Creon (to Oedipus)
“For you submission is a torment – you do not hide it.
And when you force your way against the world
You crush us all beneath you. Such natures
Find their own company most terrible to bear.
It is their punishment.” (Sophocles from Oedipus the King, pg 210)
Sophocles may not have included the Greek gods as corporeal characters in his plays Oedipus and Antigone, but their divine influence on the titular characters plays a major role in both. The “immortal unrecorded laws of God” (Antigone pg 268), the “evil prophecy” of Apollo, Oedipus’s hubris, and Antigone’s dogged pursuit of justice together create the catalyst for both tragedies. Oedipus and Antigone grapple with the complex issues of free will and destiny, the combination of which drives them to ruin.
As Creon returns from Delphi, where he has received word from the Oracle of Apollo that Laius’s murder must be avenged to save Thebes from the grip of the plague, Oedipus addresses the supplicants proclaiming, “Whatever the god commands; if I disobeyed it would be a sin.” (pg 187) Here he appears forthright and humble enough, but as he continues his speech takes an ominous turn, “If I can drive out this corruption and make the city whole, I shall do more than save my people...I shall save myself.” (pg 190) Indicating that even when he is prepared to make sacrifices and serve the god[s] to save his city, his actions are ultimately self-serving and frequently detrimental to those around him. He threatens Creon, he threatens Teiresias, he threatens the Shepherd, but most regrettably, he unwittingly slays his father, “I have hurled myself blindly against unthinking fury and destruction.” (pg 213) He admits to Jocasta.
Antogone, on the other hand, uses her ‘service to the gods’ as a tool in her righteous indignation toward Creon’s proclamation, and to execute her goal to bring dignity to her brother Polyneices’ death. When Creon interrogates her about having dared to defy the law (i.e. his proclamation) she retorts, “I dared. It was not God’s proclamation.” (pg 268) Her sister, Ismene, fears for her when Antigone explains that the penalty for burying Polyneices is “...Stoning to death in the public square.” (pg 256) Antigone becomes so obsessed that she loses her senses of fear and obedience to the point that she even shows disdain for her gentle sister when she says, “Go away, Ismene, I shall be hating you soon...” (pg 258) Ismene cautions Antigone that she is, “So fiery! You should be cold with fear.” Antigone piously states that she is “...not afraid of the danger; if it means death, it will not be the worst of deaths ––death without honor.” (pg 258) ‘Death without honor’ is a subject with which her family has been all too familiar. Both her father, Oedipus, and her grandfather, Laius, endured such deaths. Passed down through the generations. Antigone seems acutely aware of the amount of indignities her family has already suffered. In the prologue Antigone reminds Ismene of this, “...Dear sister, you would think that we had already suffered enough for the curse of Oedipus.” (pg 255) She will spare herself from the curse of a dishonorable death by sacrificing herself.
Though the ancient Greeks were not aware of behavioral genetics as we are today, they were aware of the hereditary factors of certain personality traits. In Antigone the Chorus (or Choragus) describes her as, “Like father, like daughter: both headstrong, deaf to reason! She has never learned to yield.” (pg 269) She inherited her defiant nature from her father whose character is aptly described by Creon during the altercation in front of the palace with Oedipus, “You are stubborn, Oedipus, your will is too hard; it is nothing to treasure, and you are wrong to think that it is.” (pg 204) Antigone’s chorus notes this heredity in saying, “I have seen this gathering sorrow from time long past loom upon Oedipus’ children:...