UDE, Chiedozie Orji.
Department of English, UNILAG.
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The play Antigone is a Classical Drama which captures the struggle between the eponymous heroine — Antigone — and the dictatorial king, Creon. This conflict between these two characters arises based on ideological differences. Creon, for example, is a proponent of man-made laws while Antigone is a supporter of the divine laws — laws made by the gods. These ideological differences make Antigone to defy Creon’s law which forbade the burial of Polyneices, a traitor, and this action leads to a tragic end of the play.
Obviously, tragedy, in the play, is orchestrated by several factors, and one of these factors is Creon’s statement. The statement — “He who is appointed by the state must be obeyed in all things right or wrong.” — is made by Creon to Haemon, his son when Haemon tries to intercede on the behalf of Antigone. This statement is highly significant because: it displays the autocratic nature of Creon; it showcases Creon’s disregard for the ways of the gods; and of course, it instigates a reprisal from the gods. In light of this, this essay will focus on the critical explication of how Creon’s statement can be related to autocracy, theocracy and divine justice.
Of course, Creon’s statement depicts his autocratic nature. Autocracy is a system of government whereby the ruler possesses unlimited power. Creon, as a ruler, typically exemplifies this autocratic mannerisms through his acts. He single-handedly forbids the burial of a man because he (Creon) is of the belief that the dead man is a traitor who does not deserve burial rites. Creon also sentences Antigone to be buried alive when she defies his decree, and this act is, of a surety, the biggest irony in the play — that is, the dead was left unburied while the living (Antigone) was buried alive. Creon’s decision to punish Antigone can be seen in the lines spoken by Teiresias below:
Teiresias: For that thou hast entombed a living soul,
And sent below a denizen of earth,
And wronged the nether gods by leaving here
A corpse unlaved, unwept, unsepulchered.
Obviously, the statement he makes to his son simply reinforces his autocratic tendencies because it succinctly summarises Creon’s disregard for the opinions of others.
Another idea which Creon’s statement brings to the fore is the concept of theocracy. Theocracy suggests or encompasses the rule of a country by a priest or the rule of a country based on the sacred laws of the gods. The Classical Greek society, as portrayed by many an author, is one which strongly believes in its deities and also depends on the gods for guidance; thus, it is expected of every man to respect these gods and their priests. Due to this dependence on the gods, Creon’s statement is relevant to this analysis because it exemplifies Creon’s disregard for the ways of the gods. Creon shows utmost disregard for this when he decides to contravene the law which states that the dead must be buried. He even goes further to ridicule the priest, Teiresias by describing him as a sell-out — one who takes bribes. By so doing, Creon defies the status quo which places the gods as superior and this act of blasphemy or blatant disrespect leads to the retribution of the gods — that is, divine justice.
Divine justice, as mentioned above, has to do with the penance the gods place on individuals who defy them. Obviously, Creon’s vile responses to the prophet’s warning, alongside his belief that the leader of a country is the highest authority to be consulted or obeyed in all matters, counts as an act of insubordination to the gods. This insubordination may also be regarded as “hubris” — excessive pride. Pride, as we have been made to know, brings about the downfall of a noble character in classical tragedies. Creon is not exempted because his actions make the gods to pronounce doom on his family though the Prophet Teresias. Tereisais’ pronouncement can be seen in the lines below:
Teiresias: I prophesy. For, yet a little while,
And sound of lamentation shall be heard,
Of men and women through thy desolate halls;
And all thy neighbor States are leagues to avenge
Their mangled warriors who have found a grave
I’ the maw of wolf or hound, or winged bird
That flying homewards taints their city’s air.
These are the shafts, that like a bowman I
Provoked to anger, loosen at thy breast,
Unerring, and their smart thou shalt not shun.
Boy, lead me home, that he may vent his spleen
On younger men, and learn to curb his tongue
With gentler manners than his present mood.
In conclusion, this essay has comprehensively examined how Creon’s statement — “He who is appointed by the state must be obeyed in all things right or wrong.” — is relevant to the themes of autocracy, theocracy and divine justice. All these were discussed with textual evidence to back them up.