In Ancient Greece, life was full of complicated questions centered around the expanding field of science. Freedom of religion was encouraged to be exercised in the city-states and man was focused on more than the Gods or heavenly concerns. As a result many new ideals and beliefs surfaced. These new ideals and beliefs, though good in intentions, often conflicted with one another and created complex moral dilemmas. Such was the case in Sophocles play Antigone that was written in this era. In the play, Antigone and Creon battle a philosophical war concerning their ideals. They both base there actions on what they believe is right and wrong.
The conflict arose when their ideals that backed up their actions on the burial of Polyneices clashed, creating a contradiction between morals. Antigone’s side of the conflict held a much more divine approach, as opposed to the mundane path Creon chose to travel. Antigone feels that Creon is disregarding the laws of the heavens by ordering it unlawful for anyone to provide a proper burial for her brother Polyneices. Antigone’s opinion is one that supports the Gods and the laws of the heavens. Her reasoning is set by her belief that if someone were not given a proper burial, that person would not be accepted into heaven.
Antigone was a very religious person and the acceptance of her brother by the Gods was very important to her. Creons order was personal to Antigone and his edict invaded her family life as well as the Gods. An important ideal in Ancient Greece was the belief that the government was to have no control in matters concerning religious beliefs. In Antigone’s eyes, Creon betrayed that ideal by not allowing her to properly bury her brother, Polyneices. She believed that the burial was a religious ceremony, and Creon did not have the power to deny Polyneices that right. Antigone’s strong beliefs eventually led her to death by the hand of Creon.
Creon’s actions are guided by the ideal that man is the measure of all things. Creon believes that the good of man comes before the Gods. An example of Creons belief was the unburied body of Polyneices. Creon doesn’t want to give honor to a man who attempted to invade and conquer his city. He denies burial for Polyneices to show respect for Thebes. From this standpoint, Creons decisions for denying burial for Polyneices are completely just and supports the ideals. Creon’s reasoning’s coincide with the Greek ideals except for two that strongly contradicts his actions.
The first is that Creon exercises complete domination of political power. He defies this ideal by holding Antigone as his prisoner and not the publics. The people of Thebes supported Antigone but were too scared to do anything about it. Creon found out about this through his son Haemon. The second is freedom of religion. By denying Antigone to perform burial ceremonies for Polyneices, he is denying Antigone the ideal that supports freedom of religion. The contradictions between the beliefs of Antigone and Creon are strong throughout the play.
Neither of their arguments dominates the other even though they are both right and wrong at the same time. Antigone is following divine law while Creon is trying to protect the integrity of the city-state. In the end, Creon was convinced to set Antigone free after he weighed the factors and debated the ideals. But it was too late. The contradiction of ideals was the cause of Antigone’s, Haemons, and Megareus death. Both sides were just and all beliefs were supported. The downfall is that Creon had to decide the unanswerable, and determine right from wrong when there was no clear answer.
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Many dramatic theorists have documented their opinions of Sophocles’ tragic play Antigone. They have presented their interpretations as to the motives and moral character of Antigone and Creon. I will attempt to encapsulate the basic logic behind the arguments of the critics Brian Vickers, A. C. Bradley (who interprets Hegel), and H. D. F. Kitto, and venture my own humble opinion as to their validity. Brian Vickers clearly favors the character of Antigone. He challenges Hegel and Hegel’s view that both Creon and Antigone were essentially right in their beliefs.
Vickers ums up Hegel’s theories in a single diagram (Vickers 526), showing Creon and Antigone as forces in antithetical opposition. I believe that Hegel’s theories of tragedy, as explained by A. C. Bradley, encompass much more than a simple diagram. Hegel thought that Creon and Antigone represented these forces, but not necessarily that they were diametrically opposed. Hegel thought that the tragedy of Antigone was that the beliefs of Antigone and Creon forced them into opposition, because their beliefs were valid and just, though they did not go about practicing their beliefs in a valid and just manner.
Vickers presents the notion that Sophocles himself favored the character of Antigone, since Sophocles never criticized her. With this I must disagree; there were many aspects of Antigone’s character that Sophocles would not have included had he viewed her as above reproach. For instance, she is dreadfully overbearing and righteous. While Sophocles clearly showed he could paint the picture of a sympathetic character if he so chose in Oedipus the King, I believe that he deliberately made Antigone, frankly, a much more bitchy character than Oedipus.
Oedipus displays sympathy and is emotive in ways that Antigone simply isn’t, and hat makes Oedipus the King much more tragic than Antigone. Here, Oedipus demonstrates his compassionate nature when he tells the plague-stricken citizens of Thebes how he feels for their distress (Sophocles 48): Poor children! You may be sure I know All that you longed for in your coming here. I know that you are deathly sick; and yet, Sick as you are, not one is as sick as I. Each of you suffers in himself alone His anguish, not another’s; but my spirit Groans for the city, for myself, for you.
Oedipus will not be deterred in his search for the truth, no matter who tries to persuade him to abandon the quest (Sophocles 64): Oedipus: Do you know anything about him, Lady? Is he the man we summoned? Is that the man this shepherd means? Jocasta: Why think of him? Forget this herdsman. Forget it all. This talk is a waste of time. Oedipus: How can you say that, when the clues to my birth are in my hands? Jocasta: For God’s love, let us have no more questioning! Is your life nothing to you? My own is pain enough for me to bear. Oedipus: You need not worry. Suppose my mother a slave, and born of slaves: no baseness can touch you.
Jocasta: Listen to me, I beg you: do not do this thing! Oedipus: I will not listen; the truth must be made known. Oedipus’ conscious choice to pursue and accept his doom makes him a tragic figure. Bernard M. W. Knox, author of The Heroic Temper: Studies in Sophoclean Tragedy, points out that the hero has to choose between his doom and an alternative which if accepted would betray the hero’s own conception of himself, his rights, his duties, but in the end the hero refuses to yield; he remains true to himself, to his physis, that ‘nature’ which he inherited from his parents and which is his identity.
Therefore, one can see Oedipus’s unwavering insistence to uncover the truth about the urder of Laius, and then about himself, as proof of the hero’s resolute commitment to uphold his own nature. Oedipus’ unyielding quest for the truth fits his self image as a man of action, the revealer of truth, and the solver of riddles. Knox adds that the hero’s determination to act is always announced in emphatic, uncompromising terms. (Knox 22). Oedipus proclaims his intention of finding Laius’ killers by saying, Then once more I must bring what is dark to light. Sophocles 49). The hero cannot be swayed by threats nor reason; he will not capitulate.
Creon, after being accused by Oedipus of conspiring against the king, retorted, You do wrong when you take good men for bad, bad men for good. . . . In time you will know this well. (Sophocles 58). Oedipus, however, never learns in time; he remains unchanged. Oedipus, after his terrible self-mutilation, realizes that he treated Creon unjustly: Alas, how can I speak to him? What right have I to beg his courtesy whom I deeply wronged? Sophocles 70). But later, Creon has to remind Oedipus that he is no longer king when he starts issuing imperious commands such as: But let me go, Creon! ; Take ity on them; see, they are only children, friendless except for you. ; Promise me this, Great Prince, and give me your hand in token of it. ; No! Do not take them from me! (Sophocles 71).
The hero provided the ancient Greeks the belief that in some chosen person humanity is capable of superhuman greatness . . . hat a human being may at times magnificently defy the limits imposed on our will by the fear of public opinion, of community action, even of death, may refuse to accept humiliation and indifference and impose his will no matter what the consequences to others and to himself. Knox 60). This unyielding resolve to accept his doom, no matter what the consequences to others and to himself, to bestow meaning to his life, gives the hero a dignity, a nobility, and a grandeur that do not tarnish with the passage of time.
When he is most vulnerable, he is most noble. Knox 60). Antigone, meanwhile, has a certain dignity and nobility as well, but lacks the emotional punch of Oedipus because she doesn’t care how her circumstances and decisions affect others. She would feel hatred toward even a loved one who tried to stop her (Sophocles/Jebb pars. 29-30): Ismene: A hopeless quest should not be made at all. Antigone: If thus thou speakest, thou wilt have hatred from me, and will justly be subject to the lasting hatred of the dead. Antigone has one line which irks me in particular.
After being discovered while burying her brother’s body for the second time, Antigone is confronted by Creon, who reasons that A foe is never a friend–not even in death. To this, Antigone responds,Tis not my nature to join in hating, but in loving. (Sophocles/Jebb pars. 116-117). This seems like an outright lie, something that a more tragic figure like Oedipus would never tter. Antigone certainly demonstrates her nature to hate, when she condemns her sister even as Ismene shows Antigone love (Sophocles/Jebb pars. 123-126): Ismene: But now that ill besets thee, I am not ashamed to sail the sea of trouble at thy side.
Antigone: Whose was the deed, Hades and the dead are witnesses: a friend in word is not the friend that I love. Ismene: And what life is dear to me, bereft of thee? Antigone: Ask Creon; all they care is for him. Vickers says that Creon was lawful in decreeing that Polyneices not be buried, but this is the only issue that Creon is right about. He believes that Creon is repugnant to the reader, because Creon gloats over the future fate of the corpse. (Vickers 528). I must disagree again. Creon was never repugnant to me personally.
Had I been in his position, and a nephew of mine committed treason against my kingdom and killed my second nephew, I would have done much the same thing: let his corpse rot and be consumed by scavengers. Neither would being challenged by a willful, bratty child bring out my compassionate, loving side. Antigone feels a duty and a necessity to bury her brother Polyneices, but rarely does she mention any kind of suffering or loss. She seems concerned only with doing the righteous thing. Meanwhile, Creon makes his decree out of passion and anger, and that makes him more human to me than Antigone could ever be.
Antigone becomes distraught over her brother only when she discovers that he has ben re-buried, and it seems that her distress springs from her actions being undone; the fact that that action is burying Polyneices is only a coincidence. Vickers believes that Creon has a sadistic enjoyment of his brutality, (Vickers 531) such as when Creon challenges the guard who reports that Polyneices has been uried and threatens that guard with death if he does not uncover the culprit. I don’t see Creon as enjoying his threats here. I believe that he is furious at being disobeyed.
He is enraged that someone cannot see things the way he does: a traitor’s body should receive no special treatment. Vickers also says that Creon is especially angry at being challenged by a woman; to this, I say: so what? The traditional role of women in ancient Greek society, aside from the polis of Sparta which was the exception, was to stay indoors and raise children. It stands to reason that Creon would indeed be angrier at being opposed by Antigone, whose mission in life seems to be instigation anyway. I can definitely relate more closely to H. D. F. Kitto’s interpretation of the play.
Kitto believes that Creon is the main character, and that Sophocles deliberately portrays him as such. Creon has more dramatic forces deployed against him than Antigone, who only has to face Creon’s wrath. Creon’s tragedy grows before our very eyes, while Antigone’s doom is forseen and swift. (Kitto 127). The real conflict of the play, according to Kitto, is the gods against Creon. Unfortunately, Kitto goes on to say that Hegel’s view of Antigone is reposterous. Hegel says that something is seriously wrong with Antigone, while Kitto counters with the statement that only Hegel can tell us what Antigone’s blemish is (Kitto 129).
I have to agree with Hegel here. Antigone takes a principle, valid or not, and rams it down everyone’s throat with her words and deeds. She is a glory hound and a would-be martyr. She does not need to announce her deed, or be caught doing it; she chooses this course of action. She invades a camp of guards and manages to bury a body and leave no tracks. She surely must know that the body will be uncovered at some point, o why does she not consider her duty done after the first burial? Or, since she is so adept at sneaking around, why not remove the body and bury it somewhere it will never be discovered?
Did she intend to check the body every day to make sure it was still buried? Her actions are nonsensical and illogical unless they are specifically engineered to say, Here I am, the only one doing the right thing, so punish me! I am better than all of you! There in no loyalty to her brother in her behavior. On to Hegel: Macbeth is as far removed as possible from Antigone, but is still f one nature (Bradley 89) with it. The death of Macbeth is much less tragic than Antigone, because Macbeth wasn’t essentially a good man. Antigone was following the edicts of the gods in burying her brother and was doing rightly as far as she knew.
I would agree that Macbeth’s death is less tragic, yet I feel worse for him than I do for Antigone. At least Macbeth was an emotive, passionate man, not a righteous machine. Hegel believes that all other things in tragedies being equal, the tragedy with the hero as a good man is more tragic than as a bad. The more spiritual value, i. e. Antigone oing her deed for spiritual purposes, the more tragedy in conflict and waste. The more evil a character, the less tragic his circumstances. Moral evil diminishes the spiritual value of personality.
Because Antigone and Creon are trying to do what they feel is right at heart, their conflict has much stronger implications than the conflicts in MacBeth, since MacBeth was a murderer who wanted to ascend to the throne. Which is not to say that MacBeth isn’t a tragedy, because it is much more than just a conflict between good and evil. Hegel believes that ethical or universal ends and justice have nothing to do with atastrophe. A tragic action is a self-division, or internal conflict, and the catastrophe is the annulment of this division, but this is only half of Hegel’s ideas.
A catastrophe has two aspects, negative and affirmative. It is a power which is irresistible and inescapable, and negates anything incompatible with it. But if a catastrophe were only such an unintelligent, characterless force, it would invoke feelings of horror, with is not a feeling associated with tragedy (like pity and fear). It is also the source of our feelings of reconciliation. The catastrophe is the violent restitution of the ivided spiritual unity, and some sort of projection of the division in the hero.
So that there is some sort of paradoxical feeling in the inevitable death of the hero, when we die with him, yet exult or feel that his death means nothing. The hero escapes the power which killed him. Of the three critics and theorists, I relate to Hegel the most. He knows that Antigone and Creon are flawed beings, though they do what they feel is morally right. He realizes that they take their morality and let it become their personalities and define their actions, instead of just influencing them. And therefore, though worthy of sympathy, they re the masters of their fates, and choose their respective dooms.
Hegel believed that the tragedy of Antigone lies in the conflict between the rules of the state and the rules of man. It is unfortunate that these two forces must be in opposition, and therefore their practitioners or champions in this particular case have to be in opposition as well. I agree with this; the tragedy is in the circumstances that pit two essentially right forces against each other. The morality of the characters determines the course of the tragedy, and their personalities and convictions determine the emotional power for the reader.
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