All entries for Thursday 15 February 2018

February 15, 2018

Winds and Antigone's Madness

In this entry, I would like to explore some of the functions of wind in Sophocles’s Antigone, especially in its relationship to madness. I believe that this natural phenomenon is consciously deployed by the poet to stage not only some external forces such as nether deities, but also mental states, such as madness and irrationality, which is similar to Aeschylus’ use of wind in the Oresteia. Since its functions develop in complexity throughout the play, I will offer a reading of some passages in chronological order, focusing on the connections between wind and Antigone’s state of mind.

In the scene of the second burial, reported by the Guard, Antigone's appearance is preceded by a violent storm, which forces the guards to close their eyes and wait for it to cease (ll. 417-421):

καὶ τότ᾿ ἐξαίφνης χθονὸς

τυφὼς ἀγείρας σκηπτόν, οὐράνιον ἄχος,

πίμπλησι πεδίον, πᾶσαν αἰκίζων φόβην

ὕλης πεδιάδος, ἐν δ᾿ ἐμεστώθη μέγας

αἰθήρ· μύσαντες δ᾿ εἴχομεν θείαν νόσον.

«And then suddenly a whirlwind on the ground raised up a storm, a trouble in the air, and filled the plain, tormenting all the foliage of the woods that covered the ground there; and the vast sky was filled with it, and we shut our eyes and endured the god-sent affliction»


This storm comes not from above, but from the earth and is marked as a chthonic phenomenon: this is made clear by the choice of the word τυφώς, derived from the name of the chthonic monster Typhaeus, who is connected to stormy winds. This storm acts as Antigone's complement and its violence continues through Antigone's cursing and yelling. In light of its chthonic and violent connotations, the forces involved in this passage must not be seen as the heavenly forces of the Olympian gods, but as more obscure agents, which will become more concrete in the following passages.

In the second stasimon, the chorus dwell on the Labdacids' misfortunes. Their vicissitudes are understood as a consequence of ἄτη, the moral blinding that prevents one from understanding that they are behaving in a ruinous way. The chorus describe the condition of the whole house through the image of the sea shaken by winds from Thrace; they focus then on the last generation, represented by Antigone and Ismene, mentioning nether gods, folly, and an Erinys of the mind (ll. 601-603):

κατ᾿ αὖ νιν φοινία

θεῶν τῶν νερτέρων ἀμᾷ κοπίς,

λόγου τ᾿ ἄνοια καὶ φρενῶν Ἐρινύς.

«It too is mown down by the bloody chopper of the infernal gods, folly in speech and the Ernys in the mind»

Thus, the chorus see Antigone as mad and her madness is conceived as an Erinys of the mind. The Labdacids’s turmoil is like a terrible wind, capable of dragging its victims back and forth without them realising. Much like the previous passage, there are strong connections between Antigone, the chthonic dimension, and wind, on which the rest of the play will shed more light.

Other passages show more clearly how winds are connected to madness. As for Antigone herself, in 929-930 the chorus comment on the persistence of her mental distress, saying that she is still possessed by the same blasts:

ἔτι τῶν αὐτῶν ἀνέμων αὑταὶ

ψυχῆς ῥιπαὶ τήνδε γ᾿ ἔχουσιν.

«The same blasts of the same winds of the spirit still possess her»

Ἄνεμος is here exceptionally used in the metaphor of breath as strong emotions, which is usually expressed with different words (an example of a more common formula with a verb for breathing, ἐπιπνέω in this case, is found in a similar tragic passage, Ae. Sept. 343-344, μαινόμενος δ᾽ ἐπιπνεῖ [...] Ἄρης, “Ares breathes in folly”). Ἄνεμος is used in this way only on one other occasion in this play: in 135-137, the same metaphor applies to Kapaneus, who was like a maenad in his madness:

πυρφόρος ὃς τότε μαινομένᾳ ξὺν ὁρμᾷ

βακχεύων ἐπέπνει

ῥιπαῖς ἐχθίστων ἀνέμων.

«the torchbearer who in the fury of his mad rush breathed upon us with the blast of hateful winds»

In view of Padel's insights about the interconnection of external and internal phenomena, the storm of the second burial scene might be re-interpreted as the outward expression of Antigone's state of mind. Thus, the chorus' diagnosis of her inner turmoil is not to be seen as a partisan judgement aligned with Creon's politics, but as a sincere, truth-revealing observation.

In conclusion, wind is a multifaceted symbol for disturbing forces and for mental turmoil. In particular, wind is connected to Antigone as a concrete representation of her imbalanced state of mind. Though her interpretation of the events is certainly sharper than the ones of most other characters, Antigone is so radical in her fight that she is bound to abandon any more balanced and inclusive point of view. On the contrary, she devotes herself to one side, the maternal, natural, chthonic, and deathly dimension, failing to reconcile it with the opposite sphere of the rational and of human conventions.


Selected References

Primary texts

Sophocles, Antigone: Greek text and English translation by H. Lloyd-Jones, Cambridge, MA and London, 1994-1996

Sophocles, Antigone: Greek text and commentary by M. Griffith, Cambridge, 1999

Secondary literature

Coppola, D. (2010). Anemoi: morfologia dei venti nell'immaginario della Grecia arcaica. Napoli

Cullyer, H. (2005). «A Wind That Blows from Thrace: Dionysus in the Fifth Stasimon of Sophocles' Antigone». Classical World 99.1: 3-20.

Goheen, R. F. (1951). The Imagery of Sophocles’ Antigone: A Study of Poetic Language and Structure. Princeton

Padel, R. (1994). In and Out of the Mind: Greek Images of the Tragic Self. Princeton

Segal, C. P. (1963). «Nature and the World of Man in Greek Literature». Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics 2.1: 19-53.

Segal, C. (1995). Sophocles' Tragic World: Divinity, Nature, Society. Norman Press.

Segal, C. (1999). Tragedy and Civilization: An Interpretation of Sophocles. Cambridge MA

Bianca Mazzinghi Gori is an Italian MA student at Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa. She studied at Warwick in 2017 during an Erasmus placement. Her main interest is ancient Greek Theatre. She has carried out research especially on Aristophanes and Menander, focusing on topics such as the emotions of the ancient Greeks. Warwick email: B.Mazzinghi-Gori@warwick.ac.uk. SNS email: bianca.mazzinghi@sns.it.


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