The Only Comment Possible on the Tsarnaev Burial Dilemma
Creon: You alone, of all the people in Thebes,
see things that way.
Antigone: They see it just that way
but defer to you and keep their tongues in leash.
Creon: And aren’t you ashamed to differ so from them?
Antigone: Not ashamed for a moment,
not to honor my brother, my own flesh and blood.
Creon: Wasn’t Eteocles a brother too—cut down, facing him?
Antigone: Brother, yes, by the same mother, the same father.
Creon: Then how can you render his enemy such honors,
such impieties in his eyes?
Antigone: He will never testify to that,
Eteocles dead and buried.
Creon: He will—
if you honor the traitor just as much as him.
Antigone: But it was his brother, not some slave that died—
Creon: Ravaging our country!—
but Eteocles died fighting in our behalf.
Antigone: No matter—Death longs for the same rites for all.
Creon: Never the same for the patriot and the traitor.
Antigone: Who, Creon, who on earth can say the ones below
don’t find this pure and uncorrupt?
Creon: Never. Once an enemy, never a friend,
not even after death.
Antigone: I was born to join in love, not hate—
that is my nature.
Creon: Go down below and love,
if love you must—love the dead! While I’m alive,
no woman is going to lord it over me.
(Sophokles, Antigone, trans. Robert Fagles)
The debate hasn’t changed much in these past 2,500 years, has it? I still sympathize with Creon’s position—the need to uphold a fragile stability in his country, the fact that the gods have gone silent and his claim for divine justice is just as valid as his niece’s—and recognize that the only—or at least the strongest—argument left those of us who would bury him is the argument from a necessary love among humans.
(Postscript/confession: Antigone is shrill, a reactionary, no feminist at all, is grief-stricken to the point of desiring death, and may well mean sexual love for her brother in the passage quoted above. I always take her side, but almost never feel good about it. Sometimes, I look for excuses to argue that Creon is right all along.)