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“Antigone,” Sophocles

One commentator has argued in “Antigone” that Antigone’s “view of what is right is as twisted as that of Creon.” Although I do not believe that either Antigone’s or Creon’s view is “twisted,” I do believe that their fate is a direct result of their extreme pride and stubbornness. In “Antigone,” Sophocles examines the conflict between the requirements of human and divine law that is centered on the burial of Polynices, Antigone’s brother and Creon’s nephew. On the issue of the burial, their views are opposed and they each believe that one is right and the other is wrong.

The views of Antigone and Creon are opposed, and they both possess the same stubborn belief in their own righteousness. This ultimately brings them both to their tragic fate. At first we believe that Creon acts from sincere, patriotic and unselfish motives, and that he is acting out of a sincere belief that his decision is best for the state. This is shown in the first episode (lines 163 – 331), where Creon hopes to be a wise and good ruler. Later on we learn that he is too inflexible and narrow to heed criticism or admit fault, and that this causes all the misery in his life. The same is true of Antigone. She appears to be a very compassionate individual in the prologue; however, later on we learn that she is also stubborn and unwilling to bend in her beliefs, which ultimately leads her to her tragic fate.

We come to know of Antigone’s plan to bury her brother in the prologue. She confides to Ismene that she knows of Creon’s edict, but that she intends to defy it. At Ismene’s protests of not defying the king’s orders, Antigone states that there are higher obligations to the dead and the gods. She points out (lines 85 – 91): “I will bury him myself, and even if I die in the act the death will be a glory. I will lie with the one I love and loved by him – an outrage sacred to the gods! I have longer to please the dead than please the living here: in the kingdom down below I will lie forever. Do as you like, dishonor the laws the gods hold in honor.” Antigone feels it is her duty to bury her brother and is in her view fulfilling a higher law. She believes that she is acting according to her religious duty and that she cannot dishonor the laws the gods have established. Here Antigone appears to be a selfless and compassionate individual, willing to risk her life in order to provide her brother his sacred rights. We feel compassion and sympathy towards her, since she is willing to stand for her religious beliefs and risk her life in the process.

In the second episode, Creon’s Sentry captures Antigone at Polynices’ graveside. When Antigone is brought before Creon, she proudly admits that the Sentry’s recount of the story is true and that she buried Polynices. Creon suspects that Ismene, Antigone’s sister, is also involved. However, Antigone contemptuously recounts her sister’s earlier refusal to assist him. In this scene, Antigone is shown to be a woman with extreme pride, arrogance, and stubbornness. She states again and again that she is just following the dictates of the gods and is not willing to listen to Creon’s logic. When Ismene is brought in, Antigone treats her with contempt and appears very harsh. This shows a very inflexible and hard character.

We are introduced to Creon in the first episode. Creon views that the laws of the state as the highest laws, and therefore decrees that the traitor Polynices should not be given a burial. He believes in the principle that the state will honor those who are loyal to the state, and punish the ones that are traitors. He states, “Whoever places a friend above the good of his own country, he is nothing: I have no use for him.” Here in his opening speech, Creon appears to be a wise and just ruler, wanting to always keep the interests of the state and the people foremost in his mind. His edict is from the most honorable of motives, wanting to keep the higher interests of the state. Although Polynices is his nephew, he keeps an objective view and refuses his burial as an example to others that would be traitors of the state. At the end of the scene, we notice how quickly his tone changes when he discovers that his authority has been disobeyed. He threatens the Sentry with death if he does not find the criminals who buried Polynices. Here Creon is revealed to be a man of high ideals but of immense pride and self-righteousness.

In the third scene, Haemon tells his father that the people of the city feel it would be better to spare Antigone. Creon resists his son’s interference and a heated argument ensues between them. Haemon states (lines 794 – 797): “No it’s no disgrace for a man, even a wise man, to learn many things and not to be too rigidI’m young, I know, but let me offer this: It would be best by far, I admit, if a man were born infallible, right by nature. If not – and things don’t often go that way, it’s best to learn from those with good advice.” Creon gets very angry at Haemon’s advice and says (lines 847 – 848): “You’ll suffer for your sermons, you and your empty wisdom.” Here we see how again how proud Creon is. His pride makes him very inflexible and unwilling to listen to the advice of others. He insists on his own way and is angered easily by those who do not heed his rulings.

Creon’s pride and inflexibility is shown again in the fifth episode, Tiresias, the blind prophet warns Creon that the Gods are angry about Polynices’ burial. However, Creon still does not heed his warning. Creon again shows his inflexibility and his inability to listen that someone else could be right and he wrong. He states (lines 1145 – 1149): “Old man – all of you! So, you shoot your arrows at my head like archers at the target – I even have him loosed on me, this fortune teller.” He cannot admit that he is wrong and that there may be a higher law than that of the state. When he finally realizes his error, he goes to correct his mistake, but we see that it is too late, and that his whole family has suffered for his pride and inflexibility.

It is tough to debate the positions of both Antigone and Creon. For Antigone to defy the laws of the state in order to bury her brother shows that she has courage. However, does her effort to accomplish her task reflect that courage? While Antigone builds courage, she acts very immature in building it. Courage is an innate quality something that comes from the heart, a driving force to persevere in the face of adversity. In the beginning of the play, Antigone had the heart and perseverance. However, during the play her stubborn behavior gradually surfaces through her heart and perseverance, because she was thinking of giving her brother a funeral. She put her religious duty above the laws of the state, but more importantly she put her religious duty above her brother. When Antigone received her penalty for violating Creon’s law, she felt proud to accept it. Her pride was more important than her brother, and she thought she would die a hero. Her overall character, however, debases the true meaning of the word.

Meanwhile, Creon is praised for his belief that anyone who betrays his city should be dishonored. In the early stages of the play, he points out (lines 231 – 234): “Never at my hands will the traitor be honored above the patriot.” In itself, this point would make Creon a wise and ethical ruler. However, when we look beyond this point, we see Creon is not the wise and ethical ruler that people view him as. The people of the state are first and foremost to Creon, but the pride of being a ruler is really first and foremost to Creon. The laws Creon proposes to the people show that the people are not his major concern, only himself. He thinks that he knows everything better than everyone, and his laws will make the citizens of Thebes better people. However, he fails to understand that the citizens of Thebes can make themselves better people by developing characteristic traits from within.

Both Antigone and Creon are wrong because of their pride; however, their views are not “twisted.” They believed their pride was superior to everything, and it blinded them from their reasons for their actions.

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