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.

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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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