In the Greek play Antigone, we are faced with a conflict between religious or moral law vs. state or human law, represented by the equally proud and stubborn Antigone (the rebel) and Creon (king or state ruler). Antigone considers god’s decrees and her own family duties towards her two brothers more important than any of man’s laws or decrees, even if such rules come from not only the most powerful ruler of Thebes in her time; but her also from a man who is her own uncle.
In Episode 1, Antigone and Ismene (her sister) have an argument about what they should do with the bodies of their two brothers: one (Eteocles) who is considered a hero and should be buried with all honors as declared by Creon’s law for fighting on the side of Thebes, and the other whose body (Polyneices) should be left to rot and be eaten by birds as the city’s traitor. Antigone knows the punishment for burial of the latter is stoning to death by the populace; nevertheless, she refuses to shrink from her religious and family duties, and proceeds to perform the proper dead rites upon his body (later in the play when the guard finds her and apprehends her) and gives him proper burial; Ismene, on the other hand, prefers to follow the rule of law without any deviations. Of course, Antigone would have been happier if she could have given them proper burial, without having to fear death by stoning from her own uncle and thereby broken family ties even farther (beyond the conflict of her two brothers and with her own sister), without having to defy the law by setting herself as a rebel against the good of the state, by committing suicide in the end in the cave in which Creon had imprisoned her (buried alive while the dead are left unburied, such irony), thereby leading to the suicide of her beloved Haemon (Creon’s only son).
In lines 995-1004, Creon goes to seek the counsel of a blind priest (Teiresias) who tells him leaving the bodies to rot hastens the city’s doom thru a plague ordered by the gods due to his folly and misdirected pride, and also his lack of judgment. As the hatred of his people thickens, as warned by his son, and the suicide of his own son later, he decides to yield to reason, and curbs his pride, replaces his well-meant principles towards the benefit of his city with fear and dread for the gods; but the change comes too late, and faced with so much death he asks the gods to kill him by a crushing weight. Both Antigone and Creon are torn by pride, or hubris, this trait despised by the gods brings suffering, Antigone continues on her stubbornness till the end and denies herself happiness with Haemon because of it. Creon, on the other hand, is less stubborn and has a reversal of mind and action at the end, as was pointed out earlier. Both are plagued by lack of judgment, which leads them to their doom.
The conflict of man against woman, or double standard, is a somewhat lesser theme but also central to the understanding of this play. Antigone’s rebellion upsets gender roles and hierarchy; the ideal role of woman in Greek culture is represented by the passiveness of Ismene’s actions. During Creon’s argument with his son, he expresses his chosen course of action of imprisoning Antigone in the face of earning the wrong reputation as a tyrant with the following words: “Better to fall from power, by a man’s hand, than be called weaker than a woman.” It is in his mind, a lesser threat to lose in battle than to see the whole structure of society as it was known and admired then, toppled by the rebelliousness and stubbornness of a woman’s actions, even though, she was doing the right thing. Antigone’s wisdom in her course of action to bury both her brothers, reveals that she considers moral law more important than state law, she also possesses tremendous pride to insist on her principles, and immense courage to do this against extremely huge obstacles.
An essay written by me for a class about a tragic Greek play by Sophocles, it is the continuation of the play Oedipus Rex.