Antigone: Divine Law Vs. Human Law
Length: 908 words (2.6 double-spaced pages)
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Possibly the most prominent theme in Sophocles' "Antigone" is the concept of divine law vs. human law. In the story the two brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices have slain each other in battle. The new King Creon, who assumed the throne after Eteocles' death, decrees that because Polyneices committed treason against the king, he shall not be buried, but instead "He shall be left unburied for all to watch
The corpse mutilated and eaten by carrion-birds and by dogs" (Sophocles). Herein lies the dilemma; in Greek culture, the spirit of a body that is not buried by sundown on the day that it died cannot find rest but is doomed to walk the earth.
This is the Crux of the theme, the conflict between the law of King Creon, and the law of the gods. In fact, according to Greek belief, Creon would have been ordained by the gods to be king, and thus, should not his law be their law as well? This is the hurdle that Antigone has to face; should she abide by the law of Creon and leave her brother to rot, under penalty of death? Or should she disregard Creon's edict, follow the law of the gods and bury her brother? Creon is a brother to Jocasta, and thus next in line to become king after Etocles is killed in battle. The king is believed to be the chosen of the gods and to rule in their stead. Why then would the king attempt to punish Polyneices after death and so blatantly violate the rules of the gods? However, Creon is the king, and the penalty for disobeying this law of his is very real and very brutal, death.
On the other side of the argument, the law of the gods rules over all, even the king. The punishment for breaking the gods law is not death but according to the Greeks something far more eternal. Since it is the will of the gods that Creon be king, should it not therefore be their will that Polyneices be punished? Possibly not, because the Greek gods are far different from the God of modern religions. The Greek gods were not omnipotent, or omniscient, they had their own human flaws and they did not pre-ordain, in fact they spent much of their time bickering amongst each other. Another question is whether or not Creon ever thought or realized that he was breaking a divine edict with his decree to punish Polyneices.
Or whether or not he cared.
Antigone believes that Creon is not rightfully king, she is resentful toward him and feels that he has slithered his way into the throne after the fall of the rightful rulers, Oedipus, her father and Etocles, her brother. Therefore, it is possible that she does not take his command seriously or she thinks she will be spared from punishment, or perhaps she simply doesn't care. Either way, she chooses the gods over Creon and buries her brother. Creon, not wanting to appear weak, wanting to make an example of Antigone, sends her to her death. It is then that he is visited by the blind prophet Teiresias and made aware of his mistake (quote from Teiresias). Creon then goes to Antigone to free her but finds that she hanged herself, in the cave; with her he also finds his son Haemon, her betrothed. Haemon rushes at Creon and takes a misstep and falls on his own blade, killing himself. When informed of the news Eurydice takes her own life, leaving Creon and Antigone's sister Ismene the only members of the family left. Feeling unworthy, Creon abdicates the throne, and thus Ismene is left all alone, this is where the story ends.
In the story of "Antigone" there is no clear antagonist, it is more of a battle of two protagonists. Creon believes that because he is king, put in his place by the gods, that his punishment is one befitting the crime of Etocles. Antigone believes that no matter what her brother did, divine law is above human law, and this leads the both of them into conflict. However, it is easier to sympathize with Antigone than with Creon and this leads Creon to be placed in the role of possible antagonist, when he quite simply is doing what he believes is just as well. Because both Antigone and Creon have their own ideas of what is "right" and "wrong", it is harder to judge them then one might think. This is to say that one should not make assumptions about what is truly right or wrong, unless the answer to that is apparently clear. Antigone believed that the actions taken by her were taken for the right reason, they adhere to the law of the Gods. In opposition to that, Creon believes that the actions he had taken were in fact the right ones, because he believed that Polyneices was a traitor to the kingdom, and that anyone who should give him a proper burial should be punished along with him as a traitor. So, consequently the actions that were taken by the both of them individually were the right ones, in their own minds at least. However, in the end, it is the god's will that triumphs over man's will, as it always does. Unfortunately, man was too arrogant to realize this until he was ruined by his own blindness. Only then did he truly see.