30 March 2007
Creon More Blind Than Teiresias
The sensuous quality of Sophocles’ tragedians, as well as the ancient dialect that flavors his diction, establishes him as one of the most influential playwrights of all times. Both his philosophies and themes have earned him everlasting fame. Critics have predominantly focused on who the tragic hero is in the third story Antigone of The Oedipus Cycle (three stories written about the Oedipus family). Another trait that sets Sophocles ahead of his contemporaries is his addition of a third character. The central issue natural law versus city-state law (doing what is right, even if it means breaking a law) is explored in Antigone, in which Sophocles uses irrational decision-making, stubborn pride, and an ironic twist at the end to teach his ancient Thebans a profound truth about humanity. Rather than making rash choices, individuals should think beyond their first decision and notice more options. The Theban audiences were familiar with tyrant rulers and struggled with contradictions between city-state laws and the laws of the gods. Creon’s stubborn pride blinds him to the legitimate needs and concerns of his family and in doing so condemns them.
Antigone tells the tragic story of a young woman’s suffering because of Creon’s new decree. Spectators are introduced to young Antigone and Ismene in the first moments of the play, where both sisters learn that their two brothers Eteocles and Polynices have slain each other over a battle for Thebes. Uncle Creon becomes the ruler of Thebes, and his first display of power is to punish the attacker of Thebes, “Polynices” by not giving his lifeless body a proper burial and letting the hero’s body be carrion for birds and dogs. The new law sparks up a heated conversation between the two sisters and is a main theme throughout the play, natural rights versus city-state laws. Ismene fears the consequence of breaking any man--made law and argues that they are mere women in a male dominated society. Antigone is concerned with what the gods will do to an already cursed Oedipus family, and she decides to give Polynices laments and toss as much dirt on her brother’s body as a young girl can under a hot sun.
Any doubts lurking in Creon’s mind regarding his new law is covered in his over-inflated sense of duty to Thebans’ blinding him to the “[gods’] given right” to a proper burial. Creon doesn’t even take into account the way his family will react to his iron fist approach to ruling Thebes. This description is Sophocles’ first association of Creon’s stubborn pride, suggesting that he means to be a just ruler but the outcome of his choices suggest he is a tyrant. Throughout the story Sophocles continually describes Creon as a ruler that will uphold the law even if it’s a family member that has broken it.
Creon was blind to the fact that a girl had broken his law, and he carried on about how any man could be bought for the right price as if there was a giant conspiracy against him and the root of all motivation is money based. Imagine his surprise when he learns that his niece Antigone was convicted of this crime against his hastily decided law. He was sure it was a man bribed by silver. He was sure the law was broken to spite him. It’s hard for the eyes of Creon to see that the motivation behind this crime was Antigone’s love for her brother, and Antigone’s religious views of the old gods. She’s trying to protect her already cursed family by burying the deceased in fear of Zeus’s repercussion. Creon believe in Zeus as well, but he sees it in an opposite light. Creon speaks for Zeus by stating “[Zeus doesn’t have the] slightest concern for that corpse” and begs the question why would a god care about a “hero” that came to “burn [the gods’] temples” and level Thebes, a godly city (741: 319-322). “Exactly when did you last see the gods celebrating traitors? Inconceivable!” Creon explains in a most threatening voice scaring his chorus into biting their tongues (742: 326-327). Creon uses Zeus as if Zeus himself was holding private council, and what Creon says is the word of Zeus. That will get the chorus to think twice before saying, “[C]ould this possibly be the work of the gods” (741: 316). Both the main characters see Zeus under two very different lights. For one, Antigone’s family is cursed by Zeus because of her father’s ill doings, a curse she believes will only get worse if she neglects the proper burial that Polynice deserves. Creon knows that there is one other thing that can motivate people and that’s the gods. When he talks about the gods, he talks as if a ruler of Thebes might as well be as powerful as a deity, who in his own mind gives him more power, and the Chorus will be more likely to agree with him.
Even after the guard baring bad news spoke the facts of the incident, Creon still thought it was a man that broke his law. He overlooks the fact that the body wasn’t moved, that there was just enough “road--dust” to barely cover the “still moist” body. That doesn’t sound like the work of a traitor Theban willing to take a bribe and put his life on the line. These facts clearly indicate that it was one person that wasn’t strong enough to move a hero’s body and just enough dirt to barely cover the body indicates that there were no tools used.
A dust storm or a breath of the gods forced the soldiers guarding Polynices body to find cover from the stinging wind-swept sands. Behind the wall of dust, Antigone’s love and her desire to appease the gods compels her to cover her brother’s body so the crows and hounds don’t eat his flesh. The dust clouds part long enough for the guards to see her moaning and wailing over her brother’s body. Antigone’s spirit is broken by now; she doesn’t want to live in this dark world; she has lost her lust to live and fears no man’s rule.
The first dent in Creon’s stubborn pride comes when he learns a girl, and his niece of all people, broke his decree, a girl that he has sworn to take care of since Oedipus’ cursed death. His dilemma is large, the pressure great. He is afraid to look weak in any way. Creon hounds her for the truth of her actions. Antigone is quick to admit her doings, but without regret. She knows “[j]ustice, dwelling with the gods beneath the earth, ordain such laws for men” and she then points out Creon is a mere man trying to “override the gods” (746: 502-505). Creon’s pride is hurt: he likes to think the gods favor his every word as the Chorus does. The weight of Creon’s gaze should be enough for any young girl to succumb to his will. Creon tells her that she’s the only one that feels that way. Antigone says, “They see just that way but defer to you and keep their tongues in leash” (748: 570-571). The people of Thebes fear what their stubborn king might do if they loosened their tongues. But Antigone fears no man’s rule and is ready to leave this dark world. She does not bend or break in the presence of Creon and his Chorus, adding salt in the gash of Creon’s hubris.
The second chink in Creon’s prideful armor comes when Haeman pleads for Antigone’s life asking his father to listen to what the people on the streets are saying, and to wizen up. Haeman choosing his words carefully says, “Father, only the gods endow a man with reason, the finest of all their gifts, a treasure” surely trying to appeal to his father’s reasonable side (753: 766-767). Creon sees the situation with all his wisdom. Why, why would he need the advice of his only son? Thebans aren’t afraid to talk openly around Haemen, so he has a good sense of what the people are thinking. Creon snaps back at the idea of letting the people decide what is best for Thebes. Haeman ask shis father to not be “rigid” and uses an analogy to further explain “You’ve seen trees by a raging winter torrent, how many sway with the flood and salvage every twig, but not the stubborn—they’re ripped out, roots and all” (753-754: 797-800). It’s clear to the audience that Haeman foresees his father’s stubbornness and his reputation being swept away by the prideful “torrent.” Creon poses a couple of defensive questions: “So, men our age, we’re to be lectured, are we?—schooled by a boy his age” (754: 813-815)? If he were to take the advice of his son, he would look weak to everyone, and they would question his power. In Creon’s eyes a good and just ruler would never be questioned. He tells his son that he’ll “never marry her, not while she is alive” Haeman replies, “Then she’ll die… but her death will kill another” (755: 843-844). The argument ends in a rage, and Haemen storms out. If Creon were listening closely to his son, he would have heard that he will take his own life if Antigone dies. Creon’s hubris will surely get the best of him if he doesn’t learn to be flexible and listen.
In comes blind Teiresias, a most trusted wise man. Even he can see the inevitable downfall of Creon’s family. The blind man tells Creon that he’s the one responsible for the “plague on Thebes” (762: 1125). He explains to the tyrant ruler that it is human to make mistakes. The wise mans’ gives an unmistakable warning “Stubbornnes brands you for stupidity---pride is a crime” meaning the gods will punish the prideful (762: 1137-1138). He’s trying to teach Creon that there is no glory in his action towards Polynices’ body and that he can’t kill him “twice over” (762: 1141). After a long, prideful debate Creon slowly learns that he may have made the biggest mistake of his life, Teiresias warns him “[Y]our own flesh and blood, a corpse for a corpse given in return” for displeasing the gods below (763: 1185-1186). The verbal attacks on Creon are finally sinking in, he realizes the blind man sees the situation more clearly than he himself does. A rapid change of heart happens to Creon. He rushes to Antigone’s tomb to undo his prideful miscalculations. But he is too late; the blind man’s prophecy came true: once Creon’s wife Eurydice catches wind of the news, she follows in her son’s footsteps and takes her own life. An ironic twist leaves Creon the tyrant standing alone, the curse of Oedipus now rests on his head.
Pride was not a desirable attribute back in the days of Sophocles (495 BC - 406 BC), the more proud, the harder the fall was the rule of thumb. Even though pride walks hand in hand with greatness, it was a “trait despised by the gods, who bring suffering to the proud” (Gradesaver). Both Creon and Antigone are extremely proud, neither one of them can back down once they have taken a stand, and both will suffer the tragic consequences. Antigone suffers by being entombed alive with the dead so Creon won’t have her blood on his hands. But Creon suffers as well by being all alone in the end due to Haemen’s and Eurydice’s suicides. If Creon had heeded the warnings and safeguarded his reverence towards the gods, he could have avoided this tragic turn of events. The Chorus reiterates “The mighty words of the proud are paid in full with mighty blows of fate, and at long last those blows will teach us wisdom”(771: 1469-1471). The words ring loud in the ears of their Theban ruler. As for the Chorus, they learn that the gods do punish the overly proud, ironic.
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