Antigone: A Clash of State and Personal Essay

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Antigone: A clash of state and personal values

Sophocles' drama Antigone unfolds the tale of the tragic daughter of Oedipus Rex. At the beginning of the play Antigone is the bereft sister of two dead brothers who died fighting in the Theban civil war. Creon gives the brother (Eteocles) who defended the city's current leadership a hero's burial while leaves the other brother (Polyneices) to rot in the streets, exposed to the elements. For Antigone, her Parmenidean or eternal worldview transcends the immediate needs of the senses and politics. Harmony must be maintained through obedience to the gods. This is contrasted with Creon's Heraclitean view which stresses that strife is the natural state of order and this must be accepted as part of life. Antigone's refusal to accept Creon's dictate results in her death, but her moral belief system ultimately triumphs even though Creon lives on at the end of the play, a broken man.

Creon's refusal to let Polyneices be buried was a very serious offense in ancient Greece religion, given that it was believed that if someone was not laid to rest, the soul could not enter the underworld and experience a final judgment. In deciding to leave the body exposed, Creon has effectively taken on the role of the moral arbiter of justice himself, claiming that his role as king makes him a fitter judge than the gods. In doing so, and showing such hubris, he brings the wrath of the gods upon his head and ultimately loses his son and wife as a result.
The dramatic impetus for Creon's demise comes when Antigone resolves to bury her brother's body. She does so out of family loyalty: for Antigone, loyalty to the gods and to her family trumps that of the loyalty owed to the state. Creon believes he can ignore the standards of religious justice and moral law because of his needs as a leader. From his point-of-view, he has a very logical reason for prohibiting the burial of Polyneices: he wishes to make an example of the young man to others who would challenge his leadership. Creon hopes that others who would consider rebelling against Thebes will look at the rotting man's body and shudder in fear. Creon would thus argue that the greater good is preserved by ensuring that the social order of the city remains intact, and Antigone's personal, familial feelings are less relevant.

However, Antigone believes that the values of the gods and the family are eternal, while the existence of all human-constructed states is transient. Thus, in defiance of Creon's order that anyone who buries her brother will be punished by death, she does her best (her sister refuses to help her) to throw dust over Polyneices' corpse. In Antigone's view, the point is not whether Polyneices was good or bad -- he was her brother, and she owes him this act of sacrifice, even if it means losing her life. He is her brother; that is all she needs….....

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