To be buried was just as much of a sacred right in Ancient Greece as it is today in North America. What is being played out in real time in North Dakota with the desecration of Native burial sites is on the same level of Sophocles’ Greek Tragedy Antigone.
The Greek city state was viewed by citizens as the place of order needed for a civil society. Antigone had two brothers. One was a patriot named Eteocles and the other was a traitor named Polyneices. The patriot got a decent burial but the other brother, the traitor did not. Since Polyneices defied King Creon and the city state, naturally the audience was on the King’s side.
As the audience is dead set on the King’s side, Antigone makes a case to the King as to why her traitor brother should have a decent burial. This sets up a conflict within the viewer of the play. This places the viewer of the tragedy in an awkward position. On one hand the viewer wants law and order, but on the other Antigone’s plea is so powerful that the viewer also wants honor for the dead, all the dead.
Fast forward to the present. Those who are blocking the pipeline in North Dakota and seeking to save the sacred burial places are the Antigone of our time. We who hear about it are the viewers. The more the word gets out it will reach critical mass and Americans will experience the conflict as used as a literary device by Sophocles in Greek theater 2500 years ago. Antigone states to the King that his moralizing repels her and that death longs for the same rites for all.
America is ready to be torn. Many citizens of our country including the veterans are very upset at what is taking place with where the pipeline is going. Sure they want law and order but at what cost? Even the average farmer sympathizes. The whole point to the tragic hero is to evoke pity and fear in the viewer. So where do we, the viewer go from here?
Does this have to end as a tragedy? Is the narrative played out? Bilezikian’s The Liberated Gospel offers an interesting twist to all of this. It compares the Gospel of Mark to Greek Tragedy that flips to good news. Mark’s main character Jesus of Nazareth brings us pity and fear and seems as if it will end as a tragedy until Mark has a character known as the young man attest that he was raised from the dead.
The crestfallen followers of Jesus are suddenly moved from pity to freedom from self pity. Moved from fear to the freedom from the fear of death. If Antigone are those already resisting the pipeline, then maybe the stone will be knocked over and the fear and pity will leave. We, the viewer will do what we can to shut the thing down and restore the sacred burial sites and the water will flow and freedom will be once again be enjoyed in America in full civility and honor.
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