In Antigone, one of the most renowned Greek tragedies, Sophocles constructs a conflict that questions the very definition of justice. Considering a play based almost entirely on the acts of a single individual in clear defiance of a king’s decree, questions of right and wrong necessarily persist. It is difficult, however, for one to understand justice in deciphering the opinions of the two conflicting parties, Creon and Antigone, as these two clearly have opposing biased perspectives. It becomes prudent to examine the concept of justice in the eyes of the chorus, who has the necessary perspective to provide unbiased commentary in Antigone. Throughout Antigone, the chorus constructs a judicial hierarchy in which the subjects of the polis must submit to the laws of their king, and the king must fulfill his obligations according to the universal law established by the gods.
The judicial hierarchy of Antigone is established early on in the tragedy, and is finally articulated clearly in the final lines spoken by the chorus. For the chorus, justice requires that the ruler of a polis have absolute power, and that his subjects follow his decrees to the letter. Early on, the chorus says, “to use any legal means lies in your power, both about the dead and those of us who live,” (ln.213-214). This could be interpreted simply as a citizen appealing to the hubris of his ruler, straying from honesty and moving toward appeasement, but given the manner in which the chorus interacts with Creon later in the play, it is much more likely that he truly believes that Creon, or any leader for that matter, is just in demanding that his laws be followed by his subjects. The implication here is that Creon has absolut...
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...us in Antigone constructs a controversial conception of judicial hierarchy, which places accountability for the actions of a country’s subjects in the hands of the ruler and the accountability of that ruler in the hands of the gods. According to this system, both Antigone and Creon are guilty of injustices, and both received the just punishment for their actions. Antigone suffered at the hands of her ruler for the violation of his decrees, and rightly so. For what is a constitution in which the word of the sovereign is inefficacious? Creon suffered at the hands of the gods, to whom he alone was accountable. The pain that he feels as a result of the death of his son and wife is swift retribution from the gods, cutting off his foolish path, a path toward injustice.
Sophocles, Antigone. Trans. Grene. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1991.
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