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Antigone - Analysis of Greek Ideals


In Ancient Greece, new ideals surfaced as answers to life's 
complicated questions. These new beliefs were centered around the
expanding field of science. Man was focused on more than the Gods or 
heavenly concerns. A government that was ruled by the people was 
suggested as opposed to a monarchy that had existed for many years. 
Freedom of religion was encouraged to be exercised in city-states. 
These new ideals, though good in intentions, often conflicted with 
each other creating complex moral dilemmas.

 Such was the case in Antigone a play written by Sophocles during 
this era of change. In the play, Antigone and Creon battle a 
philosophical war dealing with the controversy of the Greek ideals. 
They both based their actions on their beliefs of what is right and 
wrong. The conflict arose when the ideals that backed up their actions 
clashed with each other, making it contradiction between morals.

 Antigone's side of the conflict held a much more heavenly 
approach, as opposed to the mundane road that Creon chose to follow. 
Antigone feels that Creon is disregarding the laws of heaven through 
his edict. After she is captured and brought to Creon, she tells him 
"I do not think your edicts strong enough to overrule the unwritten 
unalterable laws of God and heaven, you being only a man." Antigone's 
staunch opinion is one that supports the Gods and the laws of heaven. 
Her reasoning is set by her belief that if someone is not given a 
proper burial, that person would not be accepted into heaven. Antigone 
was a very religious person, and acceptance of her brother by the Gods 
was very important to her. She felt that "It is against you and me
he has made this order. Yes, against me." Creon's order was personal 
to Antigone. His edict invaded her family life as well as the Gods'.

 An important ideal in Ancient Greece was the belief that the 
government was to have no control in matters concerning religious
beliefs. In Antigone's eyes, Creon betrayed that ideal by not allowing 
her to properly bury her brother, Polynices. She believed that the 
burial was a religious ceremony, and Creon did not have the power to 
deny Polynices that right. Antigone's strong beliefs eventually led 
her to her death by the hand of Creon. Never, though, did she stop 
defending what she thought was right. As Creon ordered her to her 
death, Antigone exclaimed, "I go, his prisoner, because I honoured 
those things in which honour truly belongs." She is directly 
humiliating Creon by calling his opinions and decisions weak and 
unjust. She also emphasizes "his prisoner," which tells us that 
Creon's decision to capture Antigone was his own, and was not backed 
up by the majority of the people. She feels that Creon is abusing his 
power as king and dealing with her task to a personal level.

 Creon's actions are guided by the ideal that states "Man is the 
measure of all things." The chorus emphasizes this point during the 
play by stating that "There is nothing beyond (man's) power." Creon 
believes that the good of man comes before the gods. Setting the 
example using Polynices' body left unburied is a symbol of Creon's 
belief. "No man who is his country's enemy shall call himself my 
friend." This quote shows that leaving the body unburied is done to 
show respect for Thebes. After all, how could the ruler of a 
city-state honor a man who attempted to invade and conquer his city. 
From that perspective, Creon's actions are completely just and 
supported by the ideals.

 Though most of Creon's reasonings coincide with the Greek ideals, 
one ideal strongly contradicts his actions. The ideal states that the 
population would be granted freedom from political oppression and that 
freedom of religion would be carried out. Creon defied both of these. 
First, Antigone was "his prisoner", not necessarily the publics. In 
fact, the general population supported Antigone, though they were too 
scared to say anything. Haemon, the son of Creon, knew of this, and 
told Creon, "Has she not rather earned a crown of gold?- Such is the 
secret talk of the town." This proves that Creon was exercising
complete domination of political power, which is strictly forbidden in 
the new ideals. Also, not allowing Antigone perform her religious 
ceremony of burying her brother is interfering with religious affairs. 
This denies Antigone freedom of religion, hence, contempt for this 

 The contradictions between the beliefs of Creon and Antigone are 
strong throughout the play. Both have well-structured arguments, but 
neither completely dominates the other. Antigone is motivated by her 
strong religious feelings while Creon is out to make good for his 
city-state. The chorus' opinion is the determining factor, as in the 
end, they convince Creon to set Antigone free. Creon had to weigh each 
factor carefully, and in the end, he had to decide between ideals. His 
mind was torn in two. "It is hard to give way, and hard to stand and 
abide the coming of the curse. Both ways are hard." The contradiction 
of ideals was what led to Antigone's, Haemon's, and Megareus' death. 
Both sides were just, all beliefs were supported. Creon was forced to 
decide the unanswerable, decipher the encoded, complete the 
impossible, and determine right from wrong when there was no clear 



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