Creon And Achilles Essay, Research Paper
Both Creon of Sophocles Antigone and Achilles of Homer s The Iliad end up allowing the body of their enemy a proper burial. During the time following the death of Hector, Achilles is in a position very similar to that which Creon deals with in Antigone. Both men show similar flaws, and face similar struggles. The difference between the two men is only subtly discernible until the telling moment when each man is faced with pressure to change his stance on the fate of the fallen warrior. Each man s initial reaction is quite telling of his character, and the motives behind each man s decision (although the motives are debatable) also help to expose his true nature. In the end, there seems to be a quality within each man which lies above the flaws, failures or triumphs. By suggesting such a quality, Sophocles and Homer glorify or debase characters such as Creon and Achilles.
Rage, anger and revenge are exhibited by both Achilles and Creon. Achilles shows his rage in Book I of The Iliad when he speaks out against Agamemnon and refuses to fight, as well as in Book XXII when he avenges the death of Patroclus by the slaughter of Hector. Book XXIV, however, is the book in which Achilles situation most closely parallels that of Priam. To most objectively compare their characters, it is important that the situations we see them responding to are as similar as possible. In Antigone, the battle is over and all that remains are the remains of those fallen in battle. We have very little knowledge of how Creon behaved during the battle, and therefore should not overemphasize the detailed account of Achilles actions during battle that is supplied in earlier books of The Iliad. Creon initially exposes his rage and vengeance with the decree that Eteocles will be buried and Polynices will not. Creon says this of Polynices No, he must be left unburied, his corpse/ carrion for birds and dogs to tear/ an obscenity for the citizens to behold! (231). A similar rage can be found in Achilles treatment of the body of Hector. Not only did Achilles deny the body a proper burial, but he dragged the dead body around tied to his chariot (XXIV-18). Later examples of rage are more plentiful in Creon s case, as he rages against those who question the wisdom of his decision to let Polynices rot. Creon s strongest rage is his rage against Antigone for attempting to bury Polynices. –she ll never escape/ she and her blood sister, the most barbaric death (545). This ardent anger is left unparalleled by the actions of Achilles. Achilles shows only one additional spark of anger during the his conversation with Priam. Impatient for the return of his son s body Priam says to Achilles Give him back to me, now, no more delay–/ I must see my son with my own eyes (XXIV-650). To this Achilles responds angrily No more, old man, don t tempt my wrath, not now! (XXIV-656), So don t anger me now. Don t stir my raging heart still more./ Or under my own roof I may not spare your life, old man– (XXIV-667). Although the initial threats are similar in nature, the actions that each man takes after making the threat is a truer measure of the rage within each man. Creon sends Antigone to her tomb, while Achilles regains his composure allowing for Priam s safe return to Troy and peaceful burial of his son Hector. Creon s rage is more powerful than Achilles in this situation.
The importance of the Gods and the way mortals regard them in Greek literature can never be underestimated. Antigone and The Iliad are obviously not exceptions. It is a fair to assume that both Achilles and Creon were defying the Gods by their refusal to bury the fallen warriors. In The Iliad, there is actually a scene where we hear the God s dissatisfaction with the state of Hector s corpse. Apollo calls on the other God s to pity Hector and his family. He asks whether Hector has reverently made rich sacrifices to the God s and criticizes the cruelty that Achilles practices on Hector s corpse (XXIV-39). Also in support of Hector s right to burial is Zeus, who decrees that Priam shall pay a ransom, and Achilles shall hand over Hector s body (XXIV-93). The God s don t approve of Creon s behavior either, although we see their disapproval in a less obvious way in Antigone. There are two examples of evidence that Creon s orders about the treatment of Polynices are in defiance of the Gods. The first is the insinuation that Creon s actions are unholy by Haemon. Haemon says Protect your rights?/ When you trample down the honors of the gods? (834). Tiresias brings actual proof of the gods disapproval with his account of the sacrifices that weren t burning (XXIV-1112) and his explanation of the phenomenon. Tiresias explains And it is you/ your high resolve that sets this plague on Thebes./ The public altars and sacred hearths are fouled/ …..with carrion/ torn from the corpse, the doomstruck son of Oedipus! (XXIV-1122). When Achilles is placed in a similar situation when he is faced with the message from Zeus that his mother relays. Thetis tells Achilles he says the gods are angry with you now/ and he is rising over them all in deathless wrath/ that you in heartsick fury still hold Hector s body,/ here by your beaked ships, and will not give him back./ O give him back at once–take ransom for the dead! (XXIV-163).
Exposed by the initial reactions of Achilles and Creon are a man who is completely reverent and submissive in the face of the gods and a man who is defiant until he is left with no other choice. Achilles responds to his mother s description of Zeus decree in this way So be it./ The man who brings the ransom can take away the body,/ if Olympian Zeus himself insists in all earnest (XXIV-168). To Tiresias warnings Creon replies You ll never bury the body in the grave,/ not even if Zeus eagles rip the corpse/ and wing their rotten pickings off to the throne of god! (XXIV-1152). Following this statement Creon attacks Tiresias credibility (XXIV-1157), and although this can be seen as an excuse for Creon s reluctance to heed Tiresias warning, he has no excuse for questioning the gods authority. Creon hypothetically assumes the validity of Zeus desire for Polynices to be buried, and then states his defiance. Creon is not merely defying the advice of the seer Tiresias but is unnecessarily stating his defiance of the gods. Finally Creon is forced to submit, when Tiresias foretells the fate of Haemon (1184) and Creon realizes that Tiresias has never lied in the past (1217). Even when faced with the words of a profit, Creon is reluctant to sacrifice his pride and give in. When Leader advises Creon to give in, he responds That s your advice? You think I should give in? (1226) and laments Oh it s hard,/ giving up the heart s desire… but I will do it–/ no more fighting a losing battle with necessity (1228). The way in which Achilles instantly submits to the will of the gods suggests that his rage is less ardent, his soul is more reverent and his will is more flexible than Creon s. Creon s reluctance to submit suggest rage deeper, a pride more potent, and a soul less reverent than Achilles.
The motives behind Creon s submission, agreement to bury Polynices and let Antigone live were made in response to the threats that Tiresias spoke. Obviously Achilles motives in releasing Hector s body for a ransom had something to do with obeying the gods, and although the gods will would have been enough reason for Achilles to give in, there is additional motive revealed when Achilles feels pity for Priam, and thinks of his own father. After weeping with Priam, Achilles say to him Poor man, how much you ve borne–pain to break the spirit! (XXIV-605). Following this is the aforementioned treatment of Priam, the regard for his life, and the allowance of time for Hector s burial. It seems as though Achilles cares for the pains of Priam, and accepts the ransom out of pity. Creon had no pity on Polynices or Antigone, and merely gave in when he was forced to do so for his well being and the well being of his family.
Achilles and Creon share flaws such as rage, vengeance, defiance of the gods will. In Achilles, however, there is a change. When Achilles feels pity for Priam, he seems to have learned pity, flexibility, and given up his rage. It takes the suicide of his son and wife for Creon to see the error in his ways, and without these tragic events, it is doubtful that Creon would have realized anything of the sort. Behind the rage and vengeance of Achilles, Homer has been revealed a compassionate being. Creon, on the other hand, seems to have only more pride, rage and anguish beneath his flaws.