Not The Family Next Door

Sophocles, Antigone. 49-68

Ismene to Antigone:

My sister, reflect on how our father died
Despised and disgraced.
How he discovered crime in himself
And worked his hands to stab his own eyes.
Then how his mother-wife (that pair of words!)
Did violence against life with a plaited cord.
It goes on–how two brothers, yours and mine,
Killed one another, poor things,
And won at each other’s hand their common doom.

Now consider this too: we’re all that’s left.
We will die in the most wicked way
If despite the law’s might we transgressed
A decree, or the power, of tyrants.
You have to realize, we were born women;
We do not fight men.
Who has greater strength makes the rule.
We must submit to this, and more painful things.

I beg those under the earth to understand:
I’m not free. I will obey those who hold sway.

οἴμοι· φρόνησον, ὦ κασιγνήτη, πατὴρ
ὡς νῷν ἀπεχθὴς δυσκλεής τ᾿ ἀπώλετο
πρὸς αὐτοφώρων ἀμπλακημάτων, διπλᾶς
ὄψεις ἀράξας αὐτὸς αὐτουργῷ χερί·
ἔπειτα μήτηρ καὶ γυνή, διπλοῦν ἔπος,
πλεκταῖσιν ἀρτάναισι λωβᾶται βίον·
τρίτον δ᾿ ἀδελφὼ δύο μίαν καθ᾿ ἡμέραν
αὐτοκτονοῦντε τὼ ταλαιπώρω μόρον
κοινὸν κατειργάσαντ᾿ ἐπαλλήλοιν χεροῖν.
νῦν δ᾿ αὖ μόνα δὴ νὼ λελειμμένα σκόπει
ὅσῳ κάκιστ᾿ ὀλούμεθ᾿, εἰ νόμου βίᾳ
ψῆφον τυράννων ἢ κράτη παρέξιμεν.
ἀλλ᾿ ἐννοεῖν χρὴ τοῦτο μὲν γυναῖχ᾿ ὅτι
ἔφυμεν, ὡς πρὸς ἄνδρας οὐ μαχουμένα·
ἔπειτα δ᾿ οὕνεκ᾿ ἀρχόμεσθ᾿ ἐκ κρεισσόνων
καὶ ταῦτ᾿ ἀκούειν κἄτι τῶνδ᾿ ἀλγίονα.
ἐγὼ μὲν οὖν αἰτοῦσα τοὺς ὑπὸ χθονὸς
ξύγγνοιαν ἴσχειν, ὡς βιάζομαι τάδε,
τοῖς ἐν τέλει βεβῶσι πείσομαι . .

Maria Callas with an expression
Appropriate to a daughter of Oedipus.

Larry Benn has a B.A. in English Literature from Harvard College, an M.Phil in English Literature from Oxford University, and a J.D. from Yale Law School. Making amends for a working life misspent in finance, he’s now a hobbyist in ancient languages and blogs at

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