Antigone: Moral Law vs. Political Law
ANTIGONE 3 January 2013 Moral Law vs. Political Law The theme of Antigone is the struggle between political law and moral law; the difference of following the law because it is the law and following one’s own morals because you feel it is what is right. The characters in Antigone face this struggle when confronted with Creon’s refusal of a burial for Antigone’s brother Polynices. The ancient Greeks believed that without proper burial, entrance into the afterlife was forbidden. It is through her own moral standing that Antigone decides that burying her brother is the right thing to do no matter what the consequence.
She asks her sister, Ismene, to help her bury Polynices. “You’ll soon show what you are, worth your breeding, Ismene? Or a coward- for all your royal blood. ” She quickly discovers she does not have full support from Ismene. We see that Ismene sides more with political law than morals, “Think what a death we’ll die, the worst of all if we violate the laws and override the fixed decree of the throne, its power- we must be sensible. Remember we are women, we are not born to contend with men…. so we must submit to this. We can clearly see here the difference of political law vs. moral law with the sisters disagreement When it comes to Creon’s opinions we must first remember what he has been through. His brother has mutilated his own face, his city has been attacked without notice, and his two nephews have died in the battle. We as readers disagree with his ban on Polynice’s burial, but try to understand that it his is experiences that drive him to side with political law. Creon gives proclamation that the city of Thebes is forbidden to bury Polynices, or even mourn him.
He says, “He must be left unburied, his corpse carrion for the birds and dogs to tear, an obscenity for the citizens to behold! ” “These are my principals. Never at my hands will the traitor be honored above the patriot. But whoever proves his loyalty to the state- I’ll prize that man in death as well as life. ” By making this decision, we can see that he is following his own moral law, Creon believes it is his duty to his city to honor the heroes and to disgrace the enemy; and that anyone who doesn’t agree shall be treated as the same enemy they are honoring.
It is in this struggle that we see how a difference in morals can create such a battle, for both Creon and Antigone. They feel that what they are doing is right, both wish to honor their moral standing, yet other people, laws, or opinions get in the way. We can clearly see that the battle between political and moral law is not confined to just the Ancient Greeks, today we struggle with our own standing in this. This fact is evidenced in other literature we have read in class, such as Civil Disobedience.
Like Antigone, Henry David Thoreau followed very strictly to his own moral law. He felt that the government’s laws and regulations were degrading and unnecessary. He said, “This American government- what is it but a tradition, though a recent one, endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing some of its integrity? ” Both Antigone and Thoreau stuck to their moral standards even when challenged by authority.
Thoreau was put in jail for not following the government’s laws, and Antigone was issued a death sentence for defending her morals. The perspectives of Antigone and Creon on the relationship between law and justice are similar and different to the opinions of other authors. For instance, Martin Luther King Jr. has similar opinions to Antigone in his piece, “A Letter to a Birmingham Jail” where he explains how some laws are necessary for order, and some laws such as the segregations between African Americans and whites are unjust.
As well, Abraham Lincoln shares similar views with Creon in his speech, “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions. ” In this piece, he shares that even though you may not agree with some laws; you must conform to them or else risk punishment. Lincoln’s view was, “We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them – [laws] they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors. Antigone is an excellent example of one’s inner struggle to be “good. ” These works of literature show the contradiction of what being “good” is; one person’s “good” may differ from another’s. Thoreau, Martin Luther King Jr. and Lincoln also battled with the difference between what they and others thought was just. Political law and moral law will always conflict with each other as we as a human race battle between what is right, and what is wrong.