Moral Lessons in Antigone

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The play Antigone was written by Sophocles around four hundred forty B.C.E, in the height of the golden age of Greece. Theater was then, as it is now, a medium through which to implicate the outlooks of its writer and to examine moral issues, whilst providing entertainment. The subjects discussed through theater were often deeply rooted in the dialogue of the characters in the plays and struck the chords of the audience such that enlightenment could take place, and in that day and age this purpose was valued. Each episode and stasimon was laced with nuances of whatever message the author wished to convey; political themes were common, particularly regarding the foundations of democracy that were being laid, as well as themes of fate and honoring the gods. Sophocles' Antigone is no exception. The conflicts within the script of Antigone address many larger moral issues, including women's position in society, reverence for the gods, loyalty to the state and to family, and the dangers of absolute power and pride. The characters of Creon and Antigone represent opposites concerning these topics, and Sophocles adeptly utilizes them to debate the arguments in question. Neither Creon nor Antigone is in the right, rather both have impure motives- Creon is not completely solidified in his position, and although Antigone persists in hers, her reasoning is unclear- that are corrupted by excessive pride.

The women's inferiority question was alive in ancient Greek theater. Woman did not have rights in that time period: she could not participate in government, she had no claim to property or belongings, etc. Many playwrights wrestled with this issue, creating characters such as Clytemnestra, Cassandra, Medea, and Antigone that embodied courage in the midst of a man's world. Ironically, these female heroes would have been played by male hypokrits, as women were not allowed to act in the theater. Sophocles hints at the irrationality of the principle that "one rules, the other is ruled" and the development of a gender hierarchy through the persona of Creon. Creon makes derogatory comments toward women, such as when he says "there are other fields for him to plow" (line 643) of his son Haemon when discussing the death sentence of his bride, calling Haemon a "woman's slave" (line 848), and again when he says:

Oh Haemon, never lose your sense of judgement over a woman. The warmth, the rush of pleasure, it all goes cold in your arms, I warn you... a worthless woman in your house, a misery in your bed (lines 723-726).

Creon's own judgement proves to be flawed, however, as his tyrannical tendencies are fully revealed, and his comments are seen as expressions of arrogance. Another segment of the script emphasizes the role that he expects women to fulfill in society- Creon declares "from now on they'll act like women" (line 652) as he orders that Antigone and Ismene are tied up- this is viewed as prideful by the audience as well because he's treating them cruelly and unfairly. His sense of the inferiority of women is even more clearly revealed by his articulation numerous times that "no woman is going to lord it over me" (line 593); he says "Better to fall from power, if fall we must, at the hands of a man- never be rated inferior to a woman, never." (lines 759-761). His belief that men should rule over women is solidified once more when Creon says "I am not the man, not now: she is the man if this victory goes to her and she goes free". It's apparent because of this line that he feels threatened to some degree by Antigone's defiance. His monologue preceding it allows the audience to perceive his pride with still more lucidity:

No? Believe me, the stiffest stubborn wills fall the hardest; the toughest iron, tempered strong in the white-hot fire, you'll see it crack and shatter first of all. And I've known spirited horses you can break with a light bit- proud, rebellious horses. There's no room for pride, not in a slave, not with the...
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