Antigone Essay, Research Paper
Greek tragedy would not be complete with out a tragic hero. Sophocles wrote Antigone with a specific character in mind for this part. Based on Aristotle’s definition, Creon is the tragic hero of Antigone.
Creon fits Aristotle’s tragic hero traits as a significant person who is faced with difficult decisions. Creon is significant because he is king. This makes him both renowned and prosperous. Creon is not completely good nor completely bad; he is somewhere in-between, as humans are. The audience can relate to this and they admire his qualities of intelligence in political affairs. They can also relate to his ability to make hard decisions with apparent ease. These hard decisions are what lead Creon to fit Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero. Creon faces decisions that lead to a no-win situation, with confidence, and he makes the best decision he can, based on his beliefs. He believes that Polyneices should not be buried because he was a traitor to his family. This decision affected Antigone greatly, and Creon knew that the decision would be hard on some people. Family and burials are very important in society, and Creon is asking Antigone to not consider them, to only consider that Polyneices was a traitor to his home city. Creon is then faced with the knowledge that Antigone went against his will and law, and buried her brother. Again, Creon is faced with a hard decision. He must choose to kill his own family member and uphold the law, or punish her less severely and show that he is not serious about death as a punishment to his law. Creon doesn’t want to show weakness, even for family, but he doesn’t want to kill Antigone, who is not only his niece and sister, but engaged to his son. The final decision that Creon must make is whether or not to revoke his death sentence on Antigone. Creon would be doing the right thing, but it would show that he was wrong in a previous decision and he does not want to admit that he was wrong.
Unfortunately, Creon does not always make the correct decision because of personality traits that he possesses. When Creon sentences Antigone to death, he is wrong. This decision is based on Creon’s downfalls. He has hamartia and he judges wrong, and he also suffers from hubris. He is excessively prideful and believes that his choice is the only correct one. Creon also has an inaccurate view of his place in relation to the Gods. He believes he is in a position to know what They want and know what They feel is best. No mortal truly knows what the Gods want, but Creon believes he does because he cannot imagine that what he believes is wrong, even to the Gods. Antigone’s death is a bad decision that Creon makes based on his beliefs that the Gods view Polyneices as a traitor and would not want him honored in death.
Creon’s bad decision leads to his eventual downfall and demise. Creon realizes his hubris and his wrong decision a little too late. Antigone is already dead, and he cannot correct his wrong-doing. This makes the audience feel pity for him, for he does try to correct his mistake. As more deaths are realized, the audience feels more deeply for Creon. In the process of going from ignorance to knowledge, he loses Antigone, his wife, and his son. All of his suffering humbles Creon, and he begins to change and view the world differently. He realizes that he was wrong in punishing Antigone for honoring her brother’s death and that it is okay for him to admit when he is wrong, and show his weakness, because, in the end, it makes him stronger. All of the suffering that he endures serves for the reason for his death. Creon’s decisions and their consequences show the audience that he is the tragic hero of the play.
Creon’s character meets all of Aristotle’s views of a tragic hero. Some people argue that Antigone is faced with tough decisions and a downfall, just as Creon is, but she does not meet all of the characteristics. While Creon realizes his wrong-doing and negative traits, and strives to change, Antigone does not. She does not change, but stays ignorant, even in her death. The only way to grow and improve oneself is to change. Creon changes, but cannot benefit from them because his death so quickly follows his transformation. The audience realizes how short life is, and Creon’s downfall causes them to re-examine their values and beliefs. It also helps the audience learn that it is never too late to admit you are wrong, or change.
The Clash Between Civil and Divine Law
Charles Dickens once said, “The law is an ass.” Though at first, it seems harsh and very strange, the deeper meaning is one that is a perfect summary of the Greek tragedy Antigone. The meaning of an “ass,” is a stubborn, obstinate, perverse, immovable animal. Throughout Antigone, the characters must deal with the clash between Civil and Divine law. They struggle to discover what is truly right and wrong, good and bad. In the end, they are forced to make the distinction as to which is which. In Sophocles’ Antigone, Civil and Divine Law both have ass-like qualities. The decision by every character for what is most important to them, determines their fate and destiny.
Antigone firmly believed that Divine law was far more superior to Civil Law in all respects. To her, the gods determined her fate completely. Obeying the gods was more crucial to obeying the government. “I know I am pleasing those I should please most.” (Line 103) She chose to bury her brother Polynieces, though she knew that in doing so she would face her own certain death because King Creon forbid it. According to the Divine law, the dead need to have a proper burial in order to make the journey to the underworld. Antigone would not let her brother go without it. Antigone said of Creon, “It is not for him to keep me from my own.” (Line 54) Antigone is proud of her actions and even shortly before her death she knows she made the right choice. Her death was a fair trade for the justice of her brother. “So for such… judges so.” (Lines 509-514) Unlike Creon’s laws, Antigone vied for love not hate. Through choosing the Divine law over Civil law, Antigone also chose death.
Haemon, son of Creon, and his mother Eurydices, took their lives away as a result of the clash between Divine and Civil law. Haemon felt civil law was very important because it was his father’s law and he respected his father’s beliefs. At first, he agreed with the punishment of death for (his soon to be wife) Antigone. “No marriage…your leadership.” (Lines 690-691) But Haemon also valued the Divine law strongly and felt compassion for Antigone and her brave actions. He tells his father that he alone cannot control everything. “There is no…one man only.” (Lines 798-799) Haemon foreshadows, telling his father what is yet to come if something does not change. “Then she must die- and dying destroy another.” (Line 813) Haemon took his life after seeing his poor wife dead, and Eurydice did the same after witnessing her son’s death. The law eventually determined the fate of both Haemon and Eurydice both.
The Sentry and Ismene were not as harshly affected by the fate of the law as many others. They both played roles which forced them to make decisions between their values of Divine and Civil laws. The Sentry first discovered that someone had given burial to Polynidies and had to decide whether to tell King Creon of this and obey the Civil law, or value his Divine law and let the proper burial be given. He told Creon of the crime, and though he had not performed it, the King judged him as though he had. He himself would face the consequence of death unless he found the true criminal. He found Antigone, and was let free. Ismene also chose the Civil law over Divine. Ismene refused to help Antigone in the burial of their brother because it was against the King’s rule. “You are so headstrong. Creon has forbidden it.” (Line 53) Ismene takes note of the Divine law and realizes what is truly the right thing to do though she doesn’t follow her heart. “I do indeed…is not sensible.” (Lines 74-78) By following the Civil law, Ismene and the Sentry’s lives were saved.
King Creon was the most affected by his decision on what was right and wrong. He felt that the Civil law was far more important and superior to Divine law. Most of the reason he felt this way, was based on the fact that this was his own personal law which he held over the land. He made the rules for the people to follow but he himself was not subject to obey them. Creon could not handle being under the law of a higher being than himself. He based all his decisions on what was civilly correct and assumed he was always right. “Yes, my son…father’s decision.” (Lines692-694) The King never took note of how his actions had an affect on his life and those around him. He never listened to what others had to say and refused to do so. In his judgement of Antigone, the King didn’t show any compassion for what she did for her brother, though he knew it was truly the good thing to do. By following his law and sentencing her to death, he also caused the eventual death of his son Haemon, and his wife Eurydice. It was not until after he had lost so much, that he realized what mattered most. “Lead me away… upon me.” (Lines 1413-1419) The Divine law had an extremely strong effect on King Creon and his life.
There is one point in everyone’s life, where you must make the distinction between right and wrong, or Civil and Divine. Most of the time the decision will not be important enough to determine your fate, as it did for Antigone, Creon, and many others, but no matter what there will be an after effect. It is up to you to do the right thing and never forget about the effects it will have on those around you. A fine balance between what is Civil and what is Divine is the safest way to hold your beliefs. As the chorus said, “Wisdom is far…age teach wisdom.” (Lines 1420-1424)
Conflicts in Antigone
There were three basic conflicts that caused Antigone and Creon to clash as violently as they did. First, was the conflict of the individual versus the state, in which Antigone represented the individual and Creon the king, the state. The second conflict can be described as following ones conscience and ideals versus following the law strictly. In this conflict Antigone makes decisions based on her conscience and ideals while Creon is the strict law abiding king. Finally, the main and most important discord, which is similar to the second conflict, is the debate of moral and divine law versus human law. In this most important contention Creon strictly observes human laws and Antigone follows the divine or moral laws. Creon’s beliefs and his unwillingness to change ultimately cause the downfall of Creon and everyone that he cares about.
Through the three roughly related conflicts we are given a picture of why and for what causes Creon and Antigone combat. Creon represents the laws of the world, while Antigone represents the laws of the soul. This creates obvious conflicts in the course of life. There are certain human laws that are for one reason or another unfair under certain circumstances. One such circumstance presented itself after Polyneices Eteocles, brothers to Antigone, are killed in the Thebes’ civil war. In the eyes of Creon Eteocles chose the noble and correct side in the war while Polyneices fought against Creon’s cause. As a result of Polyneices’ actions, which clearly defied the state and its laws, Creon decides that he will not be given a proper burial. Naturally, as his sister Antigone want to see her brother buried properly, and was especially important in this time period because of the various polytheistic beliefs. Because of her morals, ideals and the fact that what she felt was more important than any law, Antigone gave her brother a proper burial despite Creon’s demands.
Throughout the story Creon is given several chances to change his foolish disposition. The fist of which was his decision in how to deal with the death of Polyneices. He failed to do what was right because he was too obsessed and bound to the laws that he valued entirely too much. His opportunities become increasingly easier and blatant as well. While the lines were still gray on what to do with Polyneices’ deceit, it seemed much more obvious about what action to take after discovering how Antigone had disobeyed him. He had advice from several people that were trusted and close to him telling him that he should not punish her for following her heart.
Creon receives his advice from several sources. The most important advice comes from his son, Haemon, and Teiresias, a blind prophet who speaks directly with the gods. Haemon, who is engaged to marry Antigone, tells his father how the people of Thebes sympathize with Antigone and her actions, and that he will never forgive him if he executes her. Creon again decides to abide by his laws and not by those of the gods and immortals, despite learning the fact that Antigone, who disregarded his laws and followed her own, is in favor with the people; his people. In a final seemingly desperate effort by the gods to tell Creon to abandon his loyalty to the state and its laws, Creon is told his fortune and future by Teiresias, an old blind prophet. Teiresias tells Creon that not only do the people of Thebes disapprove of his decisions but the gods do as well. Now blessed with the knowledge that the gods and the people of Thebes disapprove of everything that he held sacred, the laws of the state, he feels threatened and insults Teiresias. Teiresias responds by foretelling Creon of the death of one of his children and that all of Greece will despise him if he does not relent.
Creon’s pride and undying faith in the state law all contributed to his stubbornness. Creon was also jealous the Antigone won the hearts of the people by trusting her own heart and not the judgement of the state. These factors led Creon to condemn Antigone to death, and like Teiresias predicted he lost his only son. Haemon was so distraught over Antigone’s death that tried to kill Creon (unsuccessfully) and then took his own life. To top it all off, Creon’s wife Eurydice killed herself upon learning the fate of her son and Antigone.
The message that Sophocles put forth was that the laws of the gods and human judgement are much more important that laws made by man. Creon lost everything that was dear to him as a direct result of his strict observance of the laws of Thebes. While obeying the law is important, Sophocles seems to believe that if ones own beliefs, ideals and morals must be put aside to obey that particular law, the law may be disregarded. Creon didn’t learn this lesson until it was far too late, and had to pay the price with the lives of his wife and son.
Sophocles. Antigone. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973.