“Antigone” and the Balance between the Laws of God and the Laws of Man
One of the most famous tragedies written by the famous Greek writer Sophocles is the tragedy entitled “Antigone,” which was written at around 442 BC (“Antigone” n. p.). This tragedy actually focuses on the issues surrounding the burial of Polyneices (which Creon the new king of Thebes forbids as a punishment), as well as the resulting punishments meted upon Antigone and Ismene (“Antigone” n. p.). In these issues, one of the main conflicts present was between what to respect, on whether the law of man or the law of the gods, given that Creon implemented a law that Polyneices will not be buried as a punishment, and that Antigone will be buried alive inside a cave: laws which actually runs counter to the laws of the gods (“Antigone” n. p.). Of course, there are many other issues present in this tragedy; however, this paper would try to focus on the issue of laws, specifically on what would have happened when there would be no balance between the law of the gods and the law of man. In this case, this paper would try to cite different passages in the tragedy that may help illustrate on how the law of the gods were treated with respect of the law man, and on what may be its effects on Greek society as represented in the text.
One of the main preludes to the tragedy was the civil war that happened in Thebes. The main participants in the civil war, on which the victor would be able to control the throne, were the brothers Polyneices and Eteocles (“Antigone” n. p.). However, both Polyneices and Eteocles where actually killed in the civil war, making way for Creon to actually occupy the throne (“Antigone” n. p.). In this case, Creon actually decreed that Eteocles would be honored while Polyneices would be publicly humiliated through depriving him of burial, leaving his body to worms and vultures (“Antigone” n. p.). Such decree was actually approved of by the chorus; however, Antigone, Creon’s sister, actually disapproved of such law, and secretly buried the body of Polyneices (“Antigone” n. p.). Soon, Antigone was actually caught, forcing Creon to decree that Antigone will be punished through burying her alive in the cave (which was contrary to the law of the gods), starting the debate of Antigone and Creon on which law must actually be followed, the law of man (which is Creon’s law) or the law of the gods (“Antigone” n. p.). According to Antigone, the law of Creon must not be followed and that she has the moral obligation to bury the body of her brother despite it being contrary to the law given by him, given that such kind of law actually runs in contrary to the laws of the gods, making the decree of Creon morally corrupt and against the will of the gods (“Antigone” n. p.). According to Antigone, Yes; for it was not Zeus that had published me that edict; not such are the laws set among men by the justice who neither dwells with the gods below; nor deemed I that thy decrees were of such force, that a mortal could override the unwritten and unfailing statutes of heaven…Not through dread of any human pride could I answer to the gods for breaking these. Die I must—I knew that well (how should I not?)—even without thy edicts. But if I am to die before my time, I count that a gain: for when any one lives…can such any one find aught but gain in death? So for me to meet this doom is trifling grief; but if I had suffered my mothers son to lie in death an unburied corpse, that would have grieved me; for this, I am not grieved. And if my present deeds are foolish in thy sight, it may be that a foolish judge arraigns my folly. (“Antigone” n. p.)
Despite such arguments by Antigone, however, Creon still stood ground in the law that he made, and even strengthened obedience to the law by creating a harsher punishment for Antigone (“Antigone” n. p.). In this case, Creon actually reasoned that there is no man that must be above law, or must disobey it, whether the law is right or wrong (“Antigone” n. p.). As stated by Creon,
But disobedience is the worst of evils. This it is that ruins cities; this makes homes desolate; by this, the ranks of allies are broken into head-long rout; but, of the lives whose course is fair, the greater part owes safety to obedience. Therefore we must support the cause of order, and in no wise suffer a woman to worst us. Better to fall from power, if we must, by a mans hand; then we should not be called weaker than a woman. (“Antigone” n. p.)
After Creon stood by his laws, however, a prophet by the name of Tiresias actually warned that it will do harm to him, until Creon’s own wife and son actually ended up dead, with his wife even cursing Creon on her last breath (“Antigone” n. p.).
One of the main conflicts here is on what law is higher over the other, on whether the law of the gods or the law of man. In this case, Antigone declares that the law of the gods is higher, for it guides the morality or the correctness of actions; meanwhile, Creon argues that the law of man must always be followed, whether it may be right or wrong. According to such circumstances, it can actually be argued that Antigone discovered that not all laws are binding and must be followed, especially when it has no moral ascendancy. Meanwhile, Creon actually discovered that in order for society to function well, all laws must be strictly followed. In this case, Antigone believes more in the ascendancy of the laws of God, while Creon believes in the superiority in the laws of man. The harshness of Creon here also shows that to impose order on society and for the people to believe in the superiority of laws, harsh penalties for violations of the law must be imposed. In the end, Creon actually suffered, losing his son and his wife. From such circumstances, it can be concluded that when there is an imbalance between the law of the gods and the law of man, especially when the law of man falls supreme, the moral fabric of society will be destroyed, causing greater harm to men.
“Antigone.” Classics.mit.edu. The Internet Classics Archive, n. d. Web. 16 February 2011.