Antigone and Creon as Two Opposite Images of the Law
The tragedy Antigone by Sophocles was written on the mythological story of the Theban cycle. It was not a part of the trilogy, as it was in Aeschylus, but it is a completely finished product. In Antigone, Sophocles reveals the contradiction between the divine laws and the human arbitrariness, and proves that the first situation should define the essence of life. If a person violates these laws, he/she will certainly be punished by gods. The writer concretizes this problem in the opposition between the old tradition (culture) and the new law (civilization), where the last wins. In this case, Sophocles proposes Antigone and Creon as two strong characters that reveal the eternal conflict of justice and honor. Hence, Antigone has to die in the final event for keeping the tradition of her parents that is above any individual desires. This essay argues that Antigone opposes to Creon as a tragic and courageous person who respects the old traditions of her ancestors when the ruler is a cruel tyrant who uses the sovereign law to justify his own fear.
Sophocles shows in the tragedy that the main feature of Antigone is her willpower, which he manifests in the fight against Creon for the right to bury his brother Polyneices according to the established ritual. The ancient world was based mainly on the law of competition, but even the losers had a right to die with dignity. The notion of honor expresses the deep nature of ancient culture, which requires maintaining the old rituals and rules from one generation to another. Accordingly, Antigone honors the ancient law of tribal society that allows to bury her brother as a man, but not to give his body to the dogs. However, the protagonist states that she would not break the law if he was not her brother but, for example, the husband, who is not a blood relative. Nevertheless, the character acts safely since she violates Creon’s command that forbade to bury Polyneices as a hero. Antigone has no doubt that she does the right thing, showing her willpower as a wish to go though everything, despite even torture or death. This behavior is particularly important because she is still a young girl with her expectations and dreams. In this case, her sacrifice is even more absurd and dramatic. In other words, she must bury her brother in any case because it is her duty which exists beyond the physical laws. In fact, it is the law of the ancient gods, and it is one more reason to act against Creon’s will.
Antigone differs from Creon because she respects the will of the gods as the only law in this world, ignoring the earthly rules. This is one more reason why she decides to go against the will of the King because she is more afraid to be punished by the gods than to break the social rules. In such a way, Aeschylus shows that the gods are on the side of Antigone, but, however, they cannot substantially interfere with the course of events. For example, after the burial of Polyneices, there is no trace of burning flesh because the land as either divine essence absorbed it. When the chorus asks Creon that it could be the gods’ intervention, the King denied that opportunity. In fact, he is mistaken because the gods always help those who serve them humbly, including Antigone. One more example of the gods’ support happens when the storm rages outside the city, scattering the ashes of her brother. Then Antigone asks the gods to punish those who dared to desecrate his grave: “Sister and brother linked in love’s embrace /A sinless sinner, banned awhile on earth / But by the dead commended; and with them / I shall abide for ever. It also proves that the gods are willing to break the earth rules in order to embody a higher justice, and, therefore, Creon represents rebellion since he considers himself a god. Accordingly, Antigone is a mean for revenge, although she is a victim in this tragedy.
As opposed to Antigone, Creon as the ruler of Thebes represents the law of the state that must be equal for all people, so he considers Polyneices as a traitor. Creon is completely the opposite image to Antigone because he puts his will above all circumstances. In this case, he exists as a true ruler who has no doubts when making the decision in those social circumstances. When Antigone is ready to sacrifice himself for the sake of tradition, Creon wants to sacrifice her brother for the law, regardless of her feelings. He embodies the image of a tough and impartial person who represents the power. However, he wants not only to maintain the order after the battle but also to keep his power on the throne. If he allowed burying Polyneices, it would have provoked a backlash against this decision. This desire exposes him as a man who fears of his life when Antigone is much bolder than the governor. In other words, he uses the laws of Thebes for his own interests, and not vice versa. In this case, Creon is a rational strategist, who plans for the future, when Antigone is more emotional and even irrational in her choice, considering the past.
Antigone is guided by her own feelings and beliefs, representing the tragedy of her character as the inability to change fate. Sophocles shows that Antigone would like to select a different fate, but she could not do it. The issue of fate is very important in the ancient world because it means the gods’ will and law. Therefore, Antigone is doomed to a tragic fate from the first scene, not planning any other alternative plans for her participation. In the dialogue with Ismene, Antigona shows her strong nature that was inherited from her father: “O waste no fears on me; look to thyself”. This episode proves that Antigone is ready to overcome any obstacles in her desire to implement the plan. It seems that she looks like a foolhardy and emotional person, virtually dooming herself to death. However, the chorus reminds about the fatal curse that hangs over Oedipus’ family, but it does not underline Antigone’s destiny. Moreover, Sophocles deliberately ignores these facts and tries to show that her personal choice and belief are the only things that determine Antigone’s life. Consequently, the development of tragic actions emphasizes her willpower and firmness in implementing the plan, which is more emotional Creon’s rational actions.
In contrast to Antigone, Creon guided by reason and visionary in their actions since he is a supporter of the idea that everyone should follow the sovereign law. The first thing that determines the rationality of Creon is that he wants to keep justice: the body of Eteocles must be buried with dignity, and the body of Polyneices must be left on the battlefield. Despite its cruelty, this law has its own logic because the conspirators cannot be hided on the same way as the allies. He claims that “the patriot perished by the outlaw’s brand”. Therefore, everyone who is trying to honor the body of Polyneices will be sentenced to death. In such a way, Creon is trying to be consistent and prudent in his actions, anticipating consequences not only for himself, but also for the whole state.
Another reason for Creon’s strong-willed decision is that the city needs a brave and reliable leader after the attack, and the King decides to rule uncompromisingly. Accordingly, he can not show himself as a weak person in order to turn the city from a situation of anarchy. Therefore, Creon’s commitment law is the logical consequence that was realized according to the certain social and cultural reasons. In a sense, he also depends on fate as well as Antigone, but in a completely different way, and the consequences of his actions also others. On the other hand, it appears that he is afraid to take responsibility for his own actions, which may conflict with the common standards. Obviously, Polyneices was not completely guilty in this attack, but, despite this questionable fact, he still is associated with the loss of many Thebans, including parents, sons, and children during the attack. On the other hand, Creon justly decides to punish him for such an act because every action must have a consequence. Sophocles also shows that the choir also agrees with the decision of the King, and, therefore, the Thebans dissatisfied with his actions.
Despite this, his loyalty to the state law is a tragic mistake that leads to even worse results, exposing his fears and negative traits. Gradually, his rational program becomes full of fear and paranoia, and Sophocles shows that Creon is not such a brave person as it seemed. He begins to blame all in collusion, and, in some way, the protagonist reminds the King Oedipus, who also acted equally. Moreover, he believes the words of the blind prophet Teiresias, which further brings Creon’s fate to Oedipus’ one. He advises Creon not to kill Antigone because it can lead to much worse results: “Therefore the avenging destroyers lie in wait for thee, the Furies of Hades and of the gods, that thou mayest be taken in these same ills”. Thus, Sophocles shows Creon’s transformation from the rational and decisive winner into the man who is afraid of losing power. This image contrasts with Antigone, which develops from the emotional person to the ancient hero, who deliberately follows the law ancestors. This provokes that Creon becomes less categorical in his judgment, losing the previous rational will: “I know it too, and it perplexes me / To yield is grievous, but the obstinate soul / That fights with Fate, is smitten grievously”.
In conclusion, Sophocles in the tragedy Antigone reveals one of the deepest conflicts of the ancient society, namely a tribal confrontation between the unwritten laws and the sovereign laws. In this regard, the religious beliefs required observing all the rites in relation to blood relatives. On the other hand, every citizen of the polis was obliged to follow the laws of the state during the time of Sophocles, even contrary to the traditional tribal rules. In this case, Antigone represents the first tradition, when Creon embodies the sovereign law. More to say, she embodies the gods’ will in their desire to control the earthly order that was disturbed by Creon. It seems that Antigone behaves emotionally and recklessly, but, in fact, she performs the old social law that involves burying her blood brother; otherwise she will be punished by the gods for ever. In contrast, Creon symbolizes the social law that has its cultural logic, namely in the context of the polis life. However, his desire to follow justice and rationality lead to fear of losing his own power. Therefore, Sophocles demonstrates that the hero is not always the one who remained faithful to his/her principle, and the one who sacrifices himself/herself for the sake of divine law. Accordingly, Antigone is the embodiment of the ancient tragic hero since she respects the old archaic rules, remaining loyal to her ideals even after death.