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Antigone Analysis

          In ancient 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.
          Antigone’s side 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.
          Creon’s actions 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 ideal.
          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.
          The contradictions 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. 


Works Cited

Myatt, D.W. Antigone: A New Translation.  (1994).  5 March 2002. 
Sophocles. Antigone. Trans. Robert Fagles. Literature and the Writing Process
          6th ed. Elizabeth McMahan, Susan X. Day, and Robert Funk. Upper 
          Saddle River, NJ:   Prentice, 2002. 605-640.
“Theme Analysis.” Antigone: Novel Analysis.  7 March 2002. 

This page was last updated on 06 June 2013
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