Sophocles’s Antigone – Essay
Sophocles‘s Antigone attacks one of the most difficult subjects man faces: “what is right and just? ” From the beginning, it is apparent that two viewpoints are going to be clashing throughout the plot. Creon, the consummate pragmatist, and a true believer in the authority of the state, believes that what is good for the state is what is right. Antigone, on the other hand, believes that there are divine laws, a set of morals, she is bound to live by regardless of mortal decrees. The conflict begins almost immediately as the play opens with Antigone planning a way for her to be able to defy Creon’s edict and bury her brother.
She is doing this on the principle that every man has a fundamental right to a proper burial and it is her duty to obey the gods. Antigone’s seemingly treasonous actions infuriate Creon who had written the edict to preserve political stability. He believes that the gods favor his point of view because his laws are designed to punish those who are guilty in the eyes of the state. During Antigone and Creon’s fierce debate, Antigone states repeatedly that man has no right at all to challenge the “unchanging statutes of heaven. She says that the authority of the gods has existed from the beginning of time and thereby overrules any decree that might pass from a mortal’s mouth. Creon is adamant in his assertion that by honoring a treasonous brother, Antigone is dishonoring her other brother who died as a hero. In breaking his public edict, she is committing a crime against the state and the people and must be punished. After being sentenced to death, it is interesting to note that Antigone is initially not as sad as one might expect. This is because, as a believer in divine justice, she feels that the gods will duly reward her in the afterlife.
Later, her confidence in the gods begins to wane as her execution draws nearer and nearer until she has almost given up hope that the gods are even listening to her. Creon, rebuked by several people who he loves and respects, also begins to question the authority with which he made the decision. As an appointed ruler of the state, should he not be obeyed by his subjects? Or is he merely a subject to the gods himself? The fundamental question which drives Antigone is “how can one determine what is right? ” Is justice negotiable, or is there an absolute right and wrong.
Consequently, is justice merely a mortal creation and therefore whatever the people deem to be right? Or is right and wrong judged by a higher divine authority. Socrates’ tragic end to the play leaves us to determine these answers ourselves. He suggests that determining what is right is often tricky, and in the end one’s strongest convictions can be overturned. Maybe the message he is sending is that in the ideological war between the gods and man there are no winners. It doesn’t matter in the end anyway, because who knows what’s right?