United for Peace of Pierce County

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Cindy Sheehan as Antigone

Jane Harman published this meditation on the connections between Cindy Sheehan and the legendary Antigone on Thursday on the Common Dreams web site. -- Jane Harman's line of thinking might be pursued further, in that Thebes was the leading military power of its day, called by Homer (in Pope's translation) "The world's great empress on the Egyptian plain,/That spreads her conquests o'er a thousand states,/And pours her heroes through a hundred gates,/Two hundred horsemen and two hundred cars/From each wide portal issuing to the wars." --Fran.

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By Jan Hartman

Common Dreams
August 18, 2005


American Mother Cindy Sheehan has parked her grief outside the gates of George Bush's Crawford ranch as Antigone set hers at the gates of King Creonís ancient Thebes.

Though today's setting is Texas not Thebes, the core of the women's separate actions links them over 2500 years: both women are driven by grief to speak Truth to Power.

Antigone wants to bury her dead brother in order to honor him. Cindy Sheehan wants to honor her dead son by challenging the President to explain the inner meaning of his words to her. Antigone challenges her king by burying her dead brother in defiance of the King's decree to leave him to the vultures. Cindy Sheehan's son will rest no more easily than Antigone's brother Polyneices until his leader speaks the truth behind his cruel actions.

Private grief calls public posturing to explain itself. The raw truth and emotion of grief withers any lies, prevarications, justification, falsehoods, hypocrisies. Grief casts a thundering light on mendacity. It exposes all the tattered threads of official duplicity.

Creon has the courage to confront Antigone. Bush fears a naked encounter with a grieving woman. What has he to say to her? A man as unacquainted with authenticity as Pinocchio with Snow White.

Antigone teaches us that a single act of deep emotional, honest challenge can bring down the state. A House built on lies ultimately collapses.

What we learn from the Ancients echoes loudly through Time: unless public morality reflects individual morality, a time always comes when the King will tremble. Truth is a sort of armor. Lies are rags and tatters. Once stripped of his lies the king stands naked and exposed.

The President is caught in a double trap: the tangled web of ever-more-complex deceits and the generic incapacity of the Superficial to Explain themselves to The Profound. Only deep understanding imbues language with meaning.

Intuitively -- from the wisdom born of suffering -- Cindy Sheehan presents one of the most powerful images in the modern canon: the lone defiant individual against the Mammoths of Power.

Antigone stands alone against Creon. Her sister hasnít the courage; her lover Creon's son is torn between two loyalties. But she will not budge. For her the laws of family and honor and respect for the dead are supreme. She is ready to go to her own death to defend them.

Creon's stand is no less absolute. Even when he receives word that the majority of Thebans disapprove of his actions, he rejects the report: "And is Thebes about to tell me how to rule? . . . The city is the King's -- that's the law!" [Echoed later by another king faced with a revolution Louis the XVI "I am the State." [NOTE: Whoops, Jane! . . . it was a century earlier and to Louis XIV, the Sun King, that this statement was attributed. --F.L.]

How different Antigone's fate would have been if she had modern media as an ally. Creon with his unlimited Power and no real public scrutiny could wall Antigone up in a cave to die.

Unfortunately for George Bush the media broadcasts Cindy Sheehan's grief and challenge worldwide. Her public act emboldens others. How many hundreds of thousands -- even millions -- are out there who suddenly feel cleansed and renewed by this one woman and her truth.

The lesson of Antigone is that a ruler who overplays his hand against individual integrity falls. Even having Antigone walled up didnít save Creon. His son and wife kill themselves from grief. His son for grief over Antigone; his wife in grief over her son. Creon finally realizes: "The guilt is all mine -- can never be fixed upon another man, no escape for me."

Antigone started an inexorable process of natural Justice. It may well be that Cindy Sheehan -- equally outspoken -- is doing the same.

--Jan Hartman can be reached at jhartman_uk@yahoo.co.uk

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