The Dual


This is part of a synchroblog led by A. Venefica’s Weblog: Symbolic Meanings. See the end of the post for a list of other participants.Procne and Philomela - two other different but linked sisters

I realize I am taking a risk of immediately losing your attention by starting off my post with a grammar lesson, but the fact is that, in addition to a singular and a plural, ancient Greek also had a dual form. It was used for things that tend to come in pairs, like eyes or oxen. And in a couple of cases its use makes the reader pay close attention to the relationship between two people. Rather than showing great differences, it highlights the closeness of two people.

The two I am currently thinking of are Antigone and Ismene of Sophocles’ Antigone. Therein, Antigone is a pretty rebellious young woman committed to her ideals, regardless of whose feathers she ruffles, whereas Ismene’s ideals seem to be about ruffling as few feathers as possible. Ismene cannot envision how her actions might improve matters, whereas Antigone cannot imagine remaining passive. That the two sisters are only two had come about after the destruction of their house – most recently the deaths of their two brothers at each others’ hands. The two sisters are foils of each other, but what does this have to do with the dual, apart from, you know, reinforcing the bond they share and the pain of a shared fate being ripped from them.

The dual form is not used throughout, beginning, if I recall correctly, with Antigone’s description of their relationship. Its use ends when Antigone points out that each sister, in her own way, appeared noble to some people and Ismene responds, “And yet the error is the same for the both of us.” After she exits this scene, Ismene is silent. Antigone, on the other hand, finally gets her action, and dies her tragic death.

Duality is frequently used to enforce conceptions of opposites, being interested in women in Greek myths, myself, the genders female and male might have been expected. But from what I have been able to determine, those categories – if we choose to limit ourselves to two – simply do not work in a dual structure. My post, therefore, is meant as an invitation to consider duality as a way to explore 1) sameness and closeness, and 2) defining oneself within the truly unique context one lives in. Duality, here, highlights the shared experience of the two daughters of Iocasta and Oedipus, but it also shows how – in their very unique situation (really, how many of you have had a brother for a father and one of two dead brothers left out for dogs to eat?) – they make the choices that define them. Ismene takes up the role of the proper woman and lives in silence while Antigone, not in the least quietly, dies to honor the dead.

P.S. In case you don’t remember the play and want a short summary, you can read mine here.

Others participating in this month’s synchroblog include:

  1. Archetypes in duality (When Isis Rises)
  2. Is duality really a figment of your imagination? (Dream Builders)
  3. Duality and Beyond (Quaker Pagan Reflections)
  4. Duality – Love With Its Back Turned (Aquila ka Hecate)
  5. Seeing Number 11 and Symbolic Duality (Symbolic Meanings)
  6. On What Are These Things Woven Back And Forth?: Thoughts on Duality (ReligionThink)
  7. Jewish Duality vs. Dualism (Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism)
  8. Vertical Dualism of Mother Earth and Father Sky (Mythology Synchroblog 3) (Mythology Blog: Between Old and New Moons)
  9. Duality and Creativity (Starweaver’s Corner)
  10. Maybe: Pagan Thoughts on the Limits & Uses of Duality (FullCircle* Earthwise News and Notes)
  11. Looking Through the Kaleidoscope: Kitchen Thoughts on Duality or Not (Goddess in a Teapot)
  12. Duality Synchroblog (Bubo’s Blog)
  13. Samh and Geimh (Politics and Polytheism)


5 responses to “The Dual”

  1. The grammar lesson was fascinating to me and I loved the way you problematized the concept of duality in your examination of the sisters’ characters. Duality seems like a reductive construct that sets up the conditions for artificial tensions and limits our ability to understand. It seems like conceptual shorthand that serves the Western perspective. It would be interesting to see a reflection from the Eastern perspective using the same kind of rich examples you have used here.

  2. Hi … I like your article very much, and find your challenge intriguing. I read in one blog’s comments that someone thought love and hate were opposites. Then, I agreed with another who felt that love and fear were opposites. Love and hate are sisters, I think. And in this assertion, I can see the challenge in your post. Very cool stuff.


  3. One of my favorite parts of the play is the speech of Haemon to Creon on being flexible.

    “So don’t let your mind dwell on just one thought,
    that what you say is right and nothing else.
    A man who thinks that only he is wise,
    that he can speak and think like no one else,
    when such men are exposed, then all can see
    their emptiness inside. For any man,
    even if he’s wise, there’s nothing shameful
    in learning many things, staying flexible.”

    Loved the post!

  4. On the contrary, the Greek grammar lesson is what drew my attention. Thank you for these insights.

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