In Antigone there are two strong willed and stubborn characters that are unwilling to change. Both are so similar that it makes it impossible for them to see eye to eye. Creon is a powerful ruler who is proud of his wisdom. Antigone is a willful young woman who is enraged because of the law that Creon has passed that prohibits the burial of her brother.
In her fury Antigone decides that her brother must have his last rites. This rash decision makes her appear like a typical wild and undisciplined young woman, but later on she is portrayed loyal to her family and is uncompromising her beliefs. Ultimately Creon’s decisions not only affect the life of Antigone, but his own family as well.
The play opens with the dialogue between Antigone and her sister Ismene. In this dialogue you see that Antigone feels that the law that Creon has laid down is primarily directed towards herself and Ismene. In the ancient Greek household the funeral rites as well as the mourning of the dead was the duty and privilege of women.
Therefore Antigone is insulted, and enraged by the judgment Creon has made to keep Polynices from being buried. If this is what has to be then who are we to change things says Ismene. Ismene believes that women have no place in the matters of the polis.
During the fifth century B.C. Greece women were in the same rank as the slaves. Antigone doesn’t believe that there is anyway she can be convicted as a traitor. She almost seems egotistical, or invincible to the laws of the polis. Antigone feels that Creon has no right to keep her from the burial of her brother.
He is her brother and it is the right of the gods have given to the mortals. Everyone good or bad deserves a proper burial. Ismene offers to keep what Antigone is planning a secret to keep her safe, but she is insulted that Ismene would want to keep something as important a secret. Antigone feels no shame for what she plans to do. Seeing the strength and persistence of Antigone, Ismene is finally persuaded to help. Which in contrast to Antigone demonstrates Ismene’s weakness as a woman.
Antigone sets off to the place where her brother is lying exposed and secretly throws dirt upon him to symbolize the burial rites he should have received under the true law of the gods. This is her first attempt in rebelling against the law Creon passed. When Creon learns what has been done he can’t understand why that the gods would ever care for someone who was a traitor and criminal.
But most of all he believe that someone would go against the king’s divine law. The king orders the Sentry to find out who has committed this horrible crime. The guards return to the site where Polynices lies and after awhile they see Antigone cursing the person who has uncovered the body of her dear brother.
She yet again tosses dirt upon the body of her brother, but this time she is arrested, her stubbornness has finally gotten her in trouble. Antigone is strong and doesn’t deny that she was the one who buried the body of her brother. She proceeds to tell Creon that Zeus is not the one who made this decree against her brother so why should she obey it. Antigone would not let her brothers’ body decompose unburied and if Creon says that she is a fool her actions than he is an even bigger fool for making the law.
Creon and the Leader discuss how strong Antigone may be strong now but she fall apart. He compared her to a spirited horse that will eventually be broken. Antigone is proud of what she has done, but Creon reminds her that there is no room for pride in a slave, which reminds us that women are only equal to the slaves during this time in history.
It appears that Antigone is getting restless and just wants Creon to get on with her punishment. She wants glory for her deed because what greater glory could she receive than to accomplish the burial of her beloved brother.
Creon begins to question Antigone on her motives. Why does she defend the brother who has committed such a horrible act by killing Eteocles, her brother who died defending the polis from Polynices? Antigone cannot believe that Polynices killed Eteocles because she did not witness it, and it doesn’t matter anyways because according to the gods everyone receives the same rites for death.
Creon doesn’t believe it and rebuttals with the fact that a traitor should not have the same burial as a hero. No woman can convince Creon that the laws he passed are not right. This is again another example of the stubbornness of both Creon and Antigone. Yet again the weak Ismene enters and begins to confess that she did help Antigone, because wants to share in her “troubles.”
Antigone is insulted by her sister’s actions and questions her motives. She would help her now but not when it was truly important act, the actual burial of their brother. Antigone wants to make sure that she is given sole credit for the crime committed. This at first appears like she is being a bit egotistical, but then you see that she is trying to protect her sister from a fate she doesn’t deserve. Ismene doesn’t understand why her sister is being so hurtful. She doesn’t understand how can Creon put her to death when she is betrothed to marry his son.
Creon believes that there is more fish in the sea for his son, and that she is a worthless woman anyways, and he sends her away. By now Haemon has heard about his bride and comes to his father to see what is to be done. Haemon tells his father that the marriage doesn’t mean more to him than his father does.
This is obviously Haemon being sarcastic. Haemon accuses his father of defying the gods wishes to have the dead buried. He believes that his father is ruling the polis for himself and not for the people. Haemon explains that it’s all right for Creon to admit that he is wrong about the decision he has made. Being stubborn as usual Creon feels that his son has betrayed him and he carries on with the death of Antigone. Creon has no idea that the consequence for ending the life of Antigone is ending the lives of his entire family.
While they are leading Antigone off to death, she reveals her feelings of her bitter, untimely end, and does not disdain. She is the modest young woman who grieves the loss of her impending nuptials, but nowhere does she mention Haemon. After an action so heroic, she would have been thought of as weak to let anyone know of her true feelings of loss. This is a true test of her courage.
Tiresias, the town profit comes to the palace and tells Creon about his upcoming fate for making such a poor decision to have Antigone put to death. Creon yet again demonstrates his outrageous stubbornness by not taking heed of Tiresias warnings. The Chorus has gone along with everything Creon has said since the beginning of the play until now.
The Chorus tells Creon that he must fix things in order to maintain order in the polis. He finally realizes that what he has done is wrong and orders the guards to bury Polynices and then go and get Antigone, but this decision too late.
Haemon decides that he cannot live with out Antigone, and wants to get revenged on his father. He will take his own life. In doing this he shall ruin the entire family and any hope of there being a place on the throne. When Eurydice, Creon’s wife, hears what her son has done, all she can do is the same. Eurydice felt that the death of both of her son’s was the fault of Creon. There is no way she could ever live with the sadness of knowing that both of her sons are dead all because of her husband.
When Creon finds out about his wife and son’s death he realizes that he was now paying the price for such an unfair judgment against Antigone. He realized that his ruling was not worth all the pain, guilt, and suffering he has caused. Antigone has been proven right, and now without his family the people would have overthrown.
Too much power and control caused an increase in Creon’s arrogance and that can cause some people to make totally irrational thoughts. Creon should have considered what happens to the people with such harsh laws; he could have avoided all of this tragedy if he would have put himself in the place of the people who were affected by this law. If he would have be easier for Creon to understand the position Antigone was in if one of the traitors who was denied burial was a part of his own family.
In conclusion, in Antigone by Sophocles, the reader is portrayed several different views in which the characters express over authority and power. While Antigone believes in the power of the gods, Creon feels that since his is the King of Thebes, he is able to declare any rule that he pleases and everyone must follow it because he is the ruler, even if it defies the rules set forth by the gods.
With this view Creon paves the path to his downfall at the end of Antigone. Haimon’s views are similar to those of Antigone. He agrees with the natives of Thebes that her act of burying her brother was honorable and should not be punished. Sophocles supports Antigone and Haimon’s view of authority and power, that the rules of the gods always overrule those made by man.
Beacham, Richard C. “Antigone by Sophocles.” The International Dictionary of Theatre, Vol. 1: Plays. Edited by Mark Hawkins-Dady. St. James Press, 1992, pp. 21-31.
Braun, Richard Emil, translator. Introduction. Antigone. By Sophocles. Oxford University Press, 1973, pp. 5, 12.
de Romilly, Jacqueline. “Drama in the Second Half of the Fifth Century: Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes.” A Short History of Greek Literature. Translated by Lillian Doherty. University of Chicago Press, 1985, pp. 66-89.
Sophocles. Antigone. edited by Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald, New York, 1998, p 923