In Antigone, especially with the feminist movement now holding the title character, as prototypical downtrodden woman, the king Creon is often villified. While accepting the fact that Creon has misogynist tendencies, the gender issues can cause the pure argument of validity of actions, to fall by the wayside. So supposing for a moment, that Antigone’s rebellion had been undertaken by a male, would Creon’s choices have been different. Did he choose such harsh punishment and intractable course because Antigone was a woman As I read him, this is not the case. He has made a value judgement as to who is traitor and who is worthy.
He has made a secondary judgement as to the rights of traitors, and the need of the people to know the consequences of traitorous acts. While one may disagree, with the value judgements he has made, as king he is well within his rights, indeed his obligation, to rule according to what he believes best at the time. Outcomes are not always the best vantage point from which to judge a man. Creon did not have the advantage the reader has of seeing final outcomes, indeed we must remember these outcomes were contrived by Sophocles, to illustrate his point of view.
Is it not conceivable that in real life, these outcomes are far from assured, indeed a bit preposterous ? So then to summarize, Creon simply made his best decision, and that decision was with in his right to rule as the recognized sovereign. On the surface, Antigone is the classic tragic hero, it is she that Sophocles wants us to be drawn to. It is Creon against who he stacks the cards. A writer’s value judgement, nothing more. So then, once more assuming Antigone is a male instead, are her or his actions noble or foolhardy, and irresponsible.
While on the surface it appears noble to risk death for a principle, is it really ? Aren’t relationships more important than principles ? Much is made of Creon sentencing his own son’s fiance to death, did she not by her foolhardy, kneejerk reaction sentence herself. Where is her consideration for her husband to be ? And her sister, who has lost so much, and now clings to her so desparately, is rebuffed and dismissed as not worthy of the glorious Antigone. Her actions seem motivated as much by a personal desire for vainglory, than for moral principle.
She will die on her sword, no matter this issue or another. She seems a pulpit thumper of the highest order. Creon, on the other hand, shows flexibility after his initial intractable course. When confronted by the gods, with the error of his thinking, he is ready to adjust and relent, for a king, this is remarkable humility. How often, do we see Clinton or other modern politicians run to admit their wrongs? Others show no faith in the king’s ability to reassess, and at last come to the proper decision.
It is their rashness that is to blame for their own demise. Justice has always come about slowly, Martin Luther King recognized this, Gandhi recognized this. People of tolerance and patience, while they may participate in acts of civil diobedience, are seldom rash or foolhardy. Even hunger strikes, such as Chavez, are often more for expediency than a sincere death wish. Antigone had a death wish, a noble death at all costs, to be immortalized in strident conflict. Silly, I think.
Does taking a stand sometimes involve death ? Yes, of course. The times in which it does must be carefully considered, and the feelings of those to be left behind, protected and considered. Does Antigone ever consider, really consider her sister’s pain at all ? Dietrich Bonhoffer is a historical example of defiance to a state resulting in loss of his life. It was never about glory for him, and his choice was the result of the understanding that Nazi philosophy would result in untold suffering for millions. Not the pompous bleating over one unburied body, a traitorous body at that.
Sometimes the needs of the many do outweigh the concerns of the one. A wise ruler makes that value judgement often, especially in war time. Those who value principle over their own life, must assess the costs to their relationships, the import of the issues for which they sacrifice not only their own life, but the future happiness of those who love and value them. Martyrdom in itself is no virtue. Perhaps Sophocles is giving us a hint into the flawed character of Antigone, the etymology of her name is ” contrary birth ” .
As she is led away by the guards she alludes to her family, and their role in her doom. She has made the choice, but still ever the victim, blames her dysfunctional roots. She seems to me the penultimate in egocentricity, lost in her glorious cause, to hell with what those who love me, need. She blames Creon, she blames her family, she puts down poor Ismene, who truly loves her, she ignores the needs of her betrothed. Yet, she bemoans her own cruel fate ? Sorry, just don’t buy it.
Her better course of action in my mind was to patiently buck the system, hold her principles, yet compromise them when the higher law of love for others should have guided her. She speaks of higher laws than civil laws, yet can’t recognize that there are yet even higher ones, the laws of love. Creon, having come late to the right decision, ready to relent, is now faced with the multiple tragedies, and predictibly blames himself. His decision did not have the initial benefit of knowing the rashness of the subject Antigone.
In Machiavellian logic, his decision was to instill fear in his subjects, fear over the consequences of treason. The outcomes turned out in tragic fashion, yet with less impulsive responders, can see different outcomes. So then, while I recognize the character defects inherent in Creon. I respect his taking seriously the ruling of his people, and recognize the complexity of the issues he was dealing with. Antigone, can be immortalize as one of the first females to challenge authority. And gender issues aside, for I grant the misogyny of Creon, his actions to me as far more defensible than Antigone’s.