The Theme of Fatalism in Antigone

Tragedies involve a regular person experiencing a reversal in fortune because he or she results in a catharsis arousing fear and pity of the audience. In Greek tragedies, fatalism plays a dominant role in doing so as one is not a free agent because future(in tragedies, reversal of fortune) is predetermined - even if one knows and attempts to avoid it.

Antigone is the daughter of the Oedipus and the sister of Polyneices and Eteocles. King Creon passed a royal edict banning anyone from burying disgraced Polyneices' dead body. 

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Antigone is portrayed as a heroine rebel who does not fear forces from governments, has a different mindset to that of Ismene, her submissive sister. She made the choice of burying his brother Polyneices' body that cost her life instead of leaving it in the open. 

When fate puts her in this particular situation, she is forced to defy Creon's edict because she had to follow the God's law which dictates all dead bodies have to be buried otherwise they will wander the earth ad infinitum. There appears to be a choice for Antigone, but her mindset was pre programmed such that fate already chose the path for her even if she believed the choice was made by her free will. Antigone is also fully aware of her consequences and acknowledges her death and her supposed fate as it is noted in a conversation between Antigone and Ismene:

ISMENE
O sister, scorn me not, let me but share
Thy work of piety, and with thee die.
ANTIGONE
Claim not a work in which thou hadst no hand;
One death sufficeth. Wherefore should'st thou die?
ISMENE
What would life profit me bereft of thee?
ANTIGONE
Ask Creon, he's thy kinsman and best friend.
ISMENE
Why taunt me? Find'st thou pleasure in these gibes?
ANTIGONE
'Tis a sad mockery, if indeed I mock.
ISMENE
O say if I can help thee even now.
ANTIGONE
No, save thyself; I grudge not thy escape.
ISMENE
Is e'en this boon denied, to share thy lot?
ANTIGONE
Yea, for thou chosed'st life, and I to die. (544-556)

Teiresias, a prophet, warned Creon that evicting Antigone would result in his own misfortune but Antigone had already committed suicide. The fact that Creon freed Antigone under the fear that the prophet will prove right and he will die further reinstates the fatalistic nature of the story. Fully aware of her death, Antigone committed suicide as she lost hope in a twist of fate. Creon's son committed suicide after knowing Antigone’s death before Creon's wife, Eurydice, committed suicide due to immense sorrow brought by the loss of her son.

Even if these characters were not aware of their respective destiny, the consequences would still occur after all for the nature of the tragedy is fatalism. If one has free will, one can escape from determinate forces such as causation. But one cannot escape physical, sociological, psychological presets and barriers. Thus, one does not have free will in even for a split second in one's life. Human beings’ minds are mere machines preprogrammed in genes and adapted to environments very rigidly like gears with no room for free will to wiggle. Free will is only a delusion. 

If Creon did not know his future that the prophet told him, he would kill Antigone because of his strong character. But Antigone is predetermined to know that she was going to die because she, like most human beings, committed the crime and ready to serve her sentence of death instead of opportunistically wish that Creon would drop the charges. If she was a truly a depersonalized primitive human being who doesn’t know anything about the consequences of her actions, either-or fallacy, causality or governmental power, she would not bury her brother in the first place.

Indeterminism suggests that human beings are absolutely unpredictable thanks to recent development of Quantum Physics and Chaos Theory. In the quantum realm, atoms work in a probabilistic fashion. And Chaos Theory postulates that events are simultaneously connected, causation and causality is not linear but a interweaved dynamic web just like our nervous system. Human beings are not predictable doesn’t mean we are free, it only suggests that the causality of events are so complicated that we might never fully quantify or understand it.

George E. Price

Similar to the characters in Antigone, a real world example of fatalism would be the paradoxical story of mathematician George E. Price. George was a multidisciplinary genius who first taught Chemistry at Harvard and then helped inventing semi-conductors at Bell Lab and later worked for IBM on a primitive version of Computer Aided Design. While he was incredibly genius in his professional life, his could not manage his relationships with family very well - partly because of the diametric opposition between religious beliefs of him and his wife: George being an atheist while his wife was a devout Christian. After divorce, George Price moved to Britain and tried to expand his field of research by reading papers. After reading a little known paper by H.D. Hamilton on kin selection - which means human selfless and altruistic behaviors for kins are only a strategy of survival and human beings are selfish in nature, he came up with an equation that mathematically proves the point being infallible - without any training in evolution theory. The Price Equation made the front cover of Nature magazine and revolutionized evolutionary theory by solving the ultimate problem that perplexed Darwin and many. George, however, refused to accept the validity of his theory by looking for a truly voluntary sacrifice for complete strangers. A year later, he was out in the street after he gave up life savings to help the homeless and the alcoholics by providing housing. He was finally thrown out of his apartment, which made him depressed because he could no longer help the poor. One year later he committed suicide by cutting his main carotid artery with a razorblade.

George tried to defy the human nature, but ultimately the “Hound of Heaven” will always triumph, which he famously mentioned in his letter to his daughter. Hound of Heaven is a Christian poem written by Francis Thompson saying that however much we think we are free agents, we are always running from god who pursues us till the end of our lives. Its strong assertion postulates the limits of free will and the paradoxical consequences it brings. His tragedy of helping complete strangers and ultimate suicide can be considered as an exercise of free will to the purist form, while some proposed a paradoxical rule of fatalism governing his actions.

George’s colleague, Nobel Prize recipient, the original author of the paper on kin selection, H.D. Hamilton and one of the two only attendees to George’s funeral, came into a very dark place by taking a strong stand against advancements in medicine as it interferes nature’s will and leads humanity into degeneration as it would allow the genetically inferior to survive.

Wonders are many, and none is more wonderful than man. This power spans the sea, even when it surges white before the gales of the south-wind, and makes a path under swells that threaten to engulf him. Earth, too, the eldest of the gods, the immortal, the unwearied, he wears away to his own ends, turning the soil with the offspring of horses as the plows weave to and from year after year.

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