Xiaoqing Shi Dr. Henry Bayerle Classics 102Q 25 November 2011 Does Antigone Deserve to Be Punished? Antigone has been acclaimed as a model that challenges authority and insists on just acts. However, according to Aristotle, a tragedy requires a man’s harmartia, which means error. Therefore, as a main character of a great tragedy, Antigone must possess flaws. Antigone’s self-certainty is one of her mistakes that contribute to her tragic fate. She regards burying dead people as absolute just behavior under any circumstance.
This rite is important in Ancient Greek culture, but weather or not gods desire appropriate arrangement of Polyneices’ body is under question. It is Zeus that brings death to Polyneices because Polyneices brings war to his country and undermines the peace of Thebes. He “sought to consume utterly with fire the city of his fathers and the shrines of his father’s gods, -sought to taste of kindred blood, and to lead the remnant into slavery”. In Creon’s opinion, Polyneices is so wicked that even gods do not want to see him buried.
When asked whether the gods have covered Polyneices’ body, Creon replies angrily that “was it for high reward of trusty service that they sought to hide his nakedness, who came to burn their pillared shrines and sacred treasures, to burn their land, and scatter its laws to the winds”. Creon ‘s opinions are reasonable before Teiresias gives out the correct interpretation of gods’ wills. If Antigone realized the limit of her wisdom, she would hesitate to kill herself and Haemon and Eurydice would not die either. Her self-certainty causes the whole tragedy in a sense.
Not only Antigone’s action, but also her incentive to break the law is blamable. She claims that she buries her brother because of priority of divine law over human law. However, this explanation of piety motive is tenuous. She says that “never, had been a mother of children, or if a husband had been mouldering in death, would I have taken this task upon me in the city’s despite” because another husband would be found and another child would be born. The conditionality of burying the dead shows that gods’ law is less sacred for Antigone than she claims to be. Neither does she care about her living families.
She humiliates Ismene publicly, causing Creon’s death indirectly and set her uncle Creon in a dilemma where he needs to punish his daughter-in-law. Her real incentive is individual reputation, for she excludes Ismene from standing by her and asks Ismene to spread the news about her defiant act. She seems to use religion and family as elegant reasons to achieve honor. On the contrary, Creon, as a king, weights the interest of the overall state more than his own family. After experiencing the civil war caused by Polyneices, he understands the great need of the polis for order and thus enacts harsh laws to punish people causing riots.
Unanimous obedience to law would also encourage his people to fight bravely in the war by being “loyal and dauntless at his comrades’s side”. Creon has to retain the validity and effectiveness of the law, because if every citizen can pursue any personal interest without fear for grave consequences, the entire social operation mechanism would break down. Punishing Antigone is necessary to retain the order of the polis. If we assume that Antigone’s action is absolutely just, her strategy to execute justice still lacks insight.
She isolates herself by rejecting Ismene’s companionship. Nor does she mention her fiance Haemon in the play. Her solo action turns out to be a failure that she is caught by Creon and Polyneices’ body is dug out. Besides, she challenges Creon’s authority openly by pointing out the existence of divine law and uselessness of Creon’s decree. These verbal provocations to the king further prove that her real incentive is not for her family, because she should try her best to persuade Creon instead of aggravating conflicts between Creon and her.
In fact, Creon is willing to listen to the chorus and Teiresias. If Antigone tried to react in a gentle way, she would likely persuade Creon into burying Polyneices. The chorus points out directly that Antigone meets her tragic fate due to “folly in speech and crazy in mind”. In conclusion, Antigone breaks the law of the polis and treats the king rudely. Considering the better interest of the polis, Creon should punish Antigone to retain social order.