Creon’s Role As Leader in Sophocles Antigone
In Knox’s introduction to Sophocles tragic Greek play cycles of Oedipus the King, the reader is given the postulation of whether or not Creon or Antigone are deserving of such a cruel fate. Many scholars believe that even the tragedy that befell Oedipus (killing his biological father, having sex with his biological mother and then stabbing out his eyes with knitting needles) was also an imbalanced retribution of the gods.
What must be remembered when reading Sophocles’ play Oedipus Rex is that the audience of Greek culture expected extreme retribution to befall the play’s tragic heroes for in dealings with the gods, any anger incited met with great punishment.
These were morality plays for the audience, and as such, they expected and believed that whatever small crossing they did to the gods would beget extreme anger. These plays are about myth, so one must take into consideration Freud’s statement;
The most we can do is to dream the myth onwards and give it a modern dress. And whatever explanation or interpretation does to it, we do to our own souls as well, with corresponding results for our own well-being…For the archetype is an element of our psychic structure…It represents or personifies certain instinctive data of the dark, primitive psyche, the real but invisible roots of consciousness (Jung p.4).
Thus, the audience’s relation to the main characters Creon and Antigone is the projection of self as those characters.
The purpose that Sophocles had in mind in delivering such a strong cruel fate to his main characters is to dissuade the audience from sharing in the same fate; Sophocles was saying that if the audience’s ego was too big, if it challenged the gods’ wishes, then this could happen to them.
The fate of Oedipus, Creon and Antigone has to be the way it is because they challenged the gods’ intentions. Antigone was to be immured but hung herself instead and Creon met with no less a tragic fate. The morality play’s heroes have to die in order for the full force of the god’s wishes to be understood (in order for their ego to be castrated), as Victoria Hamilton (1993) states in Narcissism and Oedipus,
From within the tragic vision, Oedipus appears a fit candidate for the tragic hero. The hero’s search for truth leads to greater and greater suffering and finally to a blinding and a castration of his sense faculties. However, the absolute truth which Oedipus pursues is not a transcendental truth, but the precise details of his own origins — a limited knowledge of the facts surrounding his birth. His ruin is brought about by his refusal to rest content with partial truths and with lies (254)
Aristotle’s definition for a tragic hero is one who is not in control of his own fate, but instead is ruled by the gods in one fashion or another. The tragic hero for Aristotle is tragic because of their lack of control or will in the face of their predetermined future and downfall. A great tragic flaw (hamartia) is the hero’s devil may care attitude at the beginning of each story, and then their despondency and stagnation of hope that meets them at the end of the play (Aristotle Ibid., Book XIII, 1085b 35 ; 1086a 12—14, P. 909].
The severity of Creon and Antigone’s fate has to be so harsh because both visited the intentions of the gods. However, as Knox points out,
…(critics) see Oedipus as a wholly noble human, pursuing his inquiry fearlessly and accepting the terrible truths as they emerge. Others see the way Oedipus’ ignorance robs him of heroism. (Knox VIII).
What is interesting to note is that Oedipus and Creon allow the gods to choose their fate, but as much as Antigone says fate is beyond her control (she’ll do her actions because she was always meant to do them) she kills herself thereby making her death her choice. Creon and Oedipus do not do this, they allow fate to be as harsh as it will, but they play along.
It is only Antigone that perhaps does not deserve her fate, but she is the one most adamantly supporting the idea of destiny and negating free will (even though her suicide is her free will). In either case, each character is destined to befall a tragic fate because it is after all a morality play, and a lesson cannot be learned if no one pays for their actions.
Hamilton, V. Narcissus and Oedipus: The Children of Psychoanalysis. London: Karnac Books, 1993.
Jung, C. G. (1978). Essays on a Science of Mythology. Princeton University Press, New York.
Sophocles. The Sophocles Plays. Trans. Bernard Knox. Pocketbooks; New York.