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
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
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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