Analysis of Burial at Thebes

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The opening events of the play quickly establish the central conflict. Creon has decreed that the traitor Polynices must not be given proper burial, and Antigone is the only one who will speak against this decree and insist on the sacredness of family. Whereas Antigone sees no validity in a law that disregards the duty family members owe one another, Creon’s point of view is exactly opposite. He has no use for anyone who places private ties above the common good, as he proclaims firmly to the Chorus and the audience as he revels in his victory over Polynices. Creon’s first speech, which is dominated by words such as “principle,” “law,” “policy,” and “decree,” shows the extent to which Creon fixates on government and law as the supreme authority. Between Antigone and Creon there can be no compromise—they both find absolute validity in the respective loyalties they uphold. In the struggle between Creon and Antigone, Sophocles’ audience would have recognized a genuine conflict of duties and values. In their ethical philosophy, the ancient Athenians clearly recognized that conflicts can arise between two separate but valid principles, and that such situations call for practical judgment and deliberation. From the Greek point of view, both Creon’s and Antigone’s positions are flawed, because both oversimplify ethical life by recognizing only one kind of “good” or duty. By oversimplifying, each ignores the fact that a conflict exists at all, or that deliberation is necessary. Moreover, both Creon and Antigone display the dangerous flaw of pride in the way they justify and carry out their decisions. Antigone admits right from the beginning that she wants to carry out the burial because the action is “glorious.” Creon’s pride is that of a tyrant. He is inflexible and unyielding, unwilling throughout the play to listen to advice. The danger of pride is that it leads both these characters to overlook their own human finitude—the limitations of their own powers....
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