Antigone & Creon: Pride vs. Power
?KP Paper II (REVISION) Christoforatou Original date: 03/28/12 Revision date: 05/24/12 Antigone & Creon: Pride or Power? “I will suffer nothing as great as death without glory” –Antigone According to Aristotle, the most important factor in a Greek tragedy is the plot. The plot must tell the actions of characters from beginning to end. Though, without the characters, the plot has nowhere to go. In Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone, each character has a distinct personality and strong beliefs. The heroine, Antigone, has some of the strongest beliefs of them all.
Antigone is willing to sacrifice her own life and well being to honor her fallen brother, Polyneices. Polyneices was killed in battle by her other brother Eteocles. Antigone’s uncle and king of Thebes, Creon, wishes to honor only Eteocles’ body with a burial and wants Polyneices’ corpse to be “carrion for the birds and dogs to tear” (Lines 229-231). Antigone and Creon obviously clash in their principles throughout the story but both think that they have the correct moralities to teach to the people of Thebes. Creon believes that the people of Thebes should honor him and his power as King.
Antigone, alternatively, allows her morality to do the talking. She thinks that Polyneices should be given a proper burial as Eteocles was given. Their individual pride is what actually results in the downfall of each character. The two strong-willed personalities cannot exist in harmony. Antigone believes that one should honor the gods and do what is right, even if that comes at the expense of personal danger or undermining the sovereign of Thebes. Creon, on the other hand, believes the people of Thebes should honor political sovereignty and obey his decisions.
The difference between the two characters’ morality directly affects the people of Thebes. The people of Thebes are torn between respecting Creon because he is their sovereign or respecting Antigone for following the wishes of the gods and respect the dead. This creates immediate conflict between the two characters. As the protagonist, Sophocles makes Antigone’s ideas more sensible so the reader can relate to the main character easier. In my opinion, most people would not agree with Creon’s decision and sway towards Antigone’s side in regards to what should be done with Polyneices body.
In most literature, there is a main character. Good or bad, we tend to connect with the main character and his or her actions. As in present day, stories we see on the news depict the perspective of the main person related to the story. This is the same with Antigone. The more the reader understands and morally or spiritually connects to the main character and their individual morals, the more they can decide which side they wish to take. This is the dilemma the people of Thebes must face. Some believe that Antigone is correct in burying her brother’s body.
Others fear the wrath of the king and respect his power. Although the ancient Greeks were heavy believers in glory and the repercussions of their actions, they still respect the king’s decisions and his power. Antigone, however, believes in doing what is right rather than what is law. She believes the gods would decide her fate in the afterlife anyway. The gods demand that the mortals worship them but they also believe that they should respect one another and everyone deserves glory. Dramatic events followed Antigone’s family through the generations.
Oedipus, Antigone’s father, begged for exile upon learning he had unknowingly slept with his mother, Jocasta. Jocasta takes her own life and Oedipus gauges his eyes out and begs Creon for exile or death. Antigone did not want another one of her family members to suffer embarrassment. The account of her family’s trials and tribulations follows her family. She did not want another member of her family to be dishonored. The story of Antigone begins with the aftermath of a fatal battle between Antigone’s two brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, where the two had fought to the death.
The two brothers fought over the reign of Thebes but now, the two lay dead in the street. Creon orders Eteocles’ body to be buried and “crowned with a hero’s honors” (line 220). Polyneices, although he is Creon’s nephew, is passionately hated by Creon and thus, his remains are ordered to not be “dignified” (line 228) with a burial. Antigone is disgusted that Creon has put a claim on Polyneices body and begins contemplating burying her brother against Creon’s requests not to. She confronts her sister, Ismene, in order to ask for help.
Ismene is quite apprehensive and Antigone pursues to take matters in to her own hands and bury Polyneices where his body lays even though Creon had put a death punishment on anyone who defied his wishes. She does this to show the people of Thebes and Creon that no one except a god can deem a human honorable or dishonorable. This is when the people of Thebes decide whether Antigone should have honored King Creon’s law or did the right thing by burying her brother and establishing glory in her family. This storyline provides insight to how each of the characters think and feel about the situations at hand.
It gives every side of the story and gives the reader an option to create his or her own opinions on morality and the actions of the characters. Although Antigone’s actions appear more masculine than the actions of other females in Thebes, she represents a strong female character. This is very rare in Greek literature. She wants Polyneices to be given the same glory as Eteocles and believes it is not up to Creon to decide who is and who is not honorable. She makes her own decisions and sticks by those decisions with great confidence and poise.
She knows that if she buries Polyneices, that Creon will put her to death. When Creon and Antigone verbally confront the issue of Polyneices’ illegal burial, Antigone states, “Of course I did it. It wasn’t Zeus, not in the least, who made this proclamation-not to me. ” In stating this, she is blatantly defying Creon because she does not believe he has the right to put a claim on her brother’s body since he is not a god. Antigone is the fiancee of Creon’s son, Haemon, which escalates the decision of punishment of Antigone’s actions.
Antigone’s yearn for honor and glory is shown in lines 85-86 as she states, “I will bury him myself. And even if I die in the act, that death will be a glory. ” This quotation directly shows Antigone’s insatiable hunger for glory and doing what is morally right. She wants the people of Thebes to do what the gods deem morally acceptable instead of just succumbing to the beliefs of the king. Antigone wants to teach the people of Thebes that a king cannot decide honor and pride. It is to be decided by the gods and religious morals.
Although Antigone’s actions of burying her brother’s body without regards to the law is honorable, her pride is her downfall as she is to be exiled in a cave to die. This is where some of the people of Thebes begin to question Creon’s decision and his motives for keeping Polyneices’ corpse unburied. King Creon views his decisions and opinions as comparable to those of the gods. He believes that his wishes are to be met by the people of Thebes as much as they would for the wishes of the gods. That mortals, such as himself, can make creeds of what is right or wrong.
Creon orders that Eteocles be buried as a hero but he passionately expresses that Polyneices was an enemy of the city and to be “left unburied, his corpse carrion for the birds and dogs to tear, an obscenity for the citizens to behold! ” (Lines 229-231) As the reader, this is most definitely one of the most gruesome and disgusting sentences I had ever read. It is repulsing to think about a body being left to the dogs like that. It is apparent that one human being can put claim on a dead corpse just so that he can make show his “power” to his city.
The hatred possessed by Creon toward Polyneices is beyond rage but this proclamation is made to show the city of Thebes the power that he possesses and set a precedent of those who defy him. The Leader in Antigone represents the people of Thebes. After Creon addresses the city of his wishes to keep Polyneices unburied and the punishment to whomever defies him, the Leader seems to humor Creon a bit. The Leader states, “If this is your pleasure, Creon, treating our city’s enemy and our friend this way . . . “. (line 236) The fact that the Leader uses the term “pleasure” begs the reader to question the sincerity of the Leader’s statement.
Pleasure is more personal and cuts in to the personal enjoyment by Creon whereas, if the Leader had used the term “demand” or “law”, it would have had more a serious connotation. Quotations by the Leader are important because it represents the views of the people of Thebes as a whole. These are the people being subjected to the pride of Antigone and Creon. The Leader also foreshadows during the play. The Leader questions that the situation could “possibly be the work of the gods” (line 316). Creon responds, “You say – why it’s intolerable – say the gods could have the slightest concern for the corpse? (line 319-320) This could be a hint that there could be interference by the gods in the future due to Creon’s actions. Not only do the Ancient Greeks believe that the gods have certain responsibilities in the lives of mortals but they are also responsible for the repercussions of actions. Foreshadowing within the piece of literature gives small hints along the way of how things are going to pan out. When Antigone disobeys Creon, he punishes her by not directly ordering her to be killed, but she is put in a remote cave to perish. Creon does not make this decision upon thinking about the consequences of his actions.
When speaking to his son, Haemon, Creon states, “Spit her out, like a mortal enemy – let the girl go. Let her find a husband down among the dead. ” (line 728-729) This cannot be a statement seen respectable by the gods. As part of another consequence for Creon’s actions, Thebes’s seer, Tiresias, visits Creon bringing a prophecy that since he was responsible for the death of Antigone and “keeping a dead body here in the bright air, unburied, unsung, unhallowed by the rites” (lines 1190-1191), that he must surrender one “born of his own loins” (line 1185).
Shortly after this prophecy was delivered, Haemon, has taken his own life and due to that, his wife, Eurydice, had also died by her own hand. Creon is now a broken man due to his own pride. The two strong personalities of Antigone and Creon cannot coexist together in Thebes. Creon is the king and Antigone does not have the power that Creon possesses. She is unable to legally state her own decree as it will be seen as insubordinate and she will be punished. Unfortunately, the people of Thebes are afraid to disobey Creon. In modern days, different personalities can endure society.
For instance, while reading Antigone, I could not help but compare the situation of Creon claiming Polyneices’ body with the 2011 capture of terrorist Osama Bin Laden. When Osama Bin Laden was captured and killed in his Pakistan hideaway on May 2, 2011,the United States of America quickly apprehended the body to make a political statement. As like Creon, the possession of Osama Bin Laden’s body gave Barack Obama the power to do what he wished with the body. Unlike Creon, Obama laid Osama Bin Laden to rest in the Arabian Sea.
This establishment of power can also be shown in the death and execution of dictator Benito Mussolini. In April 1945, Mussolini and his mistress were executed and their bodies were dumped in an Italian piazza where enraged Italians took their turns spitting, kicking and shooting at the bodies. (Unknown,1) This was a political statement of power over a fallen dictator. In this case, the civilians were the ones who dishonored the body. In modern days, Antigone and Creon could exist but there would be the same struggle of values.
Although these two characters evoke different religious and moral values, they are also quite similar in their desire to stand their ground for their own pride. Antigone and Creon both want glory and honor. Creon wants to be respected and quite possibly even feared by the people of Thebes so that he can rule over all and be the greatest king Thebes had ever seen. Conversely, Antigone just wants to do what is right by the gods and her family. She wants to give her brother the proper burial that everyone deserves.
She does not believe Creon has the authority to claim a corpse for his own pleasure. Antigone and Creon are two characters whose values are pit against each other. Unfortunately, the pride both hold to their values causes their tragic demise. Although Antigone challenges the power of Creon, she is still the tragic heroine in the end. Bibliography Lawall, Sarah, Ed. The Norton Anthology of World Literature: Beginnings to A. D 100. 2nd. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2002. 658-93. Print. Unknown. “Mussolini’s Death. ” The Veteran’s Museum. Google Sites, n. d. Web. 28 Mar 2012. .