Antigone’s Moral Dilemma Perhaps the most pronounced question in the play “Antigone” by Sophocles’ is the value of human law vs. divine law. In this tragic play a newly appointed king Creon declares to his people that treason was committed during battle, and one of the two brothers (Polyneices) killed shall not be buried according to the Gods, but instead “He shall be left unburied for all to watch the corpse mutilated and eaten by carrion-birds and by dogs” (Sophocles, 1900.
). This dilemma is felt by many, especially Antigone (sister of the deceased).
In Greek culture it is thought that the spirit of a body cannot find rest if it is has not been laid to rest by the evening of the day it has departed, and it is condemned to roam the earth for eternity. The struggle between human law and divine law is a moral dilemma Antigone feels as she decides to go against the laws of the king. Antigone’s desire to bury Polyneices properly according a divine edict is challenged as she faces the hurdle to defy King Creon’s ruling. She acknowledges the importance of family and savors in the knowledge of defying the state.
She ultimately succeeds in this moral quest to stand by belief in divine principle above and against the power and authority of the state, despite her suicide. Many Greek writers such as Homer in Iliad, reflect religious ideology in their works. A constant battle between man and the gods are apparent, and the concepts of burial rights are similarly played out. In Iliad after Achilles rejoins the battle and fights his enemies, he kills Hektor, the Trojan leader and releases his body to be buried after the gods intervene (Coughlin, 1990. ).
In Antigone, the character Antigone realizes that Creon next in line to become king may have been thought to be chosen by the gods to rule, and she faces the decision to endure the law of Creon or be in contempt of Creon’s edict to pursue the will of the gods. According to Greek mythology humans could endure an even far more eternal punishment for breaking the gods will. Antigone also questions, what if it was meant for Creon to be king, therefore it may be the will of the god’s for punishment to come upon Polyneices. After negating this thought she oon realizes that the will of the god’s is not only something King Creon must witness and acknowledge, but something she must enforce herself. This determination to do what is right even in defiance of patriarchal law can be seen in lines 1019-1021, “But if these men are wrong, let them suffer nothing worse than they mete out to me—these masters of injustice! ” (Sophocles, 1900. ). Because, Antigone truly thinks that Creon has not rightfully been awarded king, there is resentment towards him for finding his way to the throne through the end of the true power.
It is possible that Antigone did not take the king seriously or thought that she would possibly be spared. In fact, she may have perhaps just simply not cared. However, she chooses to display the importance of divine edict over the kings and takes it upon herself to give her brother a proper burial. She vocalizes this as she states, “I didn’t say yes. I can say no to anything I say vile, and I don’t have to count the cost. But because you said yes, all that you can do, for all your crown and your trappings, and your guards—all that your can do is to have me killed. (Sophocles, 1900). This quote shows not only faith but fate in the political heroism Antigone’s portrays in her resistance to refuse the power of state. Antigone answers no to all that she finds to be vile, “I have longer to please the dead than please the living here: in the kingdom down below I’ll lie forever (Sophocles, 1900. Lines 88-90). These lines show how much personal power she possesses compared to King Creon. Antigone remains consistent, even contentious in her disobedience.
By offending the king, it is as if Antigone is leaving him no choice and his prideful ways force him to sustain her sentence. After Creon realizes that fulfilling his order may be a mistake , he also knows that he cannot retract the ordering of her death. He had surrendered his actions to the power of the state, and thus rendering himself to a loathsome state. Unlike Antigone, who finds free will and faith in the laws of the god’s. Playwrights such as Sophocles attempt to understand the meaning of human suffering and reexamine the many traditions and ideals from the past.
Greek mythology questions the public and private responsibilities of individuals. As in any circumstance fighting against what is valued as right can become a conflicting power. Antigone’s decision to go through this treacherous act alone enabled her to find peace within the divine laws of nature during her time. The act of surrendering to a fate that was unjust prepared her for the desire she clung to despite its unbalanced position. Antigone’s fatal removal from the human community renders a powerful and tragically beautiful character of Greek mythology.
The moral decisions she sought after became apparent to everyone, especially Creon, that ” Fate raises up, / And fate casts down the happy and unhappy alike: / No man can foretell his fate. ” (Sophocles, 1900. ). Fate plays an important role in Greek tragedy. Antigone seemingly found that “There is no happiness where there is no wisdom; / No wisdom but in submission to the gods. ” (Sophocles, 1900. ). She also raised the standards by which ordinary humanity was judged (Sophocles, 2005. Although she too suffered because of the heroic dichotomy present to all of Sophocles’ greatest characters, known as “the girl who feared to cast away the fear of heaven”, she could not have sacrificed love and life were she not on some level was cursed with a greater than human obsession for moral justice (Sophocles, 2005. ) The courageous actions of this character succeed in illustrating that not even a king’s entitlement can change a person’s fundamental natural rights. So it is possible to truly be happy, but only when man is wise. Wisdom is a necessary trait. It brings an understanding of the real values there are in this world.
The pursuit of wisdom leads to happiness, as Antigone tells us. To truly gain wisdom, one must accept that it not something already possessed. All the answers are not given, and this world offers more to learn from than expected. So, did Antigone ultimately succeed in this moral quest to stand by the value of Greek mythology, despite her suicide? It seems apparent that submitting to the will of the gods allowed Antigone to gain the necessary wisdom to find true happiness, even in death. Some suggest it was the fate of the god’s, just as it had been for her father and brother’s.