Saturday, April 05, 2014

Violent dust: Creon's state

εἷς γάρ τις ἦν ἕκαστος οὑξειργασμένος
κοὐδεὶς ἐναργήςἀλλ᾽ ἔφευγε μὴ εἰδέναι. (261-2)
every man was the culprit, none manifested it, but denied knowing.
The guard is describing the state of affairs after the discovery that the body of Polyneices has been ἠφάνιστο - hidden, veiled, sprinkled with a light veil of dust. The guard says this struck them - it was θαῦμα δυσχερὲς - a discomforting amazement, or more literally, a wonder hard to handle.

They immediately assume it had to be one of their number. Not knowing who, all fall under suspicion, but hard evidence is lacking. After nearly coming to blows, they resolve to report the event, but with great reluctance, because as the voluble guard says,

τὰ δεινὰ γάρ τοι προστίθησ᾽ ὄκνον πολύν
terrible news imposes great hesitation.

Creon invites him to free himself:

οὔκουν ἐρεῖς ποτ᾽εἶτ᾽ ἀπαλλαχθεὶς ἄπει;
Then tell it, will you, and so unburdened go away?

Of course as soon as he tells the news, the guard is anything but "unburdened." Creon, with Nixonic paranoia, fixes on him, assumes a city-wide conspiracy, chalks it up to bribery, and demands that the culprit(s) be found and stoned to death. If not found, the guard will be hung alive:

ὅρκιος δέ σοι λέγω
εἰ μὴ τὸν αὐτόχειρα τοῦδε τοῦ τάφου 
εὑρόντες ἐκφανεῖτ᾽ ἐς ὀφθαλμοὺς ἐμούς
οὐχ ὑμὶν Ἅιδης μοῦνος ἀρκέσειπρὶν ἂν 
ζῶντες κρεμαστοὶ τήνδε δηλώσηθ᾽ ὕβριν

I tell you on my oath: 

If you do not find the very hand (αὐτόχειραthat made this burial, 
and reveal (ἐκφανεῖτ᾽him before my eyes, 
mere death shall not suffice for you, not before, 
hung up alive, you have made this outrage plain.

An enemy of the state has been honored by dust in direct violation of decree. The absence of reliable knowledge is intolerable, as is the suggestion that the dust somehow involved the gods. The need to fill that emptiness turns to paranoia and threats of torture. The omma deina -- "terrible eyes" of Creon will use violence to force speech to occur. And when the messenger does reveal (ἐκφανεῖτ᾽) the doer, the violence doesn't evaporate; rather, it is displaced to the accused.

The passage turns on the ability to see, as in the play of ἠφάνιστο and ἐκφανεῖτ᾽, veiled and unveiled. To have intelligence of who did the veiling and why, one must search and if need be torture those connected with the act, however randomly. And this guard is randomly connected:
someone spoke up and made us all bend our faces [270] in fear towards the earth. For we did not know how we could argue with him, nor yet prosper, if we did what he said. His argument was that the deed must be reported to you and not hidden. This view won out, and so it was that [275] the lot doomed miserable me to win this prize.
Mere chance links this guard with the act of veiling the enemy, but Creon will torture him anyway if the doer is not found. This is the way of intelligence.

The guards are reluctant to tell Creon, but they do, and it's the right thing to do. Creon hears the guard's story and could see in it, if he looked, a perfect analog of his own situation. He will now suspect everyone, nearly come to blows, before finding the miscreant. What he will not do is take the whole matter to a higher authority - to Tiresias, who's been advising him, or to Delphi. As far as Creon is concerned, the buck stops here. He's the buckstopper, the one and only. And that's the problem: the question of whether what Antigone has done is in fact a crime disappears, replaced by the fact that she disobeyed Creon. To the extent Creon substitutes himself for dialectical inquiry and claims absolute authority, the entire matter shifts from a dialog regarding eternal vs. civil laws to an entombed monologue about obedience to the ruler.

By seeking to halt dialogue, a dialectical search for what's true and good in this matter, Creon has proven to be exactly what Haemon will call him: a childish fool who listens to no one but himself. This stony solipsism is empty, Haemon notes. It's also madness, a substitution of violence for speech, arbitrary accusation for exchange of understanding. Neither the ruler nor the state knows all. It can protect its interests, but to punish those no longer capable of harming those interests defines the opposite of intelligence.

In the tightly woven web of Sophocles' words, this putting out of light, φάος, the root of both hiding and revealing, ἠφάνιστο and ἐκφανεῖτ᾽, is not just a sprinkling of dust. As the chorus will sing in the 3rd choral ode, this dust cuts, and is stained with blood and madness.

νῦν γὰρ ἐσχάτας ὕπερ 
600ῥίζας  τέτατο φάος ἐν Οἰδίπου δόμοις
κατ᾽ αὖ νιν φοινία θεῶν τῶν νερτέρων 
ἀμᾷ κόνις λόγου τ᾽ ἄνοια καὶ φρενῶν ἐρινύς.
Here the light stretched
over the final roots of Oedipus' house,
and the bloody dust due to the gods below
has cut it down—that and the folly of speech
and Fury of mind.

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