Antigone and Creon

In Antigone, the main struggle is between Antigone and Creon, which can also be seen as a struggle between the supremacy of legal and political institutions and the will of the Gods. The discourse of the play embodies the debate between the will of Creon and his faith in the laws and and the will of Antigone and her belief in the Gods. In this paper, I will defend Antigone’s burial of her brother and explain why she was correct in the context of Ancient Greece using other sources from the time. In the play, Antigone’s brother, Polynices, is killed in battle after attempting to forcefully retake the Theban throne, as was his given right. His brother, Eteocles, is also killed while defending his position on the throne and is given a proper burial. Their uncle, Creon is left to be the ruler of Thebes after the death of both Polynices and Eteocles in battle. He ends up acting like a tyrant with his devoted son even going as far as saying: “it’s no city at all, owned by one man alone”(Antigone, 825) to show the unreasonable amount of power he is exerting. Antigone describes Creon’s proclamation as leaving Polyneices “unwept, unburied, a lovely treasure for birds”(Antigone, 35) which is against the holy guidelines set forth by the gods. Antigone decides to go against this and bury the body anyways. When she is caught, Creon sentences her to death for burying the body. Antigone was justified in the burial of her brother’s body because she was following the believed will of the Gods. In the following sections, I will explain why Antigone was correct and that Creon’s wrongdoing and insult to the Gods was clearly visible in the play. I will show that in ancient Greece, the will of the Gods superseded even the legal institutions of humans and that Antigone was right in her assumption that the Gods wanted her to bury the body. In this section, I will show, using textual evidence why the will of the Gods is more important than that of humans. In ancient Greece, the Gods were paramount in society and revered for their wisdom and goodness. People were supposed to follow whatever the Gods said. An example of this can be seen in the Eumenides when Orestes commits matricide because he is commanded to do so by Apollo. When confronted about the origin of his actions, Orestes claims it was by “the orders of this god. He is my witness… and at this moment, I have no regrets” (Eumenides, 600). Apollo says later in the play:“I urge you now— obey the will of Zeus, our father. No oath has greater strength than Zeus” (Eumenides, 620) showing how even the Gods knew that they should obey Zeus. This supremacy of the Gods has seen again in Works and Days, a poem that talks about how the Greeks should live their lives, wherein it says: “nay, let us settle our dispute here with the true judgment which is of Zeus and is perfect” (Works and Days, 35). As evidenced by the above, any action that a human would engage in that goes against the Gods would be immediately superseded by the Gods in ancient Greek society. Since the rules of the Gods were put above the rules of the city, legal institutions and laws must be inferior. For example, if a small town in America makes a law that goes directly against the constitution, the law would be struck down. In a situation like this, something like the constitution would prevail because the rules of the constitution are put above those of a small town. This concept is also referenced in the play, with Antigone saying: “Nor did I think your edict had such force that you, a mere mortal, could override the gods, the great unwritten, unshakable traditions” (Antigone, 505). This shows that Antigone was right to put the laws of the Gods above the rules of the kingdom. It is obvious that Antigone by her actions and thoughts has no regard for the legal institutions and laws of Thebes. She seems to view Creon’s laws as illegitimate, as shown in her and Creon’s argument, when Creon asks “You, tell me briefly, no long speeches— were you aware a decree had forbidden this?” (Antigone, 495) and Antigone responds by saying: “Of course I did. It wasn’t Zeus, not in the least, who made this proclamation—” (Antigone, 500). In Antigone’s eyes, Creon’s laws were illegitimate because they went against what she thought the Gods told her to do. A more modern example of this would be similar to how to many fundamental Christians view gay marriage as illegitimate, even though it is legal in America. In this way too, people view laws and legal institutions as illegitimate because they directly contradict what they believe their god(s) are saying. Since Antigone had no regard for the legal institutions and laws of Thebes, she had no problem with breaking them when it came to burying her brother’s body. One objection to this could be that the Gods did not want Antigone to bury Polyneices. This could be seen in the fate that Antigone was forced to suffer. Antigone describes her fate by shouting: “ I am agony! No tears for the destiny that’s mine, no loved one mourns my death.” (Antigone, 965). It can also be seen in the fact that the Gods did nothing to stop or prevent her fate. Even Antigone herself says: “Very well: if this is the pleasure of the gods, once I suffer I will know that I was wrong.” (Antigone 1015). Her fate and even this quote show that Antigone might not have been completely right in her assertion that the Gods wanted her to bury her brother. If the Gods did not want her to bury her brother, then it can be seen that she was simply just going against the laws of the city, which would have warranted punishment. However, I will show that Antigone was correct in her assertion.While Antigone suffered a terrible fate, it could be argued that Creon suffered a worse fate. As it says in Works and Days: “But for those who practice violence and cruel deeds far-seeing Zeus, the son of Cronos, ordains a punishment. Often even a whole city suffers for a bad man who sins and devises presumptuous deeds” (Works and Days, 238). Antigone also calls on the Gods to punish Creon saying: “But if these men are wrong, let them suffer nothing worse than they mete out to me—these masters of injustice!” (Antigone, 1015). In this way, it could be easily seen that the Gods intended on punished Creon most of all, being as though both his son and wife commit suicide. Creon is left alive but has to live with the regret of knowing that he killed those who he loved the most. Creon even laments his fate in the final seconds of the play crying: “Whatever I touch goes wrong—once more a crushing fate’s come down upon my head!”(Antigone, 1465). It can even be interpreted that Creon was going to kill himself, based off of his remarks at the end of the play, with him saying “that best of fates for me that brings the final day, best fate of all… so I never have to see another sunrise.” (Antigone, 1450). Furthermore, the even citizens of Thebes found it strange that the body is left out to rot. Antigone references this saying: “These citizens here would all agree… they would praise me too if their lips weren’t locked in fear” (Antigone, 565). Likewise, when it is first discovered that Polyneices has been buried, the guard who was supposed to keep watch of him said: “My king, ever since he began I’ve been debating in my mind, could this possibly be the work of the gods?” (Antigone, 315). This shows that even the normal Theban people saw the burying of Polyneices as an act in accordance with what the Gods wanted, not against it. All of this evidence shows that it was most likely that the Gods wanted Antigone to bury her brother. As I have shown in my paper Antigone was correct in her significance of the political and legal institutions, because she followed the will of the Gods instead of following the laws of the city and Creon. I used textual evidence to show that in ancient Greece, the will of the Gods was above that of humans, and it was the will of the Gods to have Polyneices buried, therefore, Antigone was correct in her actions and assertions.

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