Language

Stichomythia

An elevated style of speech accompanies the entire play Antigone by Sophocles. This is typical of the classical closed form, as are the elements of stichomythia. Stichomythia, also called line speech, refers to rapid alternating speech between several characters in a dialogue. Each character takes turns speaking a line, even half a line or a double verse. Stichomythia is often used in ancient and classical poetry as a means of depicting a fierce argument or a verbal exchange of blows.

We notice that stichomythia predominates, for example, in the opening dialogue between Antigone and Ismene (ll. 39-49, l. 78-92), in various short dialogues of Creon’s as well as the Chorus in Act 1 (ll. 215-222), and between Creon and the watchman in Act 1 (ll. 315-323). In addition, a rapid exchange of speech occurs again between Ismene and Antigone in Act 2, flowing seamlessly into a conversation between Creon and Ismene and then between Creon and the Chorus (ll. 536-576).

The heated discussion between Creon and Haemon in Act 3 (ll. 726-761) is characterized by a stichomythic dialogue which is very important in the progress of the plot. This is the decisive moment for the peripety: following the discussion with his son, Creon decides to wall Antigone up alive (ll. 773-780, Act 3 Scene 8).

This example shows clearly that the stichomythia is particularly suitable for expressing the chaos or heatedness of verbal disputes. Each speaker delivers their contribution in a hurry which is appropriate for the topic.

This becomes especially clear in Creon’s dialogues. He takes all arguments against him as personal attacks as well as a confirmation of his assumptions. He accuses Haemon of being influenced by his emotional attachment to his fiancée and not by reason: 

[CREON:] So I should rule this country for someone other than myself?
[HAEMON:] A place for one man alone is not a city.
[CREON:] A city belongs to its master. Isn’t that the rule? 
[HAEMON:] Than go be ruler of a desert, all alone. You’ll do it well. 
[CREON:] It turns out this boy is fighting for the woman’s cause. (Act 3, Scene 8, ll. 736-740)

Creon also accuses the watchman and Tiresias of having bad intentions, aimed only at harming him. Both are merely corrupt: 

[WATCHMAN:] It hurts your mind, blame the perpetrator. If it’s only your ears, blame me.
[CREON:] Damn it, man, will you ever stop babbling?
[WATCHMAN:] Well, at least I never did the thing.
[CREON:] Yes, you did. And for money! You gave up your life!
[WATCHMAN:] Oh no, no, no. It’s terrible when false judgement guides the judge. (Act 1, Scene 3, ll. 319-323) 

According to Creon, it is not just Tiresias but all seers whom he considers frauds: “I hear you, old man: You people keep shooting arrows at me / Like marksmen at a target. Do you think I don’t know? / I have a lot of experience with soothsayers. Your whole tribe / Has made market of me from the start.” (Act 5, Scene 13, ll. 1033-1036). 

Monologues

The monologues, which serve the purpose of reflection, are characterized by many rhetorical devices. We will focus on two examples: Creon’s Speech (Act 3, Scene 8, ll. 639-680), in which he justifies to his son Haemon the legitimacy of his power as well as that of his decision to condemn Antigone to death, and Antigone’s Lament, in which she mourns her fate and justifies her actions (Act 4, Scene 11, ll. 891-928).

Creon’s Speech

In response to the initially submissive behavior of his son Haemon: “I am yours, Father. You set me straight, / Give me good advice, and I will follow it. / No marriage will weigh more with me, / Than your good opinion.” (Act 3, Scene 8, ll. 635-638), Creon highlights the resemblance between father and son. A man has children with the intention that they may turn out like him. Then, he can feel pride when they obey: “Why does a man pray that he’ll conceive a child, / Keep him at home, and have him listen to what he’s told? / It’s so the boy will punish his father’s enemies / And reward his friends—as his father would.” (Act 3, Scene 8, ll. 641-...

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