Antigone And Creon Many dramatic theorists have documented their opinions of Sophocles’ tragic play Antigone. They have presented their interpretations as to the motives and moral character of Antigone and Creon. I will attempt to encapsulate the basic logic behind the arguments of the critics Brian Vickers, A.C. Bradley (who interprets Hegel), and H. D.
F. Kitto, and venture my own humble opinion as to their validity. Brian Vickers clearly favors the character of Antigone. He challenges Hegel and Hegel’s view that both Creon and Antigone were essentially right in their beliefs. Vickers sums up Hegel’s theories in a single diagram (Vickers 526), showing Creon and Antigone as forces in antithetical opposition. I believe that Hegel’s theories of tragedy, as explained by A.C.
Bradley, encompass much more than a simple diagram. Hegel thought that Creon and Antigone represented these forces, but not necessarily that they were diametrically opposed. Hegel thought that the tragedy of Antigone was that the beliefs of Antigone and Creon forced them into opposition, because their beliefs were valid and just, though they did not go about practicing their beliefs in a valid and just manner. Vickers presents the notion that Sophocles himself favored the character of Antigone, since Sophocles never criticized her. With this I must disagree; there were many aspects of Antigone’s character that Sophocles would not have included had he viewed her as above reproach. For instance, she is dreadfully overbearing and righteous.
While Sophocles clearly showed he could paint the picture of a sympathetic character if he so chose in Oedipus the King, I believe that he deliberately made Antigone, frankly, a much more bitchy character than Oedipus. Oedipus displays sympathy and is emotive in ways that Antigone simply isn’t, and that makes Oedipus the King much more tragic than Antigone. Here, Oedipus demonstrates his compassionate nature when he tells the plague-stricken citizens of Thebes how he feels for their distress (Sophocles 48): Poor children! You may be sure I know All that you longed for in your coming here. I know that you are deathly sick; and yet, Sick as you are, not one is as sick as I. Each of you suffers in himself alone His anguish, not another’s; but my spirit Groans for the city, for myself, for you. Oedipus will not be deterred in his search for the truth, no matter who tries to persuade him to abandon the quest (Sophocles 64): Oedipus: Do you know anything about him, Lady? Is he the man we summoned? Is that the man this shepherd means? Jocasta: Why think of him? Forget this herdsman. Forget it all.
This talk is a waste of time. Oedipus: How can you say that, when the clues to my birth are in my hands? Jocasta: For God’s love, let us have no more questioning! Is your life nothing to you? My own is pain enough for me to bear. Oedipus: You need not worry. Suppose my mother a slave, and born of slaves: no baseness can touch you. Jocasta: Listen to me, I beg you: do not do this thing! Oedipus: I will not listen; the truth must be made known. Oedipus’ conscious choice to pursue and accept his doom makes him a tragic figure.
Bernard M. W. Knox, author of The Heroic Temper: Studies in Sophoclean Tragedy, points out that the hero has to choose between his doom and an alternative which if accepted would betray the hero’s own conception of himself, his rights, his duties, but in the end the hero refuses to yield; he remains true to himself, to his physis, that ‘nature’ which he inherited from his parents and which is his identity. (Knox 106) Therefore, one can see Oedipus’s unwavering insistence to uncover the truth about the murder of Laius, and then about himself, as proof of the hero’s resolute commitment to uphold his own nature. Oedipus’ unyielding quest for the truth fits his self image as a man of action, the revealer of truth, and the solver of riddles.
Knox adds that the hero’s determination to act is always announced in emphatic, uncompromising terms. (Knox 22). Oedipus proclaims his intention of finding Laius’ killers by saying, Then once more I must bring what is dark to light. (Sophocles 49). The hero cannot be swayed by threats nor reason; he will not capitulate. Creon, after being accused by Oedipus of conspiring against the king, retorted, You do wrong when you take good men for bad, bad men for good.
. . . In time you will know this well. (Sophocles 58). Oedipus, however, never learns in time; he remains unchanged.
Oedipus, after his terrible self-mutilation, realizes that he treated Creon unjustly: Alas, how can I speak to him? What right have I to beg his courtesy whom I deeply wronged? (Sophocles 70). But later, Creon has to remind Oedipus that he is no longer king when he starts issuing imperious commands such as: But let me go, Creon!; Take pity on them; see, they are only children, friendless except for you.; Promise me this, Great Prince, and give me your hand in token of it.; No! Do not take them from me! (Sophocles 71). The hero provided the ancient Greeks the belief that in some chosen person humanity is capable of superhuman greatness . . .
that a human being may at times magnificently defy the limits imposed on our will by the fear of public opinion, of community action, even of death, may refuse to accept humiliation and indifference and impose his will no matter what the consequences to others and to himself. (Knox 60). This unyielding resolve to accept his doom, no matter what the consequences to others and to himself, to bestow meaning to his life, gives the hero a dignity, a nobility, and a grandeur that do not tarnish with the passage of time. When he is most vulnerable, he is most noble. (Knox 60).
Antigone, meanwhile, has a certain dignity and nobility as well, but lacks the emotional punch of Oedipus because she doesn’t care how her circumstances and decisions affect others. She would feel hatred toward even a loved one who tried to stop her (Sophocles/Jebb pars. 29-30): Ismene: A hopeless quest should not be made at all. Antigone: If thus thou speakest, thou wilt have hatred from me, and will justly be subject to the lasting hatred of the dead. Antigone has one line which irks me in particular. After being discovered while burying her brother’s body for the second time, Antigone is confronted by Creon, who reasons that A foe is never a friend–not even in death. To this, Antigone responds,Tis not my nature to join in hating, but in loving. (Sophocles/Jebb pars.
116-117). This seems like an outright lie, something that a more tragic figure like Oedipus would never utter. Antigone certainly demonstrates her nature to hate, when she condemns her sister even as Ismene shows Antigone love (Sophocles/Jebb pars. 123-126): Ismene: But now that ill besets thee, I am not ashamed to sail the sea of trouble at thy side. Antigone: Whose was the deed, Hades and the dead are witnesses: a friend in word is not the f …