It takes a lot of courage to stand up and defend an action or idea that is forbidden by society. This is what Antigone does in Sophocles’ story Antigone. She clearly disobeys King Creon’s order that no person should bury Antigone’s brother, Polynices, which is punishable by penalty of death. In this case, though, is Antigone’s decision the correct one? Her actions affect many of her other countrymen negatively; they cause problems within the royal family, disagreement among the people and directly relate to the death of three people including her own.
By burying her brother Antigone knowingly and willingly went against royal orders and in doing so chooses her own death. She knows as well as anyone in the town that death would come to all that disobeyed Creon’s order. Antigone says to this “no one will ever convict me for a traitor (page 61),” and decides to bury the body, this is quite ironic because by burying her brother a traitor is exactly what she is convicted of being. Antigone’s activities were traitorous against her homeland, Thebes in that she acted for herself instead of for the good of the country.
Creon had declared that “Our country is our safety. Only while she voyages true on course can we establish friendships truer than blood itself. Such are my standards. They make our city great (page 68). ” He says this meaning that if everyone acted as a whole they would always prosper. If someone were to go against go against the laws and ideals put forth by Creon it would only cause dissension. When Antigone did go against the law this exactly what happened.
Chaos would not have ensued if she trusted her king to be right in his decision, just as all the townspeople and her sister Ismene did. Creon also had stated that one should not place a friend, in this case a brother, in front of one’s country. One could say that Antigone is selfish in her pursuits of doing so, for although Polynices was Antigone’s brother, he was planning to loot and destroy Thebes if he was victorious in overtaking it. Further evidencing this idea, Polynices also killed Antigone’s other brother Eteocles who was faithful to Thebes until his death defending it.
Being that this is the case then why would Creon agree to a burial of a traitor who with a foreign army invaded his homeland killing his own brother and would have sold his fellow countrymen into slavery. Antigone response to this is that she wants to bury her brother because that is the unwritten law of the gods, but Creon’s decision is in light of his belief in those same gods, for the gods never respect a traitor. It must seem inconceivable to Creon that the gods would ever want a traitor like Polynices buried, let alone with the same ceremony as his brother Eteocles.
Creon believes in the gods of the country and he is sure that he is acting in the best interest of Thebes. For if he had decided to bury Polynices it would show him and his country as being week. It would send a message that Thebes is a country that honors its traitors. This could put the country in jeopardy of another attack. One can argue that it is hypocritical for Antigone to walk knowingly into her death when in the previous story Oedipus at Colonus she begged Polynices not to go to war when he knew that he would die fighting Eteocles.
Now her sister Ismene is doing the same thing by begging her not to act foolishly. Antigone could have easily prayed for Polynices at her lonesome, and many catastrophes would have been averted. Antigone, however reflecting the stubbornness of her father Oedipus fails to see the flaws in her thinking. She also must have known, or was unable to see through her clouded mind, that whatever she was to accomplish by burying her brother was sure to be erased. More specifically as soon as the body was buried, Creon would decree that it should be uncovered.
Would it be worth it for her to risk her life just so that her brother could be buried for a short amount of time? Antigone does not care about dying for her dead brother and to this she says “and it even if I die in the act, that death will be a glory. I will lie with the one I love and loved by him- (page 63). ” It would be quite likely though that her body would fall under the same order, as Polynices’, that no one shall be allowed to bury it after she became deceased. If this came to be who would give her the proper burial being that she has no children and is not married.
She could be very well ruining her own afterlife in trying to save her brother’s. Polynices she also fails to see is already in trouble with the gods for his wrongs on earth, and will most likely be punished by them. This could bring about the possibility that she might never get the chance to be reunited with her brother in during an afterlife in Hades. Antigone’s decision to bury her brother caused harm to many people. First she tried to convince her sister Ismene to help her. She did this by trying to make Ismene feel guilty if she did not; stating it was Ismene’s brother too.
She says after Ismene tells her she is on a hopeless quest “If you say so, you will make me hate you and the hatred of the dead, by all rights, will haunt you day and night (page 64). ” This threat brings Antigone farther apart from the only living family member that she has left. She has her mind set so much on burying her brother that she will stop at nothing, not even threatening her opposing sister to do it. Since Ismene has been through the same hardships as Antigone and is just now starting to put her life back together it is understandable why she would not want to go on this suicide mission.
She would be sacrificing her own body for her brother’s dead one. After Antigone carries out with the deed Ismene now feels responsible to die with Antigone. This sense of responsibility is probably the result of Antigone’s earlier threats and Ismene’s fear of being without any family. When Ismene tries to also accept the blame for the crime Antigone will not let her. Ismene then asks Antigone “what do I care for life without you. Antigone replies “Ask Creon. Your concern is all for him. ” Even when she knows that her fate is sealed Antigone is still mocking her sister who cares for her immensely.
She believes that anyone who obeyed Creon’s law worships him instead of the gods. Furthermore, Antigone besides causing her own death also brings forth the demise of the whole royal family who she also bears relations to. Haemon who is her cousin and soon to be husband opposes his father Creon, who is Antigone’s uncle, in his decision to have Antigone put to death. Haemon revolts against his father and attempts to save Antigone, but when finding her dead kills himself. His mother kills herself in light of the news of her dead son.
When Creon hears of these tragedies he is struck with sadness and leaves his country to mourn for the rest of his life. Because of Antigone’s family pride for a family, which has more than its share of trouble and hardships, more of her family suffers. Antigone’s weird sense of family pride reaches its extreme when being taken to her tomb she says, “Never I tell you. If I had been the mother of children or if my husband died, exposed and rotting- I’d never taken this ordeal upon myself, never defied our people’s will (page 105).
Her reasoning behind this statement is that a husband and a child are replaceable, where as a brother since both of her parents are dead is not. What she did though was not saving her brother’s life it was just giving him a proper burial. Her deep love of her departed brother also ended up taking her away from her sister who is still alive. Antigone, it could be said ran out of her courageousness from her actions and words in the final parts of the story. In her final speech she appeals for sympathy to the city, when previously she had always put the gods before the city.
Land of Thebes, city of all my fathers- O you gods, the first gods of the race! They drag me away now no more delay. Look on me, you noble sons of Thebes- The last of a great line of kings, I alone, see what I suffer now At the hands of what breed of men- All for reverence my reverence for the gods! In all of her prior arguments with Creon and Ismene she had always spoke as if she was unaware of all the rights and duties she had as a citizen of the city. She had always spoken as if no larger unit than the family had existed.
Now her position is similar to Creon’s during his opening speech, that the demands of the city take precedence over all others, both for the living and the dead. Once again it can be said that she shows weakness in then end when she decides to hang herself. She does not accept her full punishment of being forced to live in the tomb, but takes the easy way out and kills herself. This almost an acceptance of defeat to Creon showing she was not willing to go forth with her punishment. Antigone’s decision to carry through with the burial of her brother Polynices brought forth no seeable good.
Only more catastrophe and chaos struck a family to which they are no strangers. If Antigone had put the good of her countrymen before her deceased brother, the situation could have turned out to benefit all of Thebes. The city would have had its sense of pride back after fending off the traitor Polynices’ army. Instead the hardships which have plagued Thebes for years continued on. Individualistic ideas and actions can be very beneficial in many circumstances, but when they put the well being of the community in danger, as Antigone’s did in Antigone they lose there value.