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If you're familiar with Sophocles' play Antigone, you may remember Ismene as a passive, law-abiding worrywart who refuses to help her sister bury their dead brother Polyneices. Ismene instead appeals to Antigone's sense of civic obedience, which Antigone has no problem flouting. Eventually Antigone gives up trying to persuade her sister into helping her, and eventually she announces, "I would not want you as a partner if you asked." Ismene still promises to keep Antigone's civil disobedience a secret, but Antigone demands she "shout it out" and let the whole city know of her holy deed. Later on, when Antigone gets caught red-handed, Ismene tries to share the blame but Antigone, apparently disgusted, refuses to let her take part in her guilt.

For about 2,400 years, Ismene has been interpreted as the shameful coward to her sister's proud martyr, and her claim that she helped her sister has been consistently read as a lie, or a show of solidarity at best. But Dr. Bonnie Honig of Northwestern University wrote in 2009 a paper that radically reorganized my own understanding of Ismene's character and makes me wonder if we've all just been incredibly blind in our reading.

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