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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: SNS email:

November 15, 2017

(Un)dressing Eteocles: A performative approach to the Labdacids' Curse

This entry examines the conventions of performance and their symbolic meanings in the central scene in Aeschyus’ Seven Against Thebes. Specifically, I am interested in the physical and mental transformation of Eteocles when he dons his armour.

Until the central scene, the plot of the play revolves around the efforts of a powerful leader to save his city from his brother’s army. Suddenly, his mind changes: Eteocles decides to die in order to satisfy the conditions of his family’s Curse and equips his armour and weapons resisting the Chorus’ pleas to reconsider. Claiming that he can see the Curse giving him orders, he eventually leaves for the 7th gate where he and his brother Polyeneices find a mutual death.

Theatre of Dionysos, Athens

This sudden change of mind has been the centre of most of the academic works that look into the Seven. Indeed, scholars have been trying for years to find an explanation and they usually conclude that Eteocles is either losing his mind or he is simply realising the power of the Curse (Kirkwood 1969: 9-25, Lawrence 2007 :335-353 and Brown 1977:300-318). There is, however, one thing that most scholars seem to be overlooking: the importance of the metallic weapons and their appearance onstage. Indeed, the importance of the metallic element in the play is only fully revealed when we examine the text from a performative perspective. Specifically, this piece of research argues that metals are the materialised form of the Curse that dominates Eteocles’ body from within and leads him to his destruction.

Right after Eteocles hears that his brother is standing on the 7th gate, he requests that his greaves are brought to him (l.675). From that point onwards, the audience witnesses Eteocles’ change of mind taking place at the same time that he is equipping his weapons and putting on the pieces of armour one by one, following the fixed Iliadic arming sequence (Sommerstein: 2008:220-221, Bacon: 1964:36). What makes this action so important is the symbolical value of the costuming procedure as an onstage transformation of Eteocles into a metallic warrior.

Wherever metallic weapons had appeared previously in the play, the result had been destructive for Thebes: in the first episode, the sound of the enemies’ shields was used to infuse terror to the soul of the Chorus causing a conflict between them and Eteocles. This scene was followed by a 300-line long description of the crestsof the shields by the Messenger, where each crest served as a reflector of their owner’s personality (Zeitlin 1982:33, Chaston 2010:74-85). Thus, when in this scene the metals appear in front of the eyes of the audience and Eteocles suddenly decides that he should die next to his brother, we are led to interpret the arming as much more than mere war preparation: Eteocles is turning into a metallic warrior, a servant of the Curse.

It is during his arming that both the spectators and the Chorus witness Eteocles’ change and this change is linked to his armour more than once. “Why this mad passion child? Don’t let yourself be carried away by this spear-mad delusion”, the Chorus say in l.687-689 (All translations by Sommerstein: 2008). To their suggestion that he is being led by a harshly-stinging lust, Eteocles responds:

φίλου γὰρ ἐχθρά μοι πατρὸς †τελεῖ† Ἀρὰξηροῖς ἀκλαύτοις ὄμμασιν προσιζάνει...

"Yes, for the hateful <black[?]> Curse of the father who should have loved me sits close by me with dry, tearless eyes”.. (Sept. 695-697)

Eteocles resists the Chorus’ final attempts to bring him back to his senses claiming that he is τεθηγμένον (whetted), a word used to describe iron later in l.944. He also states that the Chorus are saying words a ‘ὁπλίτην’ (man-at-arms) should not listen to. The fact that he is using weapon terminology to describe himself reveals an inner sense of identification with the metal that has now become one with his flesh.

Indeed, after Eteocles’ death, iron will be identified as the executioner of the family’s Curse when we find out that Eteocles had had a dream about a Scythian stranger that would divide the land between him and Polyneices (Thalmann 1978:77-79):

ἄγαν δ᾿ ἀληθεῖς ἐνυπνίων φαντασμάτωνὄψεις, πατρῴων χρημάτων δατήριοι.

it was too true, what I saw in those dream-visions about the dividing of our father’s property.


πικρὸς λυτὴρ νεικέων ὁ πόντιοςξεῖνος ἐκ πυρὸς συθείς, θηκτὸς Σίδαρος· πικρὸς δὲ χρημάτων κακὸς δατητὰς Ἄρης, ἀρὰν πατρῴ-αν τιθεὶς ἀλαθῆ.

A harsh resolver of disputes is the visitor from the sea, who comes out of fire, whetted Iron, and harsh too is Ares, that evil divider of property, who has made the father’s curse come true. (Sept. 709-711 and 941-946).

Just like the dream had predicted, iron divides the land of the two brothers. The Curse Eteocles talks about is real and it makes a strong appearance onstage only to take Eteocles away with it.


Primary Sources:

SOMMERSTEIN, A.H. (2008), transl. Aeschylus; Persians, Seven Against Thebes, Suppliants, Prometheus Bound, Rev. ed. Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press).

Secondary Sources:

BACON, H. (1964), ‘The Shield of Eteocles’, Arion 3, pp. 27-38.

CHASTON, C. (2010), Tragic Props and Cognitive Function (Brill: Leiden).

THALMANN, W.G. (1978), Dramatic Art in Aeschylus's Seven Against Thebes (Yale University Press).

ZEITLIN, F. (1982), Under the Sign of the Shield (Lexington Books).

Emmy Stavropoulou is a second year PhD student in the department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Warwick. Her research looks into the ways in which imagery and metaphors of metals and metallurgy are employed in Archaic and Classical Greek literature, focusing on their connotations and significance in Greek culture and religion. At the moment, Emmy is working on the shield scene in l.375-675 of the Seven Against Thebes and the way in which the description of the shields compares to the creation of Achilles’ cosmic shield as described in Il.18.478-18.608.

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