument. Though Haemon’s first words to Creon are, “Father, I’m your son.? I obey you” (Antigone, 709-710, italics in original) and he prefaces his argument by saying he’s no man to correct his father (Antigone?766-769), he drops that fa硤e to criticize Creon’s handling of Antigone. As a dutiful son, Haemon wants to give his father advice that will help him in the long run though embarrass Creon when he takes it. Haemon’s version of the polis is one where the ruler, sensitive to the practical demand of respect for oikos, is not too proud to follow good counsel or bend before exigencies. Haemon uses a beautiful image of trees in a winter storm to illustrate that even kings must “bend or break,” lest they snap because of their rigidity. Continuing the comparison, he says that a man who always hoists a “taut sail, never give[s] an inch” will capsize his ship (Antigone, 794-804). This refers to Creon’s speech calling the city “the ship of state.” (Antigone, 180) In this way, Haemon skillfully implies that killing Antigone will bring ruin to Thebes.After he makes his case that Creon should listen to his advice, Haemon’s grounds his argument in the language of the oikos and his more responsive view of the polis. He never explicitly lauds Antigone’s deeds himself but tells Creon that the people whisper their discontent with her treatment because they sympathize with her dilemma of having to disrespect her brother’s memory or die and think she deserves “a glowing crown of gold” for her actions (Antigone, 775-783). This praise, which may well be in part a projection of Haemon’s opinion, is grounded in the holy duty to bury the dead, a concern of the oikos. When the polite argument deteriorates into a violent back-and-forth, Haemon calls his father unjust to kill Antigone, which Creon sees as “protect[ing] his royal rights,” (Antigone, 833) because in doing so he “trample[s] down the honors of the gods,” (Antigone, 835) specifically the burial of the family dead so important to the oikos. Finally, when Creon says that Haemon is only making a plea for Antigone, Haemon interrupts, saying he pleads for her “and you, and me, and the gods beneath the earth.” (Antigone, 840-841) This, the last substantive point Haemon makes, is an appeal for his household and the gods of the oikos. Such are Haemon’s concerns, irreconcilable with those of his father.Differences of worldview cause Haemon’s failure to convince Creon not to kill Antigone, but it is love which determines the way the argument ends. Haemon’s argument is agreeable to the leader of the chorus but has no effect on his father, who sees him only as an upstart adolescent trying to save the vixen who’s trapped him in her sexual web. Enraged that his father will still sentence his betrothed wife to death, the argument devolves into stichomythia, father and son hurling one-line insults at each other. Reverting to the misogynistic language of his father, Haemon even calls Creon a “woman!” (Antigone, 829) Angered by his father’s threat to kill Antigone immediately, in front of his eyes, Haemon rushes off, saying Antigone “will never die beside me.” (Antigone, 855). This cry from the pit of a lover’s despair is the height of irony: Antigone does not die beside Haemon; Haemon dies beside Antigone, kissing her white cheek with a bloody mouth (Antigone, 1363-1671).The essence of Greek tragedy is irreconcilable conflict. What makes the struggle between Creon and Haemon all the more poignant is that in addition to the differences in opinion regarding oikos and polis, a barrier of love for a woman has been driven between a father and son who should feel great love for each other. As the chorus declares in the stasima after Haemon’s argument with Creon, Love is a primitive, destructive force no man can escape (Antigone, 879 ? 886). Love has “ignited this, this kindred strife, father and son at war and Love alone the victor ? warm glance of the bride triumphant, burning with desire! Throned in power, side-by-side with the mighty laws!” The sight of the proud, doomed bride is enough to make the old men of the chorus exclaim that they “fill with tears” and “would rebel against the king [in Haemon’s place].” (Antigone, 895 ? 899) Oh, such is the power of woman over man; such is the power of oikos over polis!

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