In Ancient Greece, life was full of complicated questions centered around the expanding field of science. Freedom of religion was encouraged to be exercised in the city-states and man was focused on more than the Gods or heavenly concerns. As a result many new ideals and beliefs surfaced. These new ideals and beliefs, though good in intentions, often conflicted with one another and created complex moral dilemmas. Such was the case in Sophocles play Antigone that was written in this era. In the play, Antigone and Creon battle a philosophical war concerning their ideals. They both base there actions on what they believe is right and wrong. The conflict arose when their ideals that backed up their actions on the burial of Polyneices clashed, creating a contradiction between morals.
Antigone’s side of the conflict held a much more divine approach, as opposed to the mundane path Creon chose to travel. Antigone feels that Creon is disregarding the laws of the heavens by ordering it unlawful for anyone to provide a proper burial for her brother Polyneices. Antigone’s opinion is one that supports the Gods and the laws of the heavens. Her reasoning is set by her belief that if someone were not given a proper burial, that person would not be accepted into heaven. Antigone was a very religious person and the acceptance of her brother by the Gods was very important to her. Creons order was personal to Antigone and 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, Polyneices. She believed that the burial was a religious ceremony, and Creon did not have the power to deny Polyneices that right. Antigone’s strong beliefs eventually led her to death by the hand of Creon.
Creon’s actions are guided by the ideal that man is the measure of all things. Creon believes that the good of man comes before the Gods. An example of Creons belief was the unburied body of Polyneices. Creon doesn’t want to give honor to a man who attempted to invade and conquer his city. He denies burial for Polyneices to show respect for Thebes. From this standpoint, Creons decisions for denying burial for Polyneices are completely just and supports the ideals. Creon’s reasoning’s coincide with the Greek ideals except for two that strongly contradicts his actions.
The first is that Creon exercises complete domination of political power. He defies this ideal by holding Antigone as his prisoner and not the publics. The people of Thebes supported Antigone but were too scared to do anything about it. Creon found out about this through his son Haemon. The second is freedom of religion. By denying Antigone to perform burial ceremonies for Polyneices, he is denying Antigone the ideal that supports freedom of religion.
The contradictions between the beliefs of Antigone and Creon are strong throughout the play. Neither of their arguments dominates the other even though they are both right and wrong at the same time. Antigone is following divine law while Creon is trying to protect the integrity of the city-state. In the end, Creon was convinced to set Antigone free after he weighed the factors and debated the ideals. But it was too late. The contradiction of ideals was the cause of Antigone’s, Haemons, and Megareus death. Both sides were just and all beliefs were supported. The downfall is that Creon had to decide the unanswerable, and determine right from wrong when there was no clear answer.