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Greece, new ideals surfaced as answers to life’s complicated questions.
Man was focused on more than the gods or heavenly concerns.
A government that was ruled by the people was suggested as opposed
to a monarchy that had existed for many years.
Freedom of religion was encouraged to be exercised in city-states.
These new ideals, though good in intentions, often conflicted with
each other creating complex moral dilemmas.
This was the case in Antigone, a play written by Sophocles,
during which Antigone and Creon battle a philosophical war dealing with
the controversy of the Greek ideals.
According to D. W. Myatt’s essay Antigone A New Translation,
Antigone is “a drama about two different personalities – Antigone and
Creon – both of whom are self-willed and determined”.
Both of these characters based their actions on their beliefs of
what is right and wrong. The
conflict arose when the ideals that backed up their actions clashed with
each other, making it a contradiction between morals.
of the conflict held a much more heavenly approach, as opposed to the
mundane road that Creon chose to follow.
Antigone feels that Creon is disregarding the laws of heaven
through his edict. After she is captured and brought to Creon, she tells him
“”Nor did I think your edict had such force / that you, a mere mortal,
could override the gods’” (503-504).
Antigone’s firm opinion is one that supports the gods and laws of
heaven. Her reasoning is
built by her belief that if someone is not given a proper burial, that
person would not be accepted into heaven.
Antigone was a very religious person, and acceptance of her brother
by the gods was extremely important to her.
She tells Ismene that “’the martial law our good Creon / lays
down for you and me-yes, me, I tell you’” (37-38).
Antigone felt that Creon’s order was personal to her and that his
edict invaded her family life as well as the gods’.
An important ideal in Ancient Greece was the belief that the
government was to have to limited control in religious beliefs.
In Antigone’s eyes, Creon betrayed that ideal by not allowing her
to properly bury her brother, Polynices.
She believed that the burial was a religious ceremony and Creon did
not have the power to deny Polynices that right.
Antigone’s strong beliefs eventually led to her death by the hand
of Creon. However, she never
stopped defending what she thought was right. She directly humiliates
Creon by telling him, “These citizens here would all agree, / they’d
praise me too / if their lips weren’t locked in fear”(563-565).
As Creon ordered her to her death, Antigone exclaimed, “’And
now he leads me off, a captive in his hands’” (1008).
She feels that she is Creon’s prisoner and that he is abusing his
power as king and dealing with her on a personal level.
are guided by the ideal that infers that man is the measure of all things.
The chorus emphasizes this point during the play by saying that,
“’Man [is] the master, ingenious past all measure / past all
dreams’” (406-407). Creon
believes that the good of man comes before the gods.
He sets this example by using Polynices’ body left unburied.
Creon states, “’Never at my hands / will the traitor be
honored’” (232-233). This
quote shows that leaving the body unburied is done to represent respect
for the city of Thebes. Creon
“renders judgement on Antigone because she violates the state’s law
against burying her brother” (Theme Analysis).
Though most of Creon’s reasoning coincide with the Greek ideals,
one ideal strongly contradicts his actions.
The ideal states that the population would be granted freedom from
political oppression and that a certain degree of religious freedom would
be carried out. Creon defied
both of these. First,
Antigone was his hostage, not necessarily the publics.
In fact, the general population supported Antigone, though they
were too scared to say anything. Haemon,
the son of Creon, knew this and said to Creon “’’Death?
She deserves a glowing crown of gold!’/ So they [the townspeople]
say, and the rumor spreads in secret’” (782-783).
This proves that Creon was exercising complete domination of
political power, which is strictly forbidden in the new ideals. Second, not allowing Antigone to perform the religious
ceremony of burying her brother is interfering with religious affairs.
This denies Antigone freedom of religion and contempt for this
During the play
Sophocles uses the chorus for several reasons, one of which is to show the
public opinion at different times throughout the play.
This is a representation of what is wrong and right in the eyes of
the public and maybe even how Sophocles personally feels all through the
tragedy. At the beginning of
the play, the chorus is very supportive of Creon and his laws, however
toward the conclusion of the play; they begin to endorse Antigone and her
beliefs. This shows a portrayal of Greek ideals and public outlook.
Religious freedom was considered to be widespread during this
period of time, a person was not forced into believing in one god over
another, but they were expected to believe in some higher entity.
Antigone attempted to proceed with her religion by burying her
brother, even if it meant death.
between the beliefs of Creon and Antigone are strong throughout
Sophocles’ play Antigone. Both
have well-structured arguments, but neither completely dominates the
other. Antigone is motivated
by her strong religious feelings while Creon is out to make good for his
city-state. The chorus’
opinion is the determining factor, as in the end they convince Creon to
set Antigone free. Creon had
to weigh each factor carefully, and in the end he had to decide between
ideals. The difference of
ideals was what led to Antigone’s, Haemon’s, and Eurydice’s deaths.
Both sides were just and all beliefs were supported.
Creon was forced to decide the unanswerable and determine right
from wrong when there was no clear answer.
Myatt, D.W. Antigone: A New Translation.
(1994). 5 March 2002.
Sophocles. Antigone. Trans. Robert Fagles. Literature and the
6th ed. Elizabeth McMahan,
Susan X. Day, and Robert Funk. Upper
Saddle River, NJ:
Prentice, 2002. 605-640.
“Theme Analysis.” Antigone: Novel Analysis. 7