Antigone Individual Vs. Laws Of Society Essay, Research Paper
In Sophocles’ “Antigone”, the primary focus is on the concept of the individual versus the laws of authority within society. In “Antigone” the reader is challenged by the various conflicting morals that are presented. Antigone’s predicament is one related to moral principles. She must decide whether or not she must act based on what she believes to be right or submit to the authority of her king. Throughout this play, Sophocles brings up the issue in question, the value of an individuals beliefs above society’s laws. He develops for us the character of Antigone who must discover the true meaning of honor by choosing between divine law and laws of her city state.
In Ancient Greece, after 800 B.C., new ideas came to the forefront concerning the governing of society. These ideas led to the development of the city states, large self governing towns. These city states were founded on the principles of freedom, optimism, secularism, rationalism and the glorification of the body and mind. Accompanying these principles was an obligation of fierce loyalty to the city state and a willingness to shed blood on it’s behalf. Within this atmosphere of extreme loyalty, freedom was only enjoyed with the assumption that when the time came, every able bodied man would be willing to fight for his people. Indeed political leaders and local authority figures were usually heroes of war. Creon, the king in “Antigone”, states that “Alive or dead, the faithful servant of his country shall be rewarded.” This statement exemplifies the values within Greek culture.
As the dictator of Thebes, Creon simply wants to enforce these values of loyalty. He sets the standard of his reign and makes a public example of Polyneices by not allowing anyone to give him a proper burial. Polyneices is considered an enemy of the state and Creon cannot allow any traitor to be honored, especially in death. In one of his first orations as king, Creon says “As God is my witness…no man who is his countries enemy shall call me a friend.” By saying this Creon is exercising his authority and clearly stating his hatred for traitors. Later in the play, Antigone comes to be seen as a traitor by Creon because she openly disobeys his orders and gives Polyneices a burial.
But what about Antigone’s actions? Are they necessarily wrong? One might argue that Antigone’s need for Polyneices to be buried was actually quite virtuous. After all he was her brother and she not only had family ties with him but she also wanted to uphold her own personal religious beliefs. Creon’s edict was a public attack on Antigone’s family. Antigone also held the perspective that she was supporting the laws of the gods and the heavens. Her reasoning is set by her belief that if Polyneice’s was not buried properly, he would not go to heaven. Another important ideal held in Ancient Greece was that the government should not have any control in matters concerning the gods and religion. This ideal brings about the conflict. Antigone wants respect for her brother and for the gods and Creon wants to protect the integrity of Thebes.
In today’s world we still often deal with the issue of respect for an individuals rights. In America we use the constitution to help guide us in establishing decisions regarding an individual’s need versus society’s need. Freedom of religion is a right that is guaranteed to us as citizen’s, but there have been certain scenarios that have arisen in which there is no clear boundary about how far that freedom extends. Antigone clearly personifies this concept and is shown as the ultimate martyr for her beliefs. Antigone is a very strong willed woman whom the reader cannot help but respect for her integrity even if she was unlawful. Her last words are “Go, I, his prisoner, because I honored those things in which honor truly belongs.” It is easy to sympathize with Antigone and recognize her virtues. Sophocles obviously intended for us to identify with her.
The tragic ending of “Antigone” seems to make it pretty clear which side of the argument Sophocles is taking up. The play ends with Creon riddled with guilt, ready to die. “I am nothing. I have no life. Lead me away…my hands have done amiss, my head is bowed.”, he says in a pitiful final speech. In this moment he knows he has been wrong, blinded by pride and loyalty to his state. But while it is obvious that Sophocles is condemning Creon, the reasons for his demise are open to debate. In the plays final stanza, the chorus sings what appears to be a moral tragedy . ” Is wisdom to hold the god’s in awe. This is the law.” The Chorus’ simple message seems to lack as a full explanation for Creon’s fall. Creon’s true downfall is his own pride or hubris. Creon falls under the category of other Greek figures (Achilles, Odysseus etc.),whose pride and stubborn nature proves to be their undoing. Maybe the true moral to this story is best stated by Teiresias when he said “It is a fool who is governed by self-will.”