Justice in Antigone
Antiquity and the 19th Century (Ulfers) William Rauscher Thursday, 9:30AM Justice in Antigone In Sophocles’ Antigone, two notions of ‘justice’ are presented, which conflict with each other. Creon’s form of justice rewards the loyal Eteocles and punishes the traitor Polyneices, by refusing to give Polyneices proper burial rites. This form of justice directly conflicts with Antigone’s idea of justice, which doesn’t differentiate between the “wicked” and the “just. ” These two conflicting thoughts on justice illustrate two classic philosophies.
Creon represents a Paramenidean view of justice, while Antigone represents a Heraclitean view of justice. Paramenidean thought splits the world into two systems, where “Being” is primary and “Becoming” is secondary (Ulfers, Lecture). To Paramenides, “Being” is associated with the idea of “oneness” and “timelessness,” while any “Becoming” or process is an illusion produced by the senses. This dualistic worldview simplifies everyday occurrences and thoughts into opposites, which are unchangeable. In contrast, Heraclitean thought presents “Becoming” as primary, while “Being” is secondary (Ulfers, Lecture).
Heraclitus regards change and temporality as ultimate in a perpetual process of “Becoming. ” Heraclitus goes on to argue that opposites are simultaneously present in a state known as chiasmic unity. Chiasmic unity constitutes a paradoxical unity of opposites, which binds opposites together and keeps them apart. Heraclitean thought favors the logic of “both/and,” which violates the Paramenidean logic of “either/or. ” Antigone presents a Heraclitean view of justice in a conversation with her sister Ismene abut Creon’s proclamation that their brother, Polyneices, will ot receive proper burial rites. Antigone determines that Creon has no authority to dictate burial rites: “It is not for him [Creon] to keep me from my own” (Sophocles, 163). By choosing to defy Creon’s decree, Antigone accepts her fate as “a criminal-but a religious one,” revealing that she wants to make her act of defiance a public example. Antigone does not fear Creon’s threat of punishment because she follows a different form of justice based on a higher religious authority.
Religion functions in a chiasmic structure, where the opposite values of “wicked” and “just,” lose their oppositional aspects (Ulfers, Lecture). Antigone’s commitment to a Heraclitean view of justice allows her to defy the sovereign, yet keep her honor: “No suffering of mine will be enough to make me die ignobly” (Sophocles 165). In contrast, Ismene chooses to follow Creon’s interpretation of justice because he is the current ruling power, whose authority is unquestioned. She is not able to see past the “either/or” logic Creon has imposed on his people.
As a wiser, older sister, Ismene warns Antigone about disobeying Creon, pleading with Antigone to come to her senses: “…and see how miserable our end shall be if in the teeth of law we shall transgress against the sovereign’s decree and power…Extravagant action is not sensible” (Sophocles, 163). Ismene determines that Antigone’s intended action is flawed because it goes beyond the simplicity of following the sovereign’s law. Despite these warnings, Antigone is compelled to defy Creon’s proclamation as a result of her Heraclitean view of justice.
Creon confronts Antigone for defying his decree. In contrast to Antigone, Creon represents the Paramenidean view of justice, which is based on an oppositional order of wicked and just, punishment and reward (Ulfers, Lecture). Creon extends these distinctions to the realm of the dead: “My enemy is still my enemy even in death” (Sophocles 181). Creon believes that by extending the intolerance of treachery into death’s realm, he will set an example that will dissuade any future uprisings against his rule.
Antigone shows no remorse for her actions, believing that Creon’s rule does not extend to the realm of the dead: “…it was not Zeus that made the proclamation; nor did Justice, which lives with those below, enact such laws as that, for mankind. I did not believe your proclamation had such power to enable one who will someday die to override God’s ordinances” (Sophocles 178). Antigone disagrees with Creon, since death is inevitable and is neither considered a punishment nor a reward. In this sense, judgment is suspended in the realm of death.
She feels that the mortal Creon cannot make a proclamation that governs the realm of the dead. Antigone embodies a “law” that revolves around the chiasmic unity of the opposite values of honor and dishonor attributed to Etocles and Polyneices, respectively (Ulfers, Lecture). She will not give allegiance to the temporal rules of Creon, since she will be in conflict with the higher authority of the gods regarding the realm of death: “The god of death demands these rites for both” (Sophocles 181).
As a result of Antigone’s public display of disobedience toward Creon’s rule, Creon believes that he is forced to fulfill the justified punishment of death on Antigone. In order to uphold his authority as a good ruler, he feels that he has to rule with intolerance toward disobedience: “The man the city set up in authority must be obeyed in small things and in just but also in their opposites” (Sophocles, 187). In Creon’s mind, creating a victorious rule means inflexible justice, order, and discipline.
This unchanging mentality of a strict separation of being either loyal or disloyal and receiving either reward or punishment represents a Paramenidean view of justice. His form of justice is devoid of leniency and mercy, only seeing his own perspective on justice. Creon finally realizes the true “injustice” of his law only after the tragic deaths of his son, wife, and Antigone: “The mistakes of a blinded man are themselves rigid and laden with death” (Sophocles, 209).
His inflexible decrees blinded him from true justice by locking him into a rigid Paramenidean view of the world. After facing unparalleled tragedies, he ultimately has gained insight into Antigone’s “justice. ” Creon has switched from the Paramenidean separation of opposites to the chiasmic unity of opposites: “Everything in my hands is crossed” (Sophocles, 212). Creon is now able to comprehend that not everything can be categorized into separate distinctions to be judged, seeming to accept the Heraclitean view of justice.
Creon sees the error in his notion of justice, but he is too late to prevent the tragedy that befalls him. His absolute power of ruling combined with his pride and arrogance leads him to be blinded to Antigone’s beliefs. At the end of the play, Creon gains “wisdom” from his “unwelcome fate” realizing that he “[should] have kept the old accepted laws” (Sophocles 204, 212). This realization bestows upon him the knowledge to rule in favor of the “both/and” Heraclitean view of justice, rather than the “either/or” Paramenidean view of justice that he once followed.