Antigone By Sophocles Essay, Research Paper
Fate, Loyalty, and Law
The play Antigone by Sophocles is a play like no other. There are three major themes or ideas which have a very important role in the play. The first major theme is fate, on how the play comes about and the turn of events that come about throughout it. Another main theme or idea is the pride the characters have and their unwillingness they have to change their minds once they are set on something. The last major theme is loyalty and the practical problem of conduct involving which is a higher law between the divine laws and those of the humans. It is an issue of which law is the “right” law, and if Creon and Antigone’s acts are justifiable or not. The issues that Antigone and Creon have between them are what ties this whole play together. The themes are also developed with the use of their issues between each other and what they believe in. “Freedom of religion was encouraged to be exercised in the city-states and man was focused on more than the Gods or heavenly concerns. These new ideas and beliefs, though good in intention, often conflicted with one another and created complex moral dilemmas. In the play, Antigone and Creon battle a philosophical war concerning their ideas”(Arrowsmith 296). Antigone represents the laws of the Gods while Creon represents those of the humans.
The first major theme of fate is what had gotten the family of Oedipus where they were when the play began. Fate is why Oedipus winds up killing his own father and eventually ended up marrying his own mother and then later on he found out about all of this. Fate is also what led Creon to be the new king of Thebes and what led his nephews to be on opposite sides of the war. The fate of the two brothers winds up ultimately killing both of them on opposite sides during the war. Antigone’s ultimate fate was to die trying to honor her dead brother and show loyalty what is most important to her, her family. In the first paragraph of the play it reads, “My darling sister Ismene, we have had a fine inheritance from Oedipus. God has gone through the whole range of sufferings and piled them all on us, -grief upon grief, humiliation upon humiliation”(1042). This just shows how terrible fate has treated the family of Oedipus. Creon has a different fate, one that he brought upon himself but it is much more dour than anyone else’s. Creon’s fate was to lose all of all of his family and the rest of his life knowing it was his entire fault because of his selfish actions and his stubborn ways. In the end of the play Creon says, “Nobody else to share the blame. Just me . . . I killed you. I killed you my dear”(1078-1079).
Pride acts as another major theme; it is what got Creon in this situation in the first place. Creon has too much pride to admit to anyone that maybe he was wrong. Even when he has Antigone he has too much pride to let her go. Creon’s own son questions him and he replies, “Am I to stand here and be lectured to by a kid? A man of my experience”(1063)!Creon shows that here he is too proud to change his decision for his own son even if he made the wrong choice. The king’s friend the Leader tries to convince Creon to change his mind by telling him “My king, ever since he began I’ve been debuting in my mind, could this possibly be the work of the gods”(1050). The Leader was trying to tell Creon maybe the gods did have something to do with it still does not convince the pride filled king to change his mind. After Creon has captured Antigone and has sentenced her to die the blind prophet, Teiresias, tries to get Creon to change his mind. Teiresias went to Creon and informed him of his wrong doings and told Creon that his actions would result in terrible things that are going to come back to him. Even the blind prophet could not change the strong-minded and the pride filled decision of the king, Creon. Creon’s pride filled and stubborn decision led him to what he got and ultimately he led himself to his terrible fate. “Creon could have changed his mind, and there were a fare amount of warnings. But his decisions lend him an empty life that could have been adverting if only he would have put his pride aside for a while”(Wharton 295). Creon acknowledges his great mistake in being prideful and realizes how his pride caused suffering.
Both Antigone and Creon have their own ideas of what is “right” and what is “wrong”. This is to say that we should not make assumptions about whether or not something is right or wrong, unless the answer to that is apparently clear. Antigone’s opinion is one that supports the gods and the laws of the heavens. Her reasoning is set by her belief that if someone were not given a proper burial, that a person would not be accepted into heaven. Antigone was a very religious person and the acceptance of her brother by the gods was very important to her. Creon’s actions are guided by the ideal that man is the measure of all things. Creon believes that the good of man comes before the gods. Creon believes that the actions that the actions he had taken were in fact the right ones, because he believed that Polyneices was a traitor to the land, and anyone who would give him a proper burial would suffer the penalty of death. Creon is devoted to his laws while Antigone is loyal to her beliefs. Creon labels those who dare to act against him as traitors, and his justice is quick and cruel.
Antigone shows her loyalty to her beliefs to give her brother a proper burial even if it is going to cost her own life. Antigone, in her plan to give her brother a proper burial, kept in mind the consequences she would suffer for having followed through with the plan. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Antigone does not obey the human law that is set up by king Creon; it just means that this particular rule conflicted with the law of the Gods, something that Antigone believes highly in obeying, especially when it deals with her family. “Antigone is torn between her devotion to the Gods and her loyalty to the king”(Harding 290). “She felt her personal responsibility lies to the gods and her family rather than to the king”(Harding 304).Antigone disregards the justice that governs the land and also presides over the set laws that make civilized life attainable. Antigone goes up against human law, by burying Polyneices, knowing well that she will sacrifice her own life. She does this only because it is morally and ethically right, and this is why she stakes her life based upon her loyalty and strong beliefs. She chooses the divine command over the human compulsion and rejects life with its companies for the absolutes of deaths. Indeed, in her terms these absolutes are, paradoxically, just the things that live always. To Antigone, divine law is of more importance than human law. She bases herself on the following the law that is set by the Gods. Antigone views morals and values very highly. Antigone meant well when she did what she did, but maybe she should have let the Gods vindicate their own laws. “Therefore by obeying the Gods, hopefully, will result in a happy afterlife, which are what most people strive for in ancient times and now. If man does not honor you for your noble efforts, your Gods’ will. Antigones’ act was honorable. She stood up to the highest of powers so she could honor her brother, knowing the consequence could be death”(Wharton 310).
Creon’s greatest error was that he truly believed that Polyneices was traitor, which consequently forced him to issue a degree forbidding Polyneices a proper burial. Creon is too loyal to his beliefs that laws are necessary to retain order even if it means going against ones family. Creon is short-sighted because he refuses to believe any other opinions or law other than his own. He is also an extremist in reason and unwilling to put the god’s laws above his laws. There is not much “right” on the side of Creon throughout the play. Creon seemed to be content with his actions, though morally unacceptable in the area of divine law. The only thing Creon had done to set up and be loyal to the laws of his community. Even though this law was broken by Antigone, Creon was very narrow-minded with his decision to sentence her to death. He could have looked more at her side, to better understand why she did what she did, but instead he acted more stubborn and therefore was loyal to his own laws. “Creon cannot understand that the law he has broken is not what tradition, the established law, ordains, but is the force of love or of justice which moves these laws and makes them sacred”(Braun 13). Creon honors the laws of the land but he doesn’t acknowledge the laws of the gods who swore him into that position. By tragically losing all, one is forced to fell sympathy toward him, and for always doing what he thought was right, and be loyal to what he thought would farther and protect his kingdom.
Antigone possesses the qualities everyone admires. She is defiant, strong-willed, rebellious, brave, loyal, and stubborn. Creon matches these strong qualities with cruelty, authoritativeness, loyalty, and pride. By the end of the play Antigone is exonerated for having buried her brother Polyneices and also for going against the law that was set by Creon. Even though she had excused for her actions, she still lost her own life and the lives of people close to her . This is one of the reasons why the play Antigone has referred to as one of the most influential Greek tragedies written. This is truly a tragedy, and this never would’ve have happened if only King Creon hadn’t made up the law that nobody could bury Polyneices because he was a traitor. There was much conflict in this play, particularly between Antigone and Creon, over the matter of divine law and human law. Sometimes it is not possible or feasible to obey and follow both of these sets of laws, unwritten or not. In the end all of these themes was a great benefactor in the outcome of this play, but one stands out as the greatest. Fate made all of this happen. Fate had made everything happen just as it did. They say you can never change your fate, well after this I know it is true.
In conclusion, it seems that Antigone’s side of this whole play was more “right” than “wrong”. Antigone was only following what she believed in, by giving her brother Polyneices a proper burial despite what the human law set up by Creon had specifically stated. There should be a point where both sides, divine law and human law, should be looked at with an open mind, because many times conflict occurs over which side should be taken. I believe that divine law should be highly regarded, but I also believe that the laws set up by man should be acknowledged and followed, with the exception of foolish laws that are set up, such as the law that king Creon made up. One must carefully weigh out divine law and human law if they are put in a situation where one of the sides must be taken. My conclusion is that Antigone was right for having buried her brother, and that Creon was wrong for even making up this law with the penalty of death. I found this play very interesting. Even though it was produced centuries ago, we could still easily relate with the themes it depicted. It encourages people of the modern world to stand up for what they believe in. It teaches us to be more open-minded. We learn that there are no set rules. We do not always have to do what we are told. We just have to be aware of the consequences of our actions. Antigone also emphasizes on being proud. It is important to have pride for the reason of restoring one’s own self-esteem; however, having too much of it can lead to destruction. Admitting you are wrong is not so bad.
Braun, Richard. Antigone Reviews. New York; London, 1973
Arrowsmith, William. “Revised Second Edition.” Masterplots. ed. Frank N. MaGill. Pasadena: Salem Press, Inc. 1996. 295-297.
Wharton, Will. Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism. ed. Jelena O. Krstovic. Detroit: Gale Research, Inc. 1988. 288-430.
Harding, Charles. Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism. ed. Jelena O. Krstovic. Detroit: Gale Research Inc. 1988. 288-430.