Antigone Essay, Research Paper
The main theme for Antigone is that people sometimes have to learn the hard way from
their mistakes. This theme is expressed in the final four lines of the play. They read, There is no
happiness where there is no wisdom; No wisdom but in submission to the gods. Big words are
always punished, And proud men in old age learn to be wise. These lines are an important part of
the play. They symbolize Creon’s bad decisions, his defiance of the gods, the punishment he
went through because of his edict, and the wisdom he gained because of all his mistakes. “There
is no happiness where there is no wisdom” demonstrates how Creon not using wisdom in his
decisions affected him.
By declaring that Polyneices could not have a proper burial, he went against the gods and
the other citizens of Thebes’s beliefs. This was not a wise decision on his part, and because of it
he lost his wife, his son, and his happiness. This is what is expressed in the line, “No wisdom but
in submission to the gods.”
The edict and decisions that Creon made demonstrated that his law was more important
than the laws of the gods . His defiance of the laws eventually made him believe, by talking to
Teirisias, that something bad would happen to him, so he gave in to his decision. When he gave
into the gods he gained wisdom and learned that his actions would be punished. Creons edict is
considered his big words. In the third line it says, “Big words are always punished.” Creons edict
was punished by his loss of happiness. In Ancient Greece, life was full of complicated questions
centered on the expanding Field of science.
Freedom of religion was encouraged to be exercised in the city-states and man was
focused on more than the Gods or heavenly concerns. As a result many new ideals and beliefs
surfaced. These new ideals and beliefs, though good in intentions, often conflicted with One
another and created complex moral dilemmas. Such was the case in Sophocle s play .
According to Richard Jebb, “It is the only instance in which a Greek play has for its central
theme a practical problem of conduct, involving issues, moral and political, which might be
discussed on similar grounds in any age and in any country of the world.” Perhaps personal
experience is the reason why so many people can relate to this story. After all, the theme of the
story is personal conflict, with two stubborn people at a standstill because of their unwillingness
to compromise. The conflict between the laws of the gods and those of the humans, with
Antigone and Creon representing the opposite sides. Sophocles paints these two title characters
are remarkably similar, and he invokes the readers’ sympathy toward them both. However, it is
Creon, and not Antigone, who is the “hero” of the story, because his character suffers a tragic
The primary conflict arises when Creon declares that no one be allowed to bury the body
of Polynices, one of Antigone’s brothers who was slain in battle. Antigone, who cares for her
brother very much, wants to see him properly laid to rest, so that his spirit can find peace.
Unfortunately, doing so will mean certain death, as Creon’s orders are not to be disobeyed.
Antigone believes that Creon’s law is wrong, and that Polynices, although a traitor to the
city of Thebes, should be buried. She finds it immoral of Creon to forbid such an action. While
trying to convince her sister Ismene to help bury him, Antigone says, “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.” (Sophocles, “Antigone” ) Creon, on the other hand, is a new king who wants to make
sure he becomes a respected and somewhat feared ruler. He does not want to begin his reign by
issuing a decree and then rescinding it the moment a conflict arises.
There are many similarities between Creon and Antigone. Perhaps the most common
characteristic is that both characters are very stubborn. Neither one can back down once the lines
have been drawn, even though it means certain destruction. While questioning Antigone about
the burial, Creon asks, “And did you dare to disobey that law?” To which Antigone answers
“yes.” (Sophocles, “Antigone” ) This naturally infuriates Creon to the point where he says, “I
swear I am no man and she the man if she can win this and not pay for it.” (Sophocles,
“Antigone” ) Both sides are committed to their own reasoning, and are unable to listen to other
points of view.
Sophocles sympathizes with both Creon and Antigone. However, the play is more directed
at Creon’s woes than Antigone’s. This is mainly shown by the amount of lines devoted to Creon
compared to that of Antigone so his problems are the most magnified. It seems as though
Antigone is simply the last tragedy to Oedipus’ tale, while Creon and his family are an entirely
different one. Therefore, not as much attention is devoted to Antigone’s problems, while
Sophocles instead makes the reader focus on Creon. This is again demonstrated by the sheer
amount of lines Creon has. It is impossible for the reader to ignore Creon’s problems. The
emotional climax of the readers’ sympathy towards Creon is when the second messenger tells
him what had happened right before Eurydice’s (his wife) death. Eurydice had, “cried in agony
recalling the noble fate of Megareus, who died before all this, and then for the fate of this son;
and in the end she cursed [Creon] for the evil [Creon] had done in killing her sons.” (Sophocles,
Antigone ) This bestowed all guilt upon Creon, making him responsible for actions in which he
ignorantly played a part. Creon shows many heroic characteristics. A hero is a person who must
survive many downfalls, and Creon has suffered many setbacks.
To Aristotle, a hero is a “man who is not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is
brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty. He must be one who is
highly renowned and prosperous…” Creon meets all of these requirements. He is obviously not
entirely good or just, and he does make mistakes. His greatest error is issuing the decree
forbidding anyone from giving Polynices a proper funeral. However, he does not do this entirely
out of spite or anger, but instead to protect his country. Creon is of the belief that laws are
necessary to retain order, even if this means going against ones family. Creon regards the family
almost exclusively in one aspect; for him it is an institution related to the state as the gymnasium
to the stadium; it is a little state, in which a man may prove that he is fit to govern a larger one.”
Even though Antigone is his niece, he must rule with an iron hand, and therefore cannot allow
her to “escape the utmost sentence: death.” (Sophocles, “Antigone” ).
As a hero, Creon suffers a tragic downfall. It does not appear that Antigone suffers as
much as Creon, because Sophocles had decided to portray Creon as the hero instead of Antigone.
James Hogan asks three questions to determine who is the hero: Who is the main character? Who
dominates the action? Whose suffering is the primary subject? The answer to all three of these is
Creon. Creon is obviously the main character because all events seem to revolve around him.
William Calder has pointed out that “Sophocles wrote no Haimon-Antigone scene…such a scene
would have shifted the emphasis of the whole from the figure whom Sophocles intended to be
central: hence a Haimon-Creon scene.” Calder also gives evidence as to how Creon dominates
the entire play.
Finally, Creon’s suffering is the primary subject because Sophocles explains Creon’s
anguish in great detail. Creon, after finding out Eurydice is dead, exclaims, “I am distracted with
fear. Why does not someone strike a two-edged sword right through me? I am dissolved in an
agony of misery.” (Sophocles, “Antigone” ) This suffering is the price Creon has to pay for
making the wrong decision. Prior to his revelation that Teiresias provided him with, he had
erroneously decided that moral laws were not as important as his own laws, and consequently
To Creon, protecting his country comes before anything else. According to Creon,
Polynices is, “a returned exile, who sought to burn with fire from top to bottom his native city,
and the gods of his own people; who sought to taste the blood he shared with us, and lead the rest
of us to slavery.” (Sophocles, “Antigone” ) Polynices is a traitor who deserves none of the
respect the people of Thebes have to give. Creon’s decree is simply an error of judgment, but it is
perfectly understandable for him to do so. “An Athenian strategos is time of war held
extraordinary judicial power and could put to death without trial any man under his command
whose conduct he considered treasonous,” according to Calder. After all, Creon is the king, and
the laws that he makes are meant to be obeyed. Even if they are of questionable moral judgment.
It is Creon’s interactions with Antigone that show the central issue: the conflict between
moral laws and human laws. In the end, moral law supersedes human law, and Creon suffers as a
result. Creon’s tragic suffering is what turns him into the hero. Sophocles thereby forces the
reader to feel sympathy toward him. While feeling this sympathy, the reader also learns not to
make the same mistakes Creon did, to avoid being stubborn and unwilling to compromise. Those
characteristics have been shown to signify great suffering and destruction.
1. Gillespie, Sheena and Fonseca, Terezinha and Sanger, Carol A.-3rd ed. (2001).Literature across cultures, Allyn & Bacon, Antigone 953-981
2. Aristotle. Poetics, XIII.3-6
3. Calder, William M. III (1968). Sophokles’ Political Tragedy, Antigone.GRBS 9, 389-407
4. Hogan, James C. (1972). The Protagonists of the Antigone.Arethusa 5, 93-100
5. Sophocles (1991).Antigone (David Grene, Trans.) University of Chicago Press.
6. Sophocles (1902).Antigone (Richard Jebb, Trans.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.