Friday, February 5, 2010

I first read "Antigone" when I was in college. Professor Ricciardi really loved the classics. And Milton. And swords. But we won't go there.

Antigone is one of the daughters of Oedipus. He had two daughters and two sons - by his mother, of course. I totally don't think it is fair that his name has come to mean something dark, dirty and twisted. He didn't know it was his mother. He didn't marry her and have children with her knowing she was his mother. Jeez. Now his name is synonymous with incest. It sucks.

Anyway, the story goes that once Oedipus died, his two sons were supposed to share power, but they couldn't (of course) and so they waged war on each other. One came out to be the hero, the other the villain. The villain brother was tossed out on the plains and a law was passed that no one could bury him. But Antigone, being the kind-hearted and sweet, loving sister that she is, buried him and now she's on trial. Nothing surprising ever happens in these tragedies. Everyone dies at the end. Hope I didn't spoil it for you. On the other hand, this story has been around for over 2000 years, so if you haven't read it by now, too bad.

There are lots of interesting legal issues here - was it a fair trial? What about the way the law was made - was it rash? Was the punishment cruel and unusual? But I'm more interested in the characters. Antigone means something like "strong-willed" or "unchanging." But I think she's just stubborn. Plus, everyone is so hypocritical. I do like the character Teiresias. He shows up and has a little talk with Creon about thinking too narrowly about the situation, and voila! Creon changes his mind. Totally lawyered!

I liked this when I first read it for school. But I liked it even more after talking about it for two hours with the esteemed Professor Heilman. I need to find a way to take more classes from him.

"The Death of Ivan Ilych" was also a good read. The language is fantastic and the structure is perfect. One would not expect less of Tolstoy.

Ivan Ilych is what you might think of as empty - he has no feelings. He has a wife and daughter, but he doesn't love them. They are just there for show, and mostly they irritate him. He has a wonderful career, but it's not something he likes, or is even interested in. The only enjoyment he gets out of his job is that it gets him away from his family. He slowly climbs the ladder of success and gets to a pretty high rank. He's making good money and has a pleasant, superficial life when he falls one day, hits his side on a chair and gets an infection and dies.

But this is no quick death. It is very painful and prolonged, and while he lays there dying, he has a lot of time to think about his life. All of a sudden, now that it's almost over, he wishes there had been some meaning in his life. He wishes he had felt something or that he had done something more. It's not even clear exactly what he wishes he would have done differently. He just knows he's not ready to die.

I totally sympathize with him. (I realize I'm using the word "totally" a lot in this posting, but I totally don't care.) It's hard to stop and remind myself to enjoy things as they're happening. I always have to force myself to stop and recognize that significant things are happening to me. Though I'm lucky enough to have found someone I love and respect and want to spend my life with, I can understand why he chose to marry someone who was a good match for him, but for whom he didn't care a lot about.

Beyond that, I understand his career choices. I'm making a lot of those choices now. I have a career path in mind. I know what I want to do and where I want to go. I can understand sitting on my deathbed at an early age and wishing my life had been different. I'm not sure why Ivan is so disliked. I don't dislike him at all. I'm glad I'm not him, but I can see how easy it would be to become him. I'll take that warning from Tolstoy!

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