While it is likely that Oedipus Rex is the only character who completely embodies Aristotle’s idea of a tragic hero, there are many characters who possess enough of his defined characteristics to qualify as the tragic hero of their respective drama. Creon, the King of Thebes in Sophocles’ Antigone, is one such character. A noble and relatively virtuous man who loses everything he has as a result of his excessive pride, Creon experiences a revelatory manifestation moments too late to undo his wrongdoing, thus making him the Aristotelian tragic hero of the drama.As is required of an Aristotelian tragic hero, Creon is of high social status, for at the beginning of the play it is made known that he is the King of Thebes. In addition, Creon’s high moral character, as seen through his love for the state, the just decision to punish Polyneices, and his good leadership, further makes him worthy to possess the label of tragic hero. When speaking to the chorus, Creon states:. . . if any[one] makes a friend of more account than his fatherland, that man has no place in my regard. For I . . . would not be silent if I saw ruin, instead of safety, coming to the citizens . . . remembering this, that our country is the ship that bears us safe, and that only while she prospers in our voyage can we make true friends. (86)Creon believes that the state is of the utmost importance, and thus the fact that he would stop at nothing to protect his subjects shows that despite his actions, he has the best of intentions. Creon’s good nature is also seen in the manner in which he buries Eteocles, who “with due observance of right and custom he has laid in the earth, for his honor among the dead below” (82). The fact that he refuses to show Polyneices the same respect further testifies to his virtue, for he values the state above all else and thus would never “deem the country’s foes a friend to [him]self” (86). By refusing Polyneices an honorable burial, Creon is justly retaliating against the man who attacked his country. Furthermore, his subjects, including his son, Haemon, view him as a good leader. Haemon puts such faith in his father that in Creon’s “wisdom [he] trace[s] the rules which [he] shall follow” (96). Creon is a wise leader, and thus his son vows to follow the rules that he sees fit to set.However, despite his inherently good nature, Creon possesses a tragic character flaw that leads to his downfall. Creon’s flaw comes in the form of an excessive amount of pride, as is seen in the manner in which he speaks to Ismene. When Antigone is sentenced to death and Ismene asks how she will live without her presence, Creon states: “Do not speak of her ‘presence’; she lives no more” (94). His reply is a definite indication of power, for he states that Antigone no longer lives, when in fact she is standing beside him; he believes to have the power over her life and death. Creon equates himself to the stature and power of the gods, who give and take life as they please. In addition, Creon refuses to listen to the wisdom of another, especially if it contradicts with his own views. When Haemon attempts to convince Creon to spare Antigone’s life with an argument deemed “wise” by the chorus, Creon responds by posing a question of condescending nature: “[are] men of my age . . . to be schooled by men of [your’s]?” (97). He is too egotistical and thus unwilling to learn something from the wisdom of another. Furthermore, throughout the course of the same conversation, Creon’s pride overtakes his justness, and Haemon rightly accuses his father of “offending against justice” (98). When Haemon reveals to Creon that the “Theban folk with one voice” disagree with the execution of Antigone, he replies arrogantly: “Shall Thebes prescribe to me how I must rule? . . . Am I to rule this land by other judgement that my own?” (98). He is appalled at the idea that anyone, especially those beneath him, can tell him how to rule his state. Creon’s excessive pride prevents him from gaining the realization that his judgement on the matter, despite its good intentions, is incorrect. While the fact that Creon punishes Polyneice can lead to him being seen as a virtuous man, the manner in which he punishes him largely contradicts this view of his character. Creon fails to see that when the state and the gods are in conflict, the gods must be obeyed, for they are of the highest authority. It is his excessive pride – his tragic flaw – that causes him to “dishonor . . . laws which the gods have established in honor” (84). Furthermore, Creon refuses to listen to the prophecies of Teiresias. Before Antigone is killed, Teiresias warns him that. . . it is [his] counsel that has brought [the] sickness on [the] state. For the altars of [the] city and of [the people’s] hearths have been tainted one and all by birds and dogs with carrion from the hapless corpse, son of Oedipus. Therefore the gods no more accept prayer and sacrifice at [the people’s] hands. (103)Creon is blatantly told that the gods have been angered because their laws were broken when Polyneices was denied an honorable burial. However, he refuses to acknowledge that his actions were wrong, and accuses of Teiresias of “cloth[ing] shameful thoughts in fair words for lucre’s sake” (104). His pride, and his belief that it is “dire to yield,” blinds him against rational thought. (105). At this point it is too late for Creon to save the state, for his arrogance, which led to errors in judgement, has already determined his bleak fate.Even though it is too late to prevent his own downfall, Creon still experiences a revelatory manifestation. After Teiresias leaves him alone to contemplate the situation in light of his prophecy, Creon’s pride and arrogance retreats, and his just judgement surfaces. When the chorus states that Teiresias has “never been a false prophet to [the] city,” Creon realizes that what the man said must be true, and thus it is useless to challenge it: “by resistance to smite my pride with ruin – this… is a dire choice” (105). He is now able to admit that the laws of the gods are above his laws – the laws of the state – and that “it is best to keep the established laws [of the gods], even to life’s end” (106). His enlightenment is most noticeable when he blatantly admits his judgement was wrong and that his son died as a result:”Woe is me for the wretched blindness of my counsels! Alas, my son, you have died in your youth, by a timeless doom, woe is me! Your spirit has fled not by your folly but by my own!” (109).Creon now views himself as a man blinded by arrogance and excessive pride. He realizes that he has done wrong, and thus excepts his punishment, asking of the people to “lead [him] away,” for he is “a rash [and] foolish man” (110).Due to Creon’s good intentions and innately good nature, one does not view him as a villain, but rather feels sympathetic toward him. His downfall is caused by a tragic character flaw – pride. It is this pride that has led to the death of his wife, his son, and of Antigone; it is this pride that causes him to lose his beloved country and to live a lonely life in which he is looked unfavorably upon by his own people. While at the end Creon recognizes the wrong in his judgement, it is too late to do anything about it. It is for these reasons that Creon is the Aristotelian tragic hero of Sophocles’ Antigone.Works CitedSophocles. “Antigone.” Greek Drama. New York: Bantam Classics, 1982. pp 82-110.
As the Greek tragedy Antigone builds up to a climax, Creon is warned that “[a]ll men make mistakes, it is only human. But once the wrong is done, a man can turn his back on folly, misfortune too, if he tries to make amends, however low he’s fallen, and stops his bullnecked ways. Stubbornness brands you for stupidity—pride is a crime.” This warning by Tiresias stresses how Creon had gone against the will of the gods and the ideals of ancient Greek society. For Creon to act as if he was faultless and capable of no wrong was to act as if he was a god, an unthinkable offense. To show undue pride and stubbornness in the face of one’s own mistakes was unheard of in Greek society and therefore punishable by the gods. Thus, in these lines Sophocles sums up the moral of his work and the philosophy of his society.Through the statement “all men make mistakes, it is only human” the reader is assured that mistakes are natural and, while not condoned by the gods, definitely expected. Tiresias does not condemn Creon’s original actions and mistake, rather Tiresias shows that error is anticipated and seen as a natural part of human experience. Tiresias shows Creon that there is indeed no shame in being wrong and therefore Creon should be open to the possibility of admitting his faults, despite being the powerful king of Thebes. Creon, however, does not seem to realize that he is the one mistaken, otherwise he would have probably taken the wise advice of Tiresias. Creon instead considers the prophecy of Tiresias either the raving of a blind old man or perhaps advice for the “mistaken” Antigone. The moral of Sophocles’ passage, despite Creon’s refusal to listen, still stands true–only the gods can be found faultless and therefore free from any errors, while humankind is destined to be mistaken.Tiresias advises Creon that although humankind may make mistakes, to be stubborn and refuse to admit these mistakes is the worst crime of all. This piece of advice is critical, showing that while to err is human one must be willing to correct one’s mistakes or face the due consequences. Sophocles tells of this to show that although the human race is doomed to err, reason allows for one to not necessarily suffer from those mistakes. Tiresias is careful to advise Creon to correct his transgressions and thus to become hopeful of overcoming folly and to be saved from the ill effects put into motion by his previous mistakes.When Tiresias warns “stubbornness brands you for stupidity—pride is a crime” the readers are told that the gods will not forgive Creon for not giving in to the good advice given to him. To the gods the crimes of stubbornness and pride are both punishable. Creon’s refusal to admit to his initial error is his greatest mistake and act of stupidity. As Tiresias had previously warned, Creon could counteract the wrong made by his error if only he had the sense to given in. Creon, however, decided to scoff at the warnings of Tiresias and continue down the path to possible ruination. Creon had, perhaps, refused to listen out of sheer stubbornness to admit to his mistake not necessarily out of stubbornness to correct it. After Creon’s refusal to listen to the wisdom of Tiresias, his mistake came to full fruition and he became the victim of his own pride. Thus, all of Tiresias’ warnings come to naught, and Creon unknowingly leads himself to his own downfall.One of the main issues leading to Creon’s downfall is his refusal to acknowledge his own mistake. Creon is unable to rectify his mistake without first realizing that he has indeed made one. Creon’s stubbornness is not in correcting his mistake but in admitting that he had made one, a crime nonetheless. Until all parties, from Antigone to the Council, have assured Creon that he has made a mistake his refusal to acknowledge it knows no bounds2E Once Creon realizes his error, however, he is quick to correct it but both burying the body of Polynices and retrieving Antigone from her burial chamber.Creon is unable to redeem his mistake because he made the one unforgivable error, to act as if one was a god. By taking matters of life and death into his hands, Creon acted as if he was a god. The gods have laws concerning the proper burial of the dead and Creon’s refusal to follow these statutes with the body of Polynices was heinous. Antigone and the people of Thebes were in an uproar over this flouting of the rules of the gods, but Creon forged ahead without thought. Creon once again overstepped his bounds by condemning Antigone to be buried alive for following the laws of the gods and disobeying him. By sentencing once of the living to the land of the dead underground Creon does what only the gods have the authority to do once again. These two great mistakes are the mark of Creon’s undoing. Although Tiresias claims that Creon can undo his wrongs one cannot disobey the gods so completely without satisfactory revenge. Thus, although Creon attempts to fix all of his mistakes it is too late and his punishment is already set, the death of his son and his wife.With Tiresias’ words of wisdom, Sophocles intended to warn the society of ancient Greece of a lesson already well known—that one’s pride can lead to one’s own downfall. This lesson served as moral of Antigone much as the lesson that fate is unavoidable was the moral of Oedipus. The plays of Sophocles work to show the audience important life lessons (perhaps as experienced by Sophocles himself). In each work of Oedipus’ trilogy the main character is warned of impending danger from a reliable source and he goes against this advice only to learn the lesson in the end. Oedipus ignored the warnings of the oracle only to have fate catch up with him in the end in a very horrific way. Creon is no different, as he ignores the warnings of Hameon, Tiresias, and others to follow his own blind path to ruination. We, as the audience, know that this lesson is made for out edification because Sophocles proves is careful to prove Oedipus and Creon mistaken in their judgment, much to their own horrific consequences. If the veracity of this statement were not important to Sophocles’ work, then he would not show the full prophetic truth through Creon’s actions in this play.To support his moral, Sophocles is careful to provide adequate evidence through the actions of the characters. Creon’s circumstances prove that pride and stubbornness are indeed great crimes in the eyes of the gods. Sophocles was careful to show that Creon disobeyed every word of Tiresias’ advice and to, just as carefully, show the results of his disobeyance. Tiresias talks of mistakes, new lows, and attempts at rectifying these lows and Creon is shown reaching all of these stages. Sophocles, thus, is careful to demonstrate all of his points through Creon’s downfall and thus stress the importance of this lesson. This lesson is not shown through the example of Antigone but rather through Creon’s reaction to her to also stress the importance of Antigone’s blind faith in the laws of the gods. Antigone is careful to respect the edicts of the gods despite Creon’s warnings, demonstrating the importance of the gods over humankind.Sophocles presents this prophecy through the mouth of Tiresias, a blind prophet who sees much more then the average man. In his prediction, Tiresias proclaims the visions that he has seen concerning the fate of Creon, who tempted the will of the gods. After Tiresias’ speech the other characters talk of the proven truth of Tiresias’ earlier predictions, shedding more light on the past history of this prophet. By putting these words on the lips of Tiresias, a proven soothsayer, Sophocles gives the words a truth possible no other way. Besides stressing the truth of the statement, putting these important words into a prophecy states their importance to all society, although especially to Creon’s life.
It is not often in Greek myth or tragedy that a woman is found portrayed as a tragic hero. However, Sophocles makes the hero of his Antigone, the third and last play in the theme of Oedipus’ life, a woman. And though this is out of context for a Greek play, it is still considered one of the greatest Greek tragedies ever to have been written. The tragic hero of this drama is Antigone, the character from which the play derives its title. This is shown by the fact that not only is she the protagonist of the play, but she also holds certain qualities of a tragic hero. What seems to be least important in determining the tragic hero of this play, in fact, is whether or not the hero is male or female, which is surprising due to the misogynistic tendencies of most Greek stories. What are most important are the three major characteristics concerning the make up of a tragic hero. First, it is important that the hero must be of noble descent. Second, the hero must be judged by the audience (whose opinion generally rests on the opinion of the Chorus) to be a good and just person. And third, the hero must have a tragic flaw; without it there would be no dramatic complications or tragic consequences. Antigone does, in fact, have all three of these qualities, and thus is one of very few tragic heroines.The first quality of a tragic hero, the noble birth, is satisfied by the fact that Antigone is one of the four children of Oedipus: Polyneices, Eteocles, Ismene, and Antigone. Oedipus, whose life and family as a whole are the main focal point of Sophocles’ Antigone and its two preceding plays, is the King of Thebes for most of his adult life. In Oedipus, the second play of Aeschylus’ lost Theban trilogy, is where we learn the greatest details that are prior knowledge to the play. Certain points, such as: “that it was predicted that Oedipus would kill his father and sleep with his mother; that unwittingly he did both;” are told in Aeschylus’ play, and are assumed as general knowledge in Sophocles’ Oedipus the King. (Grene, 108) And in the same way is the knowledge of Oedipus coming to the throne by solving the riddle of the great and terrible Sphinx taken for granted. This makes her the princess of Thebes up until the point where Oedipus concedes the throne to Creon, his brother-in-law and uncle. Furthermore, the reader learns in Oedipus the King that Oedipus was also the adopted son of Polybus, the King of Corinth. Therefore, if he had not left Corinth, his line still would have been considered of noble birth.Thereby, being of noble birth, she also must prove to be a good person, and by the standards of the Chorus, she does seem to do so. Her life, through Oedipus at Colonus, the second of Sophocles’ plays of Oedipus, consists of taking care of her recently blinded and banished father with the help of her sister Ismene. Thus, by being devoted to her father she reveals one aspect of her kindness and devotion. In this play Oedipus says to his eldest son, ³had these daughters not been born to me to be my comfort, in truth I would be dead.² (Jebb, Oedipus at Colonus, line 1366) She also shows her unending devotion to her family in Antigone when she refuses to let her brother Polyneices be dishonored by leaving his body unburied. Her brothers died fighting each other, and Eteocles, who fought on the side of Creon, was to be buried with honors while Polyneices is left “unwept, unburied, a dainty treasure for the birds that see him, for their feast’s delight.” (Grene, 182) This act of devotion is also filled with much courage since Creon has ordered that the funeral, go on in this way, and if anyone is found trying to bury the bodies, they will be put to “death by public stoning.” (Grene, 182) Sophocles puts this courage in contrast with a character such as Ismene who seems to be devoted to her family until the idea of being killed gets thrown in. Quickly, she becomes no longer willing to help her poor dead brother. Plus, Antigone’s courage seems to be intensified since she is a woman going against the will of powerful men, as Ismene points out when she says, “You ought to realize we are only women, not meant in nature to fight against men, and that we are ruled by those who are stronger.” (Grene, 183) After this conversation with her sister, Antigone rebukes her sister for letting others come between her and her devotion o her family, though not too quickly. For another one of Antigone’s attributes is her ability to listen. Small things like the ability to listen and be open-minded are important in the conception of the audience as to whether a character is just or not. For instance, Antigone stands in perfect contrast to Creon in the play, whose pride always gets the better of him and seems to prevent him from making good judgments. For example, when a sentry comes to tell Creon that someone has tried to bury Polyneices, he immediately accuses the sentry of doing these actions himself, for money, without even considering why a man would report on himself for a crime that carries the punishment of death. In the same way, he accuses the seer Tiresias of taking money to prophesy against Creon’s actions when he says, “the whole breed of prophets certainly loves money.” (Grene, 221) This virtue of discernment, which Creon lacks, as well as her devotion, courage, and views of justice are what make her a good person in the eyes of the audience.The one characteristic left to prove Antigone as a tragic hero is her tragic flaw, just as all tragic heroes have had a flaw. Antigone¹s flaw lies within the same scope as her father¹s. Antigone is a brutally honest person who sees no honor in backing down from what she knows is right, and this will serve as her undoing. At no point does Antigone hold back her feelings. She tells Ismene that she is a coward for not doing what is right, and she reminds Creon of his sins while she faces death at his hands. And as she is led off to her prison, she refuses to cry for the love of Haemon, which she will not have, for it would make her seem weak. However, this only proves to lock her tighter into the punishment that Creon has ordered for her, thus proving to be her undoing, and all the while outlining more and more the courage that she exhibits.The cry that she releases at the very end of her life, when her job has been done, and when she no longer needs to be the ultimate in strength of spirit, reveals the idea that she is still a woman. This is the beauty of Antigone as a tragic hero. She has all the strength that the ancient Greeks would attribute to a man, but she still carries the softness of a woman. In a society whose culture is based on misogynistic mythology, Sophocles has created a woman spirit that can be rivaled by no other Greek tragedy. ³Nowhere else has the poetry of the ancient world embodied so lofty or so beautiful an ideal of woman’s love and devotion.² (Jebb, Commentary, intro 14) Thus, Sophocles makes it possible for the women of antiquity to be viewed as more than just seductresses and witches who cannot be trusted within Greek plays.Antigone has all the characteristics of a tragic hero, and can be considered to be the first great heroine. Her courage, sense of justice, and undying devotion to her family are what gain her this status. In a sense, the sheer strength of her convictions gives her an essence of martyrdom. However, the same strong-headedness that tightened the noose so tightly around her father¹s neck, has brought the same fate upon her. Without this flaw, though, she could never have become a hero in the sense that she has; namely a tragic one. All of these attributes combined are what give her the ability not only to be viewed by the Greeks as the equal of the men of the play, but also, through the avenging of her death by the gods, she has taken them head on and won. Creon¹s entire family is destroyed, each by their own hand. Yet, this is the only fate that may come of the death of a hero. And though it is crucial to the story that she dies, her death may not be left unpaid for. Thus is the fate of a tragic hero.
Sophocles’ play Antigone centers around a conflict between oikos and polis. Oikos, “home,” is the concept of the household, dominated by women and kinship; polis, “city,” is the concept of the collective city-state, dominated by men and power or money. Antigone, bound by the family duty of proper burial, comes into deep conflict with the king, Creon, who is obsessed with personal control of the state. These characters, symbols of oikos and polis, are so diametrically opposed that it seems no one can reconcile them or convince Creon to spare Antigone, who buried her brother in defiance of Creon’s proclamation. The play’s last hope for deliberative reconciliation is Haemon, Creon’s dutiful son and Antigone’s loving fiancé® Haemon’s view of oikos and polis are not as extreme as either Creon’s or Antigone’s, but his love for Antigone draws him to her side. The subtle interplay of oikos, polis, and love, which is seen as a power that women, creatures of the oikos, have over men, is painfully evident in the argument between Creon and Haemon and the following choral stasima (Antigone, 701-899). While love leads to both the origin and outcome of the argument between Creon and Haemon, differences in the fundamental conceptions of polis and oikos doom reconciliation from the start.Love is the reason Haemon approaches his father to plead for Antigone’s life. Though he feels duty bound to keep his father from committing a great injustice, the place Antigone holds in his heart compels him to argue for her life and join her in death. Like many fathers, Creon warns his son to “never lose your sense of judgement over a woman” (Antigone, 723) and assumes that love is the only reason for his son’s protest.This assumption draws on Creon’s notions of oikos and polis, making him deaf to Haemon’s reasoning. Creon sees the struggle between the civilized order of polis and the clannish chaos of oikos as a battle between men and women. He tells Haemon his truth that woman is oikos, and oikos is Anarchy in no uncertain terms: Anarchy ? show me a greater crime in all the earth! She, she destroys cities, rips up houses?. We must defend the men who live by law, never let some woman triumph over us. Better to fall from power, if fall we must, at the hands of a man ? never be rated inferior to a woman, never. (Antigone, 752-761, my emphasis)That Haemon dare defend Antigone’s right to bury her brother in violation of Creon’s law is a betrayal of his sex, making him a “woman’s slave.” (Antigone, 847) Moreover, it is double sacrilege that Haemon contravenes his father’s and king’s authority. Creon’s view of the oikos is his vision of the polis in miniature. Just as “the city is the king’s ? that’s the law,” (Antigone, 825, italics in original) a father’s goal is “to produce good sons” who “subordinate to [their] father’s will in every way.” (Antigone, 714-715) After the chorus leader says Creon and Haemon “both are talking sense,” (Antigone, 813) Creon complains that the elders of the chorus and he, a grown man, should not be “schooled by a boy [Haemon’s] age.” (Antigone, 814) Creon’s will is absolute: even the prospect of bowing to the will of the Theban people galls him (Antigone, 821). The prospect of taking advice from his son, advice which will lead to a woman’s victory over his decree against a traitor, offends and outrages Creon so much that he cannot seriously consider the substance of Haemon’s argument on its merits.Haemon’s ideas of oikos and polis are different from those of his father, and therefore it is hard for them to find common ground in argument. Though Haemon’s first words to Creon are, “Father, I’m your son.? I obey you” (Antigone, 709-710, italics in original) and he prefaces his argument by saying he’s no man to correct his father (Antigone?766-769), he drops that faç¡¤e to criticize Creon’s handling of Antigone. As a dutiful son, Haemon wants to give his father advice that will help him in the long run though embarrass Creon when he takes it. Haemon’s version of the polis is one where the ruler, sensitive to the practical demand of respect for oikos, is not too proud to follow good counsel or bend before exigencies. Haemon uses a beautiful image of trees in a winter storm to illustrate that even kings must “bend or break,” lest they snap because of their rigidity. Continuing the comparison, he says that a man who always hoists a “taut sail, never give[s] an inch” will capsize his ship (Antigone, 794-804). This refers to Creon’s speech calling the city “the ship of state.” (Antigone, 180) In this way, Haemon skillfully implies that killing Antigone will bring ruin to Thebes.After he makes his case that Creon should listen to his advice, Haemon’s grounds his argument in the language of the oikos and his more responsive view of the polis. He never explicitly lauds Antigone’s deeds himself but tells Creon that the people whisper their discontent with her treatment because they sympathize with her dilemma of having to disrespect her brother’s memory or die and think she deserves “a glowing crown of gold” for her actions (Antigone, 775-783). This praise, which may well be in part a projection of Haemon’s opinion, is grounded in the holy duty to bury the dead, a concern of the oikos. When the polite argument deteriorates into a violent back-and-forth, Haemon calls his father unjust to kill Antigone, which Creon sees as “protect[ing] his royal rights,” (Antigone, 833) because in doing so he “trample[s] down the honors of the gods,” (Antigone, 835) specifically the burial of the family dead so important to the oikos. Finally, when Creon says that Haemon is only making a plea for Antigone, Haemon interrupts, saying he pleads for her “and you, and me, and the gods beneath the earth.” (Antigone, 840-841) This, the last substantive point Haemon makes, is an appeal for his household and the gods of the oikos. Such are Haemon’s concerns, irreconcilable with those of his father.Differences of worldview cause Haemon’s failure to convince Creon not to kill Antigone, but it is love which determines the way the argument ends. Haemon’s argument is agreeable to the leader of the chorus but has no effect on his father, who sees him only as an upstart adolescent trying to save the vixen who’s trapped him in her sexual web. Enraged that his father will still sentence his betrothed wife to death, the argument devolves into stichomythia, father and son hurling one-line insults at each other. Reverting to the misogynistic language of his father, Haemon even calls Creon a “woman!” (Antigone, 829) Angered by his father’s threat to kill Antigone immediately, in front of his eyes, Haemon rushes off, saying Antigone “will never die beside me.” (Antigone, 855). This cry from the pit of a lover’s despair is the height of irony: Antigone does not die beside Haemon; Haemon dies beside Antigone, kissing her white cheek with a bloody mouth (Antigone, 1363-1671).The essence of Greek tragedy is irreconcilable conflict. What makes the struggle between Creon and Haemon all the more poignant is that in addition to the differences in opinion regarding oikos and polis, a barrier of love for a woman has been driven between a father and son who should feel great love for each other. As the chorus declares in the stasima after Haemon’s argument with Creon, Love is a primitive, destructive force no man can escape (Antigone, 879 ? 886). Love has “ignited this, this kindred strife, father and son at war and Love alone the victor ? warm glance of the bride triumphant, burning with desire! Throned in power, side-by-side with the mighty laws!” The sight of the proud, doomed bride is enough to make the old men of the chorus exclaim that they “fill with tears” and “would rebel against the king [in Haemon’s place].” (Antigone, 895 ? 899) Oh, such is the power of woman over man; such is the power of oikos over polis!
The idea of hubris is monumental in a plethora of Greek mythological works. In many ways the excessive pride of certain characters fuels their own destruction. This is certainly true with respect to the characters of Pentheus, Antigone, and Oedipus. All three of these characters demonstrate, through their actions, various degrees of arrogance that seem to undercut the traditional role of the Gods, and thus largely contribute to their downfall. However, it should be noted that while each of these characters demonstrate hubris, they way in which their arrogance manifests itself is unique to each character. Pentheus, the authoritarian newly appointed king of Thebes is immediately troubled with the rising influence and odd rituals that surround Dionysus. He seeks to prove his authority and influence over the kingdom, and crush the leader of these ecstatic rituals, which he perceives as a direct threat to his rule. Early on in the play Pentheus is warned by Tiresias, the old seer of the kingdom not to over stretch his bounds and to respect Dionysus as he would the other gods. “No we don¹t play at theologians with the gods. We stay close to the hallowed tenets of our fathers, old as time. Nothing can undo them ever. I don¹t care how brilliant or abstruse the reasons are” (Euripides 404). This passage is significant because it provides Pentheus with a direct warning not let his own pompous notions of earthly and temporal power go against the divine will of the gods. Pentheus disregards the warning and goes ahead in a direct act of sacrilege by destroying the sylvan alter and detains Dionysus. As Pentheus interrogates Dionysus he again is issued a direct warning not to go against the will of the gods by persecuting one whom the gods favor. As Dionysus calmly states, “Very well, I¹ll go along with this wrongful undestined destiny, but remember this: Dionysus, who you say does not exist, will wreak revenge on you for this” (Euripides 417). The story culminates in Dionysus playing on Pentheus¹ curiosity and voyeurism regarding the intoxicated hordes of Thebian women, by tricking him to go out to see them in action. Pentheus is brutally ripped apart by the possessed women, yet in effect it was his own actions that caused his destruction. As Dionysus directly addresses the hubris of Pentheus, “The sins of jealousy and anger made this Pentheus deal unjustly with one bringing blessings, whom he disgracefully imprisoned and insulted; and so he met his end at the hands of his own kin an unnatural end and yet a just one” (Euripides 453).Antigone also over steps her bounds, yet in a drastically different way. Rather than embracing the authoritarian ideals and decrees of Creon, the Stalinist new leader of Thebes, Antigone¹s dual sense of pride and stubbornness fuels her personal reactions. Her belief that her brother deserves a proper burial seems to transcend logic and directly counter both temporal and divine authority. Antigone herself, by burying her brother, has taken on the role of the gods. Thus, she contributes to her own downfall. While Antigone believes that her actions are defending a moral good, it is the way in which she goes about her actions that propel her own hubris. She makes the burial rights a public question, rather than using tact and diplomacy to approach Creonas Haemon demonstrates. Both Antigone and Creon are wrapped up in a personal struggle that is quite stubborn. Her actions, like that of Creon¹s, are acts of hubris. The fact that Creon is wrong doesn¹t justify the actions of Antigone. In this respect both characters are quite similar despite their protagonist nature. As the chorus states, “Surpassing belief, the device and cunning that man has attained, and it bringeth him now to evil, now to good” (Sophocles 14).Oedipus perhaps demonstrates the most direct and painfully obvious acts of hubris of the three characters. His temper plays a crucial role throughout the play, along with his arrogance. He possesses a precipitous rage in his blind quest to uncover his past. Again, his grandiose sense of pride and impulse ignites his destined downfall. From the onset, the vanity of Oedipus is latent when he travels, against warnings, to the oracle of Delphi. His inflated notions of his stature as ruler directly question the authority of the gods, and lead to his eventual decay. Oedipus represents common notions inherent in tragedies of the precarious sense of human prosperity. Oedipus, in an extremely short time, has extreme highs and lows, which demonstrate the classic patterns of the god¹s rough justice. This sudden and constantly altering nature of fate leads Oedipus to glory, yet his stubborn and arrogant quest to see¹ ultimately blinds him, as he is reduced to nothing in an instant. Oedipus¹ story exemplifies how destiny is inescapable. His quest to outwit fate, in effect, perpetuates his own destruction. This notion of tragic ironytrying to run away from destiny yet perpetuating it instead, illustrates the hubris of Oedipus. By disregarding the knowledge and warnings of Teiresias, and thus the gods, Oedipus¹s stubborn sense of pride goes directly against the will of the gods. Ironically it is Oedipus who states, “True; but to force the gods against their willthat is a thing beyond all power” (Sophocles 57). Simply put, Oedipus can not see that his actions are doing just that, and only when his hubris is punished and he losses his literal eyesight, can he finally see the truth.
The trio of classic Greek texts, The Last Days of Socrates, Antigone, and The Eumenides all strike a contrast between public and private morality. In each work one person carries forth an unpopular action that he alone believes in, and must later justify the result that, while deemed unsatisfactory by the greater public, he feels was necessary for his own private conscience. For Socrates, philosophizing his version of the truth was his own private responsibility that was scorned by the public. Antigone’s loyalty lay with her brother rather than the state that decreed he not receive a proper burial. Orestes sought vengeance against his mother for killing his father, though that meant committing a heinous crime he knew would not be well received. Each hero challenged the absolutist notion of justice and shifted the public’s attention to a more relativist interpretation as he appealed to common sense rather than entrenched archaic tradition, and each one valued the word of the gods over the word of his human rulers.In The Apology, Socrates defends himself against the charge of “…committing an injustice, in that he inquires into things below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger, and teaches others to follow his example.” (19b) In other words, he is accused of delving into supernatural matters others rely upon the gods for, is a sophist, and corrupts the youth. To justify his role as philosopher, Socrates first reminds his accusers of the oracle’s proclamation that he is the wisest man alive. Though he erases some of the blatant immodesty from this statement by attesting that the oracle truly meant “The wisest of you men is he who has realized, like Socrates, that in respect of wisdom he is really worthless,” (23b) the appeal to the gods is a technique of justice that Socrates knows is infallible; no mortal can refute the opinion of deities.Socrates furthers his claim for the necessity of his proselytism in his cross-examination of Meletus, a system in which he asks leading questions he knows the examined will agree to, thus allowing him to build up a counterpoint as he exposes the fallacious logic his opponent has employed. For Socrates, justice comes in the scientific form of deduction, not in random points thrown about haphazardly. Socrates asks Meletus “…who is it that makes the young good?” (24d) to which Meletus eventually concurs that everyone in “Athens has a refining effect upon the young, except [Socrates]; and [Socrates] alone corrupt[s] them.” (25a) This is an easy point for Socrates to refute as this time, instead of invoking a god’s statement, he uses an analogy of horse-trainers and horses to derive the logical statement “…that the ability to improve [horses] belongs to one person or to very few persons, who are horse-trainers, whereas most people, if they have to do with horses and make use of them, do them harm?” (25b) Syllogism is a staple of Socrates’s argument, because only through irrefutable logic, and not emotional appeal, can he exonerate himself.After much more inference in hopes of acquittal, Socrates finally maintains that his allegiance is to God over his fellow mortals. He is a staunch believer in perseverance, as he claims “Where a man has once taken up his stand, either because it seems best to him or in obedience to his orders, there I believe he is bound to remain and face the danger…This being so, it would be shocking inconsistency on my part…when God appointed me…to the duty of leading the philosophic life…to desert my post.” (28d,e) He feels he is the chosen one and must continue his ways regardless of punishment. He would even deny the compromise of acquittal with the qualification that he cease philosophizing, for he reasons “I owe a greater obedience to God than to you…I shall never stop practising philosophy and exhorting you and indicating the truth…for I spend all my time going about trying persuade you…to make your first and chief concern…the highest welfare of your souls…” (29d,30b) This mulish sentiment is what eventually leads to Socrates’s punishment by death, but his point rings clear: justice should be interpreted logically, rather than emotionally, and the edicts of the gods and personal beliefs hold more substance than the orders of an unwise, unjustified public.Sophocles’s Antigone begins with Oedipus’s two cursed daughters, Antigone and Ismene, discussing the public decree that forbids the burial of their brother Polyneices, who was a traitor to the state. Antigone sees the disobedience to this law as admirable, and tells the hesitant Ismene “soon you will show yourself as noble both in your nature and your birth, or yourself as base, although of noble parents.” (42-4) Antigone believes one’s actions form one’s character, and lineage plays no part. Ismene tries to soothe her sister’s anger in a self-subjugating monologue: “You ought to realize we are only women, not meant in nature to fight against men, and that we are ruled, by those who are stronger, to obedience in this and even more painful matters…I shall yield in this to the authorities.” (70-3,77) Ismene believes that justice is, in Thrasymachus’s words, the advantage of the stronger. Inferiors should bow to their leaders no matter how unfair the situation may seem. Antigone is a far more independent woman, and holds the immortal to a higher standard than the mortal: “The time in which I must please those that are dead is longer than I must please those of this world. For there I shall lie forever. You, if you like, can cast dishonor on what the gods have honored.” (86-9) Like Socrates, she values the gods and her personal beliefs more than the fickle orders of her rulers, and thus will perform proper death rites the gods would approve of for someone she loved, though that means certain death.Creon soon enters the story as the leader who outlawed Polyneices’s burial. His philosophy as to the character of a man is outlined in a speech to the chorus: “It is impossible to know any man…until he shows his skill in rule and law. I think that a man supreme ruler of a whole city, if he does not reach for the best counsel for her, but through some fear, keeps his tongue under lock and key, him I judge the worst of any…” (195,97-201) He believes justice is that which aids the city the most; in this case, justice entails punishing a traitor and honoring a good citizen, as that encourages good behavior among his people. When Antigone is brought to him as the culprit of the burial, he cannot fully believe she would break his law, to which she replies “Yes, it was not Zeus that made the proclamation; nor did Justice…I did not believe your proclamation had such power to enable one who will someday die to override God’s ordinances…They are not of today and yesterday; they live forever…I know that I will die…But if I dared to leave the dead man…dead and unburied, that would have been real pain. The other is not.” (494-501, 504,510-2) Her reiteration of her convictions that the immortal and the personal prevail over the public does not phase Creon, who stubbornly sentences her to death, stating “I hate indeed the one that is caught in evil and then makes that evil look like good.” (538-40) His disdain for sophistry is apparent, but he refuses to see any point of view other than his own, even when the noted seer Teiresias explains that sacrificial rites are no longer accepted by the gods: “This is the city’s sicknessand your plans are the cause of it…So the gods will not take our prayers or sacrifice…All men can make mistakes; but, once mistaken, a man is no longer stupid nor accursed who, having fallen on ill, tries to cure that ill…It is obstinacy that convicts of folly.” (1072,6,80-5) Teiresias introduces here another element of justice, wisdom. Wisdom is the ability to select the right course of action, even if it means self-disavowal. Creon is steadfast in his opinion, though his desires conflict with the good of the city. It is only when his son kills himself in protestation that he admits “The mistakes of a blinded man are themselves rigid and laden with death.” (1339-40) He changes his mind only when motivated by personal emotion, not abstract theory, exactly what Antigone believed in when she disobeyed his command. Relativism has unseated absolutism even in the mind of the most headstrong, and once again common sense and obedience to the gods are given first order as the Chorus ends the play with the lines “Wisdom is far the chief element in happiness and, secondly, no irreverence towards the gods.” (1420-1)Orestes, the matricidal hero of The Eumenides, explains his murder in a simple exposition to Athene: “It was my mother of the dark heart, who entangled [my father] in subtle gyves and cut him down…I came back and killed the woman who gave me birth. I plead guilty. My father was dear, and this was vengeance for his blood. Apollo shares responsibility for this. He counterspurred my heart and told me of pains to come if I should fail to act against the guilty ones.” (459-67) Since he valued the life of his father over that of his mother, he was just in killing her, and doubly so because of the encouragement he received from a god. The Chorus, the prosecution in his trial, believes, like Creon, in determent, and cries “Here is overthrow of all the young laws, if the claim of this matricide shall stand good, his crime be sustained. Should this be, every man will find a way to act at his own caprice…There are times when fear is good. It must keep its watchful place at the heart’s controls.” (490-5,517-9) Once again, private responsibility mixed with decrees of the gods conflict with the public good. Apollo, acting as Orestes’s lawyer, backs up Orestes’s previous statements, stating “Never…have I spoken a word, except that which Zeus…might command. This is justice. Recognize how great its strength…For not even the oath that binds you is more strong than Zeus is strong.” (616-21) He then goes on to minimize the importance of women: “The mother is no parent of that which is called her child, but only nurse of the new-planted seed that grows. The parent is he who mounts.” (658-60) It is this misogyny that swings the decision in Orestes’s favor, as Athene declares “…I am always for the male with all my heart…So, in a case where the wife has killed her husband…her death shall not mean most to me.” (737-40) Her vote breaks the jury’s tie, indicating the harsh divide among Greeks at the time concerning private versus public morality and its relations to justice.Socrates, Antigone, and Orestes all contributed to the ever-evolving thrust of individualism and independent thought in ancient Greek. Using relativism and support from the gods (which was the Greek equivalent to the human psyche) to warrant their actions, they negated the prevailing sense of absolute acquiescence to the public that had previously hung over their states. Of course, tragedy was the result in all three cases, with the heroes themselves dying in two of them, so it is clear that acceptance of this newfound ideology was hard to come by. Still, public dominance was eroding as the Greeks could not avoid the strong rush of logic and personal commitment coming their way, a new blend of science and humanity, that would forever change the face of justice.
A little boy went to the corner store to pick up the newest edition of his favorite comic; Batman. The boy entered the store and despite his efforts to withhold his excitement, dashed straight to the massive stack of magazines the store had received at nine that morning. He scanned the comics and magazines until his eyes marked his target. He slowly removed the comic from its place, cautious not to bend any edges. But when he took a closer look, his wild-eyed expression changed to one of confusion. The title wasn’t Batman: The Masked Avenger, as advertised in the last issue, but rather: Robin: A True Hero! He sighed, and despite his upsetting discovery, sat on the tile floor and read the comic. As he read, he was increasingly disturbed as the character of Robin, whose name had proudly been marked as the title, wasn’t nearly as much of a main character as Batman. And he was jolted severely when only halfway through the adventure, Robin was captured by the wily Joker, and didn’t appear at all until the child closed the comic, done with his reading. This situation may sound familiar. Throughout the Greek play Antigone by Sophocles, there exists a dispute as to who should receive the designation of main character. Antigone, the daughter of the cursed King Oedipus, as well as Creon, stately king of Thebes, both appear as the key figures in this historic play. I believe that Creon, king of Thebes, should be considered the main character in this work of Greek theater. Three points can be used to make this argument: Creon suffers greatly, he learns a lesson, and is a tragic hero.Creon, like all main characters in Greek drama, suffers many losses and undergoes emotional pain and anguish. A target of the curse on the House of Oedipus by relation, Creon was already a victim of fate. His destiny has already been predetermined by the curse on the house of Oedipus, so he must either undergo suffering, death, or even both. He loses his future daughter-in-law, Antigone, by initiating her death, his son through suicide, and his wife by suicide as well. Antigone broke a decree of Creon’s: not to bury the traitor Polynices. The sister of Polynices, she breaks this new law because she knows that in order to please the gods she must so the right thing and bury Polynices. When she does Creon sentences her to death by sealing her in a cave. After realizing that he has made a critical error, he and his followers unseal the rocky tomb to find that Antigone has taken her own life. Creon’s son, Haemon, the to-be husband of Antigone, rushes into the cave in mourning. He attempts an attack on Creon, but fails to connect with his sword thrust, and in anger and remorse kills himself with his weapon beside his dead love. Creon, overwhelmed with anguish, returns to the castle. But when Creon’s wife, Eurydice hears of her son’s death, she slips away quietly and stabs herself in the heart with a dagger before Creon’s return. Creon realizes that all of the blame for these deaths rests on him alone, and undergoes great suffering, just like other central figures in Greek tragedies. For example, in the play Medea, by Euripides, Medea suffers the loss of her family, friends, land, and children. Creon faces this same kind of suffering, and wishes for his life to end to stop his suffering. He poetically states in the play, “Come, thou most welcome Fate, Appear, O come; Bring my days’ final date, Fill up their sum! Come quick, I pray; Let me not look upon another day!” (51). So with all this suffering, one might ask what the purpose of such a depressing play might be, or what lesson Sophocles attempts to teach us. This brings up the concept of morality. Creon did not get out of this sticky situation without getting something from it. Creon learned valuable lessons of morality, moderation, piety, reverence, wisdom, and humility. Throughout all Greek dramas, myths, and even architecture, the idea of moderation has always been the front-runner in lessons. Creon, a rather overconfident king, wants his authority and power in the polis to not be challenged. New to the job, he makes his first judgment against the body of Polynices, instructing that his body is not to be buried and left for the dogs, threatening death by public stoning if one dared to disobey him. After making his decree, he boldly stated, “No man shall bury, none should wail for him;…His body shall be left to be devoured / By dogs and fowls of air.” (9) But his bad attitude gets ahead of him when Antigone warns, “If the sin / Belong to these-O may their punishment / Be measured by the wrongfulness of mine!” (34) Even so Creon seals her in the cave. He is further warned by the wise seer Tiresias who tells that he must release Antigone immediately as well as perform the proper burial rituals for Polynices. Creon refuses to comply, accusing Tiresias of taking bribes, but the lead speaker for the Chorus persuades him to do so because of the fact that the seer has never been wrong. He does so, but he suffers the consequences of his stubbornness. The Chorus of Theban senators puts Creon’s lesson in words well. Wisdom first for a man’s well-beingMaketh, of all things. Heaven’s insistenceNothing allows of man’s irreverence;And great blows great speeches avenging,Dealt on a boaster,Teach men wisdom in age, at last. (52).Creon learns that a boaster will surely exceed the boundaries of being a moderate person, which surpasses the normal for modest living. He says sadly, “Ah yes, I have learnt, I know my wretchedness!” (48). In the end, he knew of all his errs and learned from them. At the center of every Greek tragedy exists a tragic hero, and Creon is just that. He fights for the right, makes a choice that results in suffering, tries to reverse an injustice, has a character flaw, and despite his efforts, becomes one of fate’s victims. Creon was crowned king when the current king Eteocles was killed in the Battle for Thebes, which was initiated when Polynices attacked the city. Creon took the throne with a sense of aggression towards the enemy of Thebes. He punished a traitor, and punishes anyone who sided with the traitor. Creon’s sentencing of death to Antigone was a choice that resulted in great suffering. The decision to execute her set off a chain reaction that ended with a body count of three and one remorseful king. When Creon realizes that his actions against both Polynices and Antigone are terribly immoral, he immediately makes an attempt to correct them by burying Polynices and attempting to free Antigone. He therefore tried to change a wrong, his judgments against Polynices and Antigone, to a right. Creon has a character flaw that reinforces his role in this difficult situation; his arrogant attitude. His arrogance, or hubris, gets him into heated debates, arguments, and confrontations with his followers, such as the Sentinel, his victims, Antigone, and even the wise seer Tiresias who has never been wrong. When done talking with Creon, Tiresias says, “And let him vent his spleen on younger men, And learn to keep a tongue more gentle, and / A brain more sober, than he carries now” (40). And finally, Creon suffers the wrath of fate. Throughout all Greek tragedies and myths, people and even Gods have attempted to evade their fate, but have never been able to do so. Creon is affected by fate through the curse of Oedipus. The Chorus recites:The stress of a Fate is hard;Nor wealth, nor warfare, nor ward,Nor black ships cleaving the seaCan resist her, or flee. (35).Creon may not wear a black cape, cowl, and jumpsuit, but he could be compared to Batman in the situation described earlier in the paper. Despite the fact that the play’s name stands as Antigone, I still believe that Creon should be recognized as the central character in this play. He lives longer, has more lines, stands in the middle of many moral arguments, and doesn’t pull a disappearing act in the middle of the play. Provided with this knowledge, maybe a reader will read the play Antigone with a new prospective, and look at the story from both point-of-views. Not placing Antigone as the ‘good-guy’, and Creon as the ‘bad-guy’, but thinking of the pair as good people fighting for the right in conflicting situations.
Antigone, the title character of Sophocles’ Antigone, faces the moral dilemma of whether to honor divine or mortal laws. While King Creon has decreed “no one shall bury [Polyneices],” the laws of the Gods dictate that all corpses must be buried (Prologue. 20). As such, the issue at hand is far more complex than merely considering religion or legalities– Antigone must also consider familial loyalty to her brother Polyneices. She repeatedly refers to her duty as a sister and ultimately chooses to bury Polyneices, giving up her own life if need be. Antigone believes herself to be in the right, as she is defending her religious beliefs and protecting family, so she willingly overlooks any responsibility she may have as a law-abiding citizen.
As she defends her disobedience of the king, Antigone makes appeals to her personal responsibility towards family. She claims to be a “true sister,” as opposed to the “traitor” Ismene who is reluctant to break the law, even for her brother’s soul (1. 27). The usage of diction with such strong connotations, like the ringing condemnation of “traitor,” reveals Antigone’s extreme, black-and-white view of the situation (1. 27). She takes her obligation so seriously that she claims she “should have suffered” if she abandoned Polyneices (2. 71). Moreover, the aforementioned suffering would be a consequence of not only her failings as a sister, but also her “transgress[ions] [of] the laws of heaven” (4. 80). Such a religious undertone permeates Antigone’s argument in support of burying her brother. She fiercely defends the belief that “there are honors due all the dead,” and therefore, she has a responsibility to uphold the commands of the Gods (2. 113). Her dedication to religion is intertwined with a sense of duty to her brother, and it bolsters Antigone’s decision to bury Polyneices. Antigone goes as far as to declare that “this crime is holy,” thus implying a righteous crusade of sorts—yet the word “crime” reveals her awareness that it is still a wrongdoing (1. 56).
Therein lies another facet to Antigone’s responsibilities. She also has a duty as a citizen, and as a niece, to obey her uncle Creon’s laws. Her deliberate defiance is a criminal act. Furthermore, both her actions and words display an arrogance in her attitude towards authority. She offhandedly tosses out that the King’s “strength is weakness” compared to the “immortal unrecorded laws of God” (2. 60-61). The comment is dismissive of Creon’s power as a ruler and demonstrates her unwillingness to respect his law. As she asks for death, telling Creon to “kill [her]” since his “talking is a great weariness,” she also displays a remarkable lack of respect for human life and the severity of death (2. 94-95). What she fails to acknowledge is that her ostensible martyrdom is not a solution, and her rebellious act will discredit Creon’s authority. Creon himself notes that if his own family ignores his will, it will be impossible to earn the “world’s obedience” (3. 30-31). In her obduracy, Antigone refuses to truly consider this consequence. She disregards the impact on Creon and the rest of the citizens when she focuses solely on burying Polyneices. In such a manner, Antigone deliberately makes a decision about where her responsibilities primarily lie: with her brother and with religion.
In a similar vein, Antigone’s choice has resounding impacts on several characters, thus affecting the “community” at large. There is a rippling effect, beginning with Haemon’s death (5. 71-72). His bitter suicide is directly attributed to Antigone’s own suicide, as his “love [is] lost” then (5. 62). That in turn leads to the queen’s suicide, as she stabs herself out of anguish over her son’s fate (5. 115). In essence, Antigone’s death has “bred death” in a chain effect (5. 107). However, before anything as drastic as loss of life, Antigone’s actions cause Ismene to be arrested and nearly sentenced (2. 87). Considering death to be a reward of sorts, Antigone rejects Ismene’s help not to save Ismene, but to avoid “lessen[ing] [Antigone’s] death by sharing it” (2. 139). There is an irony in this situation; Antigone repeatedly affirms her loyalty as a sister with her dedication to her brother, but she utterly ignores her responsibility to protecting Ismene.
Thus, Antigone prioritizes her responsibility to the Gods and to her brother above all else. Originally, her inner conflict comprises of a struggle between obeying the king and fulfilling religious rituals for her brother. She ultimately chooses to bury Polyneices and accept the casualties that will result, whether it be her own death, Creon’s distress, or Ismene’s suffering. These repercussions become irrelevant as Antigone focuses on the broader picture, choosing to defend her brother by obeying the laws of the Gods.
In his play Antigone, Sophocles portrays the character of Creon in a multitude of ways but particularly as proud and uncompromising. Because he is ruler of Thebes, many of his actions drive and shape the course of the drama. Significantly, it is also through the voice of Creon that readers can view how women are supposed to function in Theban society: subservient to their male counterparts. Sophocles uses Antigone as the antithesis to this patriarchal view. She is depicted as strikingly similar to Creon in her pride and unwillingness to compromise her beliefs, and as she directly defies Creon she simultaneously defies the accepted role of women in this society. Her unwavering personality eventually leads her to die graciously by her own hand, rather than by Creon’s. This, combined with Creon’s shift from strong and proud to meek and self-loathing, show that Antigone can be read from a feminist perspective—with Antigone’s self-imposed death as the ultimate defiance of Creon and Thebes’s status quo of male superiority.Over the course of Antigone, Creon’s overbearing sense of pride and belief that women should accept their inferior role in society become clear. For example, when Creon originally finds out that someone had defied his edict by giving the traitor, Polyneices, a proper burial, he displays utter disbelief that somebody could have defied him. Creon states, “Who? Who dared?”(313), and immediately jumps to a conclusion, shouting to a guard: “You did this! For money!”(322). Furthermore, Creon, filled with pride, does not even consider the notion that a woman could have completed the simple act, pronouncing, “[. . .] certain men in this city, as they would have it, have scarcely been able to stand up under my commands. [. . .] Those are the men that did this [. . .]” (365-371). In addition, when Creon discovers that indeed a woman went against his word, he is infuriated and insulted that an individual that is below him in society, a woman, could have had the audacity to go against his edict. Creon states, “I’m no man—she is a man, she’s the king—if she gets away with this” (589-591). This line illustrates that in Thebes society women should not be in positions of power, that they are defined as the lesser sex in society. Creon continually refers to and champions this idea throughout the drama.As the play continues, Creon overtly states his view of the suitability of a subservient woman and the negativity of any deviation from that role on a variety of occasions. At one point Creon proudly states, “I’m alive though, and no woman will rule me” (646), further illustrating the negativity of a woman having superiority, in any regard, to man. Creon demonstrates this belief again when he says, “If we must fall, better to fall to a real man and not be called worse than women” (823-824). Readers can also witness how this belief was accepted by society at the time through the chorus leader, who is representative of the masses, and his acceptance of it as he says, “In my belief, unless time has robbed me of discernment, you are speaking intelligently on this subject” (825-828). These lines show that this view of male superiority, clearly, is widely accepted as the status quo in Thebes.As Creon’s condescending views on women are being established, readers are also introduced to Antigone – the antithesis of such a patriarchal view. Antigone’s strong willed manner and proud defiance of Creon demonstrate to readers that she is plainly not an example of how a typical woman in Creon’s society should function. Antigone openly states her belief in her own personal strength in the opening scene when she says to her sister, “Then weakness will be your plea. I am different” (100-101). This proud statement of her strength comes across as very similar to Creon’s, who, as king, is a symbol of power and masculinity, two terms that would never be used to describe a woman in this society. Along with her self-stated strength, from the beginning of the play readers can also view Antigone’s unwillingness to compromise her belief that Polyneices, her brother, deserves a proper burial—a burial that she will give him—even though Creon’s law guarantees death to anyone who dares to do so. Antigone makes it clear that she acknowledges the consequence of violating Creon’s edict, yet she still insists on her principle when she says, “I will bury him myself. If I die doing that, good [. . .]” (88-90). Antigone again recognizes her defiance of Creon based on her inability to go against her beliefs by saying, “I did it. I deny nothing. [. . .] I was thoroughly aware I would die before you proclaimed it” (541-566). Even as Antigone is making her final procession to the tomb where Creon has sent her to eventually die, she remains unwavering, stating, “Polyneices, I buried you too. And today, this [death] is my reward. But I was right to honor you, and men who understand will agree” (1056-1059). The fact that Antigone still stays true to her original motivations, even as she is on her way to die for it, shows the personal strength that she possesses. This depiction of Antigone as a strong woman, steadfast in her convictions and unafraid of a man and ruler, even in the face of death, clearly sets her in direct contrast to Creon’s patriarchal outlook on a woman’s inferior place in his society. In addition to her strong refusal to compromise her views, Antigone’s pride also demonstrates her defiance of the accepted role of submission that women should play in society. For example, when Antigone defies Creon and buries her brother, her sister, out of fear of Creon, says she will remain quiet about the matter. However, Antigone does not want her to do so, saying, “No, shout it, proclaim it. I’ll hate you more for keeping silence” (108-109). This line demonstrates that Antigone is not only unafraid of the consequences she may suffer, but that she is proud of her actions, and prefers people to know what she did. Creon, in another scene, adds to this sentiment by stating that she was “bragging about it” (587), which further illustrates the fact that Antigone’s pride trumps all else, even the threat of death. This inherent pride, an attribute that clearly helped Antigone defy her ruler and secure an imminent death, also allows Antigone to graciously accept her death, as evidenced by her statements leading up to it; and instead of dying quietly at the hands of her ruler’s edict, Antigone hangs herself—a final demonstration of her unwillingness to bend to anyone else, and, in consequence, a final defiance of the submissive social role of women as well. Antigone’s procession to the tomb Creon plans to enclose her in is not solemn or quiet; instead Antigone walks proudly and graciously accepts her fate. The chorus states Antigone’s graceful procession saying, “You go with fame and in glory to the hidden place of the dead. [. . .] You descend to the kingdom of Death alive, of your own accord” (972-977). This line again illustrates that Antigone is accepting of the fate she has secured herself and plans to die with the same pride that she has lived with thus far. Antigone once more shows her pride by openly stating her acceptance of her imminent death for not conceding her belief about her brother’s burial, stating, “But my fate is my own, to die; and there is no one I love who sighs over me”( 1029-1030). Creon’s reaction to Antigone’s words demonstrates his frustration that Antigone still refuses to submit to him or show any sign of humility in the face of death, something that clearly challenges the assigned social role of women at this time. Creon replies, “Singing and sighing! If it were any use to talk before you die no one would ever stop. Take her away. Hurry!”(1031-1034). Creon’s words exemplify his anger and frustration that, rather than humbly accepting defeat at the hands of her ruler, Antigone is still speaking with the same conviction and pride that she has shown through the play to this point, which is, once again, not compliant with her social role as a woman, championed by Creon, in Thebes. The physical act of Antigone’s suicide is also highly significant in her portrayal as the antithesis to Creon’s view on how women should function in society. The mere fact that Antigone chose to kill herself, “hanged by the neck, a noose made from her own linen robe” (1416-1417), acts as a final defiance of Creon, and as a result, his patriarchal views as well. Antigone refused to die by Creon’s words—he demanded that she be enclosed in a tomb to die a slow death—and instead, she died just as she had lived, through herself and herself only. By viewing Antigone’s suicide as a final assertion of her self-power and, as a result, as a resistance to the established role of women at this time, the event can be read on a positive feminist note. Antigone died with the independence and will-power she lived with, and never compromised to Creon even as she breathed her last.To further prove Antigone as an “archetypal feminist,” the demise of Creon, a man with a personality just as strong as hers, illustrates her success in defying the submissive social role she was assigned as a woman. For example, through the course of the play, Creon, like Antigone, is filled with pride and refuses to compromise his beliefs or go against his word, as he sees such actions as sign of weakness. Creon demonstrates this view stating things such as, “Or how much worse losing your judgment is?”(1215), and “Just understand: I’m not for sale. I have principles” (1237-1238) in response to Teiresias’s pleads for him to reverse his edict. Again, he states his unwillingness to compromise his views saying, “It’s terrible to give in,” (1272). These lines of Creon’s refusal to back down, similar to Antigone’s own views, set up his huge collapse at the end of the play, however. Creon’s decision to go against his word and reverse his edict when he learns that his kingdom will be plagued if he does not illustrates that even a strong willed and proud man is capable of breaking, and serves to further highlight the unique strength that Antigone, destined to be a complacent and inferior woman in Creon’s world, possessed and died with. By the end of the play, Creon is devoid of any sense of pride and strength he originally possessed, and the play concludes for him on an opposite note that it did for Antigone. While Antigone died graciously and through her own accord, never losing sight of her original motivations and beliefs, Creon folds and compromises, and by the play’s end, after watching his family members die, he shamefully wishes to see his own life taken as well. Creon’s downfall is captured in the words of a messenger who states, “Once, in my opinion, Creon was enviable. [. . .] But now has lost everything” (1133-1138). Furthermore, Creon’s loss of strength and pride are further demonstrated in his begging for his own death as he states, “Why don’t you hack me down? Has someone got a sword? I and grief are blended. I am grief. [. . .] I’m nobody. I’m nothing. [. . .] I don’t want to see another day” (1500-1519). This emotional and self-loathing side of Creon is a massive deviation from his powerful and proud representation throughout the course of the play, and is significant in the portrayal of Antigone because it helps to additionally show that her strength has far surpassed his. Even when he explicitly stated that women are below men in society, Antigone’s death by her own hand, compared to Creon’s slow and cowardly demise, demonstrates that Antigone had successfully challenged and discredited the idea that women should submit to their male counterparts in society. Through Sophocles’s establishment of the conflict between Creon and Antigone, two very similar characters within this play, readers can simultaneously view a conflict between a patriarchal view of the function of women in society and an individual who clearly defies it. The juxtaposition of the strength and pride of these two characters illustrates the disparity between the two at Antigone’s conclusion. Creon’s eventual demise and ultimate transition from a character filled with pride to a character filled with self-loathing, compared to Antigone’s self-imposed death and her ability to remain unwavering and die with the pride she lived with, demonstrate to readers that Antigone can be read as a play where the status quo, a particularly negative one for women, can indeed be defeated by an individual’s ability to remain true to herself, and in doing so, defy it. This defiance takes the negative outlook on a woman’s role in society, and, in turn, creates a largely positive one, one that demonstrates to readers that simply defying the status quo can sometimes be enough to personally defeat it altogether.
One of the key thematic threads running through the plays of The Oedipus Cycle is the debate regarding the primary importance between the laws of the gods over those of the State. For example, in both Oedipus Rex and Antigone, the eponymous characters are torn between serving the Theban body politique and heeding the moral imperatives inherent to the prophecies of Fate. In these two plays, judgment falls on the side of the gods, whose laws must trump those of manmade “statecraft” (The Oedipus Cycle, 204). For both Oedipus and Antigone, their tragic heroism, the way they prove themselves to be “better in degree” to their fellow man, derives from their ultimate sacrifice to honor the will of the gods and repair the State. However, within this dramatic framing, there are fundamental differences between father and daughter that show Antigone to be less the chosen “sacred monster” figure embodied by Oedipus, and rather a model of intelligence and reason who serves the common good. It is through her agency, through her moral choices, that she paradoxically fulfills the will of the gods and protects the communal good, while not being the mere, passive observer of their prophecies. Additionally, because her decisions dramatize the potential conflicting relationship between the laws of the gods over those of the State, Antigone demonstrates how tragedy and turmoil arise as a consequence of this discord. By again honoring her capacities for intelligence and reason, she offers the idea of “conscience” as a possible solution, as a way to incite change within the State and bring these two systems in commune with each other. Although the “heroic journeys” Oedipus and Antigone traverse lead them to similar ends, and are both guided by a common truth, their particular origins are significantly different. In Oedipus Rex, Oedipus denies at every turn the preeminence of Fate. For example, Teiresias is well-known in Thebes as an agent of the gods, as a “lord clairvoyant to the lord Apollo” (15), a (blind) “seer” able to speak on his behalf. Despite this consensus opinion, as reinforced by the Choragos, Oedipus is certain that the prophecies delivered by Teiresias are false. He questions their validity by disparagingly calling Teiresias a “decrepit fortune-teller,” “fraud,” and spouter of “mystic mummery” (21). He also questions the integrity of Teiresias’ character and purpose, accusing him of “infamy” (20) and of conspiring with Creon in a plot against the King. Refusing to concede to Teiresias’ announcement that he is the very “pollution” (19) causing the plague on Thebes, Oedipus insists on the sanctity of the State, as represented by his defense of his position as King. He maintains, for example, that he is the rightful protector of the city-state, his unique (riddle-solving) abilities having initially saved the people from the curse of the Sphinx. It is not until the full details of his wretched back-story are revealed, not until he has conducted various inquiries that belie his fundamental doubt, that Oedipus is convinced of the supremacy and truth of the gods and the inevitability of his fate: “It was true! All the prophecies…I, Oedipus…damned in his birth, in his marriage, damned/Damned in the blood he shed with his own hand!” (64) In this way, Oedipus represents a kind of “sacred monster”–a virtuous King who has nonetheless committed a crime so vile, it has ruptured the natural order. He is a figure selected by the gods, then, to perform the divine/inhuman function of both restoring this disrupted balance and, through his own tragic end, teaching the preeminence of Fate. By contrast, Antigone supports the will of the gods (and protects the communal good) not because she is the subject of prophecy, nor as the coerced result of an unequivocal revelation. Instead, she actively seeks out the will of the gods through her particular moral choices, through her intelligence and capacity for reason. Unlike her father, Antigone embraces the primacy of the gods, which is manifest in her moral imperatives, over the codes of the State from the onset of her dramatic installment. Although both plays are set within the context of a disturbed or unstable city-state (Thebes), the plague at the opening of Oedipus Rex is the result of a deep crime having been committed against nature–the murder of one’s own father and marriage (sexual consummation) with one’s mother–while in Antigone, the inciting dilemma is one of cultural practice — the burial of the dead–and how its implicit ethical questions stage the greater, theoretical debate at the center of The Oedipus Cycle. In this play, Antigone’s brothers, Polyneices and Eteocles, have both been killed in the aftermath of war. However, because Polyneices committed two acts of treason, both breaking the terms of his exile and fighting against the side of Thebes, the newly-ascended King Creon has mandated the denial of his proper burial: Polyneices, I say, is to have no burial: no man is to touch him or say the least prayer for him…This is my command, and you can see the wisdom behind it. As long as I am King, no traitor is going to be honored. But, whoever shows…that he is on the side of the State–he shall have my respect. (197) Creon here asserts the sound rationale of his decision, alluding to the clear “wisdom behind it,” and describing those that oppose or question his rules as “traitor(s)” who will not be tolerated (or “honored”). Therefore, as evidenced by this quote, Creon justifies the power, strength and legitimacy of his “command” by associating it with the good of the State. He aligns his decree–and himself as King–with serving the interest of the “public welfare” (197). Antigone, however, supports another kind of mandate—one, in fact, that more accurately and profoundly attends to the needs of the communal good: the mandate of fundamental moral justice, as inherent to the decree of the gods. She disagrees with Creon’s self-proclaimed “wise” command, and considers it both her duty as sister and fellow human to give her beloved brother a true religious burial. She expresses her point of view in a kind of resolute tenacity that harkens slightly to Oedipus’ prideful denial (according to the Choragos, “Like father, like daughter…both headstrong” ). With her sister, for example, Antigone adopts a tone of determination that borders on the callous. When Ismene refuses to join, and thus support, Antigone’s decision to bury Polyneices, Antigone says: “Go away, Ismene:/I shall be hating you soon, and the dead will too,/For your words are hateful” (193). Similarly, she criticizes her sister for siding so vehemently with the State. Ismene is convinced that she and Antigone are powerless against Creon’s rule, and advocates submission: “We are only women/We cannot fight with men…we must give in to the law” (191-192). In response, Antigone not only reinforces the strength of her conviction, but correlates the notion of the moral good with the wish of the gods: “You (Ismene) may do as you like/Since apparently the laws of the gods mean nothing/to you” (192). She reiterates this point when defending her actions, her violation of the “burial” mandate, before Creon. Antigone argues that Creon’s laws are weak because they are provisional, the product of a human temporariness, a “now” (208) which pales in comparison to the significance and legitimacy of the “immortal unrecorded laws of God…operative forever, beyond man utterly” (208). Therefore, she disobeys Creon’s decree because she does not invest it with any sense of valid, lasting authority: “It was not God’s proclamation. That final Justice/That rules the world below makes no such laws” (208). Antigone, thus, does not come to recognize the supremacy of the gods inevitably, after the full disclosure or revelation of an individual destiny. Unlike Oedipus, her tragic heroism does not stem from her status as the passive subject of prophecy. Rather, her decision to abide the will of the gods, and her demise in death (a suicide by hanging, which itself demonstrates a kind of agency), are the results of self-guided choice informed by a system of values and a capacity for reason and intelligence. This important distinction is reflected, also, in the precise ways Oedipus and Antigone’s acceptance of the gods and tragic ends repair the State, offering a mere purification on one hand, and an actual reversal within the governing body on the other. Identified as the contagion responsible for the plague upon Thebes, and fully convinced of his (unintentional) culpability, King Oedipus at once understands the necessary, healing goodness of his exile. Specifically, at the end Oedipus Rex, he demands of Creon, “Let me go…Let me purge my father’s Thebes of the pollution/Of my living here” (77). In this way, Oedipus represents the “scapegoat” of ancient religious ritual. A good and well-meaning King, he epitomizes the “best” of the community, a paragon of man, whose ultimate sacrifice would restore the disrupted order of the city-state. Therefore, by virtue of his simply fulfilling a prophecy, an act that was pre-ordained and thus completely outside his realms of choice, agency, and self-determination, Oedipus cleanses an afflicted Thebes. On the other hand, Antigone’s demise repairs the State through a more profound corrective change, further removing herself from the helpless, “sacred monster” figure embodied by her father, and reinforcing her “tragic heroic” figure as one shaped by the powers of human intelligence and reason. In comparison to Oedipus’ exile, Antigone’s punishment and eventual death serve the communal good by correcting the State, inciting a readjustment within the political establishment that is attributed not to the irresistible will of the gods (prophecy), but to the reasoned decisions of the citizens (that, if correct, will ultimately reflect the will of the gods). Specifically, in Antigone, Creon turns away from his original stance of privileging the sanctity of the State (and thus the authority of his own self) and toward recognizing the supremacy of the gods. As already mentioned, King Creon is an ardent defender of the laws of the State, sentencing Antigone to imprisonment within a cave as penalty for her refusal to obey these mandates. Throughout the play, he asserts his defense of the State against challenges from within. For example, his son Haimon, husband to Antigone, questions his father’s decision, and criticizes the King’s general narrow-mindedness, unequivocal nature and lack of humility/flexibility. He says to his father: “Yet there are other men/Who can reason, too: and their opinions might be helpful,/You are not in a position to know everything/That people say or do, or what they feel:/…everyone will tell you only what you want to hear” (218). Haimon would like his father to be more “changeable” (219), to allow himself to be “moved” and “learn from those who can teach” (219). However, Creon is firm in his choice, insisting that the “State is King” (221) and that all his will, automatically, protects the public interest. Ironically, however Creon also sometimes undermines the community for the sake of his individualism. For example, he asks his son, with some incredulity and disdain, whether the City could ever truly “propose to teach [him] how to rule?” (220) Therefore, he purports to celebrate the “public interest” while simultaneously, and contradictorily, championing his sole authority as King. Despite his firm standpoint, the resolute, self-important Creon does ultimately change his mind. He eventually believes Teiresias, whose prophecies of “calamity” (231) and doom he, like Oedipus, initially denies (in fact, he calls Teiresias a “doddering fortune-teller” (232), which recalls Oedipus’ earlier disparaging remark of “decrepit fortune-teller” ). He recants his sentence on Antigone, admitting that Teiresias’ words have “trouble[d him]” (235) and affirming that, indeed, “the laws of the gods are mighty, and a man must serve them” (236). However, he soon realizes that his reversal has come too late, for, upon opening the door of Antigone’s cave, he discovers her hanged (by her own hand) and his son Haimon also dead, having killed himself in response to her suicide. With the death, also, of his wife Eurydice, Creon cannot help but view this chain of familial murder and tragedy (which also resembles the downward trajectory of Oedipus’ family line) as proof, finally, of the preeminence of Fate over the mandates/control of the State. At the end of Antigone, much like the enlightened but dismal, wretched character of Oedipus at the beginning of his exile, Creon is ruefully aware of his own folly as King. He says to the Choragos, “Lead me away…I look for comfort; my comfort lies here dead./Whatever my hands have touched has come to/nothing/Fate has brought all my pride to a thought of dust” (245). Therefore, both the technical recall of Antigone’s sentence, and the sobering realization and change of attitude Creon experiences, evidence how Antigone’s demise induces a more forceful, powerful reparative effect within Thebes. As the product of her human choice, a matter of her own determination, Antigone’s death, rather than simply fulfill a “purification prophecy,” actively corrects a flaw within the State. This decision certainly further divorces Antigone from the passive, even hapless “sacred monster” figure symbolizing Oedipus’ tragic heroism. Additionally, however, by pointing to, and then readjusting, a flaw within the governing body, Antigone’s “change” highlights the clashing tension between the laws of the gods and those of the State. She illustrates the negative consequences that emerge from this dueling relationship, and suggests the idea of the citizens’’ “conscience” as a possible way of bridging or reconciling these two systems of laws. The very fact that Creon “turns,” that he moves from one end of the spectrum of personal opinion towards the other, testifies to the grave disparity and disconnect existing between the moral imperatives of the gods and the political codes of the State. Throughout The Oedipus Cycle, tragedy results from primary characters trying to fight against one set of laws, embrace the other, and challenge non-believers (anarchists) within both camps. Is one “side” ultimately better, more correct than the other? According to first Ode of the Chorus in Antigone, the laws of the gods–and thus the good of the whole–must be abided by above all else. However, this Ode does not reject, but rather exalts, the capabilities of man. According to the Chorus: O Clear intelligence, force beyond all measure! O fate of man, working both good and evil! When the laws are kept, how proudly his city stands! When the laws are broken, what of his city then? (204)Here, the Chorus is asserting that the gods’ laws cannot be conquered, but it is also praising man’s abilities and intelligence (as a “force beyond all measure”). Therefore, by representing the close relationship and benefit to both the will of the gods and the agency/reason of man, and yet also highlighting the potential for a toxic clash, the “Ode I” Chorus in particular, and Antigone in general, proves that the communal whole will only survive if the laws of the State and of the gods are made identical. Antigone’s–or really the any citizen’s–“conscience,” a combination of reason, agency, and morality, is the source from which this harmonizing process can begin. By channeling the will of the gods through her adherence to a personal, rather than State-mandated, definition of justice, but also by not submitting to the pre-ordained design of the gods and maintaining her own choice instead, Antigone demonstrates how adherence to both the laws of the State and of the gods can yield a fruitful, complementary relationship. As long as he possesses an intimate sense of the moral good and respect for the power of the gods, it is once man can make his own decisions that peace, prosperity, and preservation of the community will be ultimately realized. In conclusion, Antigone does not embody the “sacred monster” figure perpetuated by of her father. Although a tragic hero, and certainly an example of the “best” citizen a village might offer as sacrifice to the gods, Antigone does not manifest the passive qualities implicit to idea of the ritualistic “scapegoat.” She is not chosen by the gods to fulfill some divine function. Rather, she is a tragic hero for the fact that her decisions, her belief in the supremacy of Fate, and her eventual demise, are the products of willful self-determination. The Oedipus Cycle, then, seems to move away from the notion of the “sacred monster.” With Antigone, we encounter an image of the tragic hero as someone who serves the communal good by virtue of her reason, intelligence, and capacity to render a moral choice.