... he who has not first laid his foundations may be able with great ability to lay them afterwards, but they will be laid with trouble to the architect and danger to the building. - The Prince by Machiavelli
Sophocles addresses this very problem in his play Antigone by the methods Creon uses to rule Thebes. Creon begins ruling Thebes in a very difficult time and circumstance. The polis has been embroiled in tragedy for over a generation. Creon must rule the city and consolidate the Theban citizens behind him. He resorts to symbolic means to unite the people, but he goes too far-- he is unyielding in his adherence to the symbolic policy he adopts, and too late becomes aware that he is actually losing the people he tries to lead.Creon capitalizes on recent tragic events in Thebes to consolidate his power and legitimize his position.
The latest war in Thebes was waged between two brothers-- Eteocles and Polyneices. Polyneices, the elder brother, was to have the throne; but Eteocles drove him out by convincing the people that Polyneices carried Oedipus' curse. Polyneices went to Argos and raised an army, then returned in order to drive Eteocles out and retake control of Thebes (Oedipus at Colonus 1532-5). In the ensuing battle, the brothers killed each other-- they "worked out their share in common death" (Antigone 162). Their strife is over. Polyneices' army has returned to Argos, leaving the kingship of Thebes to Creon.Creon has just come to power in a city that has had more than its share of grief: King Laius was murdered, then the Sphynx and a plague tormented the polis with death. Next, Oedipus discovered his own crime...
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...e question is not unique the ancient Thebes, however, and it behooves us to examine Creon's methods and goals in light of current events. For example, President Bush is currently using the tragedy of the World Trade Center attacks last year to unite the American people... more importantly to unite them under his leadership. His approval ratings are sky-high, up in the 70th percentile, according to polls by Gallup, CNN, USAToday, Fox, the Christian Science Monitor, Time, and others (http://www.pollingreport.com/BushFav.htm). By making his policy one of "Good vs. Evil," he has polarized the conflict, and who wouldn't want to be on the side of the Good? This method is not inherently wrong or bad, but with it come many caveats, as Creon discovered, and as Machiavelli warns. Symbols can be useful tools, but like any good tool, they can be dangerous if used without care.
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