The play entitled Antigone was written by a man named Sophocles, a scholarly author of philosophy and logic. The play Antigone is probably one of the most prominent interpretations of a tragic drama. The two main characters of the play are Antigone and Creon. There is much conflict between Antigone and Creon throughout the play, both of them having their own ideas and opinions regarding divine law versus human law. The theme that I am going to analyze is the conflict of divine law vs. human law. The reason for this is because this theme seems to control the whole play. It is an issue of which law is the “right” law, and if Creon’s and Antigone’s acts were justifiable.
The play Antigone can be summarized by the following: King Creon lets it be known that Polyneices the traitor is not to be buried, but his sister Antigone defies the order because of the values she holds. She is caught, and sentenced by Creon to be buried alive – even though she is to be married to his son Haemon. After the blind prophet Tiresias proves that the gods are on Antigone’s side, Creon changes his mind – but too late. He goes first to bury Polyneices, but Antigone has already hanged herself. When Creon arrives at the tomb, Haemon attacks him and then kills himself. When the news of their death is reported, Creon’s wife Eurydice takes her own life. Creon ends up being all alone due to the fact that his family members took their own lives. Creon blames himself for all of these tragedies occurring, mainly because it was his wrong doings that caused them.
The concept of divine law can be described as the law of God. Divine law involves morals and beliefs that are presented by God. Charles Segal describes the idea of divine law as being the “unwritten laws of the Gods” (Sophocles 64). This type of law is most likely in effect when the idea of morals are apparent, such as when a moral decision must be made. This type of decision would probably be considered right or wrong. Divine law is not only in decisions, but also in the everyday actions of people. Things that are morally “right” are in accordance with the law of God, while things that are morally “wrong” tend to be actions that go against the law of God. Divine law may not apply to those who do not believe in God. Even those who do believe in God may not follow this type of law because they do not think that this law will have any type of impact upon their lives. Most people are very skeptical about whether or not the laws of god are truly upheld.
Human law is the type of law that is set up to govern the land and the community. As it is stated on the internet site, Encyclopedia.com, human law can be characterized as “rules of conduct of organized society, enforced by threat of punishment” (Encyclopedia.com “law”). Human law is usually set up by the head of a community or by the governors of the land. This type of law is normally enforced by people known as officers or guards. They make sure that the law of the land is followed accordingly. There are people in communities that do not follow the laws that are put into effect by humans. This is apparent in the play Antigone, when Antigone herself disobeys a law that was set up by King Creon, a law that went against the beliefs she held towards the law of the Gods.
The issues between Antigone and Creon is what the whole play is basically all about. Charles Paul Segal wrote in his essay “Sophocles’ Praise of Man and the Conflicts of the Antigone” that:
The characters, like the play itself, have many levels which fuse organically, sometimes indistinguishably, into a complex unity; and here the confrontations of the two protagonists create an ever-ramifying interplay between interlocking and expanding issues (62).
The issues that Antigone and Creon have between them are what ties this whole play together, and the theme is also developed with the use of their issues between each other and what they believe in.
Both Antigone and Creon have their own ideas of what is “right” and what is “wrong”. This is to say that we should not make assumptions about whether or not something is right or wrong, unless the answer to that is apparently clear. Antigone believed that the actions she took were done for the right reason, because they adhere to the law of the Gods. In opposition to that, Creon believes that the actions he had taken were in fact the right ones, because he believed that Polyneices was a traitor to the land, and that anyone who should give him a proper burial would suffer the penalty of death. So, the actions that were taken by both of them individually were the right ones, in their own minds at least.
Antigone, in her plan to give her brother Polyneices a proper burial, kept in mind the consequences that she would suffer for having followed through with the plan. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Antigone does not obey the human law that is set up by King Creon, it just means that this particular rule conflicted with the law of the Gods, something that Antigone believes highly in obeying, especially when it deals with her family. Antigone disregards the Olympian Justice that governs the land and also presides over the set laws that make civilized life attainable (Segal “Antigone” 172).
Antigone goes up against human law, by burying her brother Polyneices, knowing well that she will have to sacrifice her own life. She does this only because it is morally and ethically right, and this is why she stakes her life based upon her strong beliefs (Segal “Sophocles” 65). Charles Segal says in “Sophocles’ Praise of Man and the Conflicts of the Antigone”:
She chooses the divine command over the human compulsion, and rejects life with it’s compromises for the absolutes of death. Indeed, in her terms these absolutes are, paradoxically, just the things that live always (64).
To Antigone, divine law is of more importance than human law. She bases herself on following the law that is set by the Gods. Antigone views morals and values very highly. Antigone meant well when she did what she did, but maybe she should have let the Gods vindicate their own laws (Waldock 111).
By the end of the play Antigone is exonerated for having buried her brother Polyneices and also for going against the law that was set by Creon. Even though she had been excused for her actions, she still lost her own life and the lives of people close to her (Segal “Sophocles” 63). This is one of the reasons why the play Antigone has been referred to as one of the most influential Greek tragedies written. This is truly a tragedy, and this never would’ve happened if only King Creon hadn’t made up the law that nobody could bury Polyneices because he was a traitor. There was much conflict in this play, particularly between Antigone and Creon, over the matter of divine law vs. human law. Sometimes it is not possible or feasible to obey and follow both of these sets of laws, unwritten or not.
Now, let’s view this situation regarding King Creon’s side of the conflict. There is not much “right” on the side of Creon throughout the play. Creon seemed to be content with his actions, though morally unacceptable in the area of divine law. The only thing Creon had done was to set up a law in his community. Even though this law was broken by Antigone, Creon was very narrow-minded with his decision to sentence her to death. He could have looked more at her side, to better understand why she did what she did, but instead he acted more stubborn and therefore stood his ground (Segal “Sophocles” 63).
According to Waldock in his essay, “Romantic Tragedy: The Antigone”, he states the following in regards to who is right or wrong:
There is no question, then, as to theory: Antigone’s view of the matter is the right one, Creon’s view of it is the wrong. Creon has offended against a human decency, has violated a recognized fitness (110).
This is only one person’s point of view on the whole situation, so there are other people who have differing opinions towards the matter. If fully analyzed, we can see that this assumption is a very good one, or that it is a better theory than other one’s that can be conjured up. Sophocles was trying to make the readers think that way also, by coming to the conclusion that what Antigone did was right and what Creon did was wrong, according to the unwritten law of the Gods.
Towards the end of the play, a blind prophet named Teiresias went to Creon and informed him of his wrong doings. Teiresias told Creon that his actions would result in terrible things that are going to come back to him. He said that Creon would end up paying back for his actions against Antigone and also Polyneices. Creon finally ends up attempting to reverse what he had done, sort of redeeming himself with the Gods (Segal “Antigone” 169). He understood that it would be bad and foolish to risk everything for stubborn pride. He decided to undo what he had done by quickly building a tomb for the body of Polyneices and also by freeing Antigone from the vault where she was taken to die. He went first to build the tomb for Polyneices’ body and then he went to release Antigone. When he got to Antigone, it was too late. Antigone’s dead body was accompanied by Creon’s son Haemon, who lunged a sword at his father and missed, and then took his own life. When Creon’s wife Eurydice heard of what had happened, she too took her own life, leaving King Creon alone in life without any other living people that are close to him.
A.J.A. Waldock, in his work entitled “Romantic Tragedy: The Antigone”, he makes a good analysis regarding Creon, it saying:
Cunning beyond fancy’s dream is the fertile skill which brings him, now to evil, now to good. When he honours the laws of the land, and that justice which he hath sworn by the gods to uphold, proudly stands his city: no city hath he who, for his rashness, dwells with sin. Never may he share my hearth, never think my thoughts, who doth these things (qtd. in Waldock “Sophocles” 113)
This quote speaks about Creon and what type of person he is after having done what he did. It is saying that Creon is filled with sin. He honors the laws of the land but he doesn’t acknowledge the laws of the Gods who swore him into that position. This could also be saying that Creon is somewhat of a hypocrite, which is not a very good quality. In a way, Creon courted his own ruin, so he deserves what he gets.
In conclusion, it seems that Antigone’s side of this whole conflict was more “right” than wrong. Antigone was only following what she believed in, by giving her brother Polyneices a proper burial despite what the human law set up by Creon had specifically stated. There should be a point where both sides, divine law and human law, should be looked at with an open mind, because many times conflict occurs over which side should be taken. I believe that divine law should be highly regarded, but I also believe that the laws set up by man should be acknowledged and followed, with the exception of foolish laws that are set up, such as the law that King Creon made up. One must carefully weigh out divine law and human law if they are put in a situation where one of the sides must be taken. My conclusion is that Antigone was right for having buried her brother, and that Creon was wrong for even making up this law with the penalty of death.