Prof. Ryna May
10 May 2012
In Heaney’s The Burial at Thebes, the protagonist defies the law of the state to observe what she sees as higher law. In this regard, Antigone’s actions were ethical in nature for she pursued what she felt was morally righteous. When mortal laws conflict with what we feel are moral laws, we should stand up for the values we believe to be true within ourselves. Sophocles’ play builds a contrast between the ideas of duty and obedience. Duty being the idea that one should uphold truth and value; while obedience, the idea that one should do their best to uphold the laws of man. While Antigone’s methods of pursuing truth are unethical in terms of mortal law, her actions can be seen as just and even honorable in favor of moral law. Antigone made a respectable decision to observe the higher law. It is only proper to consider the background of any Greek tragedy. We have to take into consideration the emphasis that was placed on religious beliefs as well as Greek culture as a whole. While Creon is the King and creates the laws of men in Thebes, he himself must answer to the ultimate authority of the gods. In reference to Creon’s decision not to give Polyneces a proper burial, Antigone replies that, “religion dictates the burial of the dead” (Heaney, 33). Divine law supersedes the laws of man. Aristotle defines virtue as “a state of deliberate moral purpose, consisting in a mean relative to ourselves, the mean being determined by reason....It is a mean, firstly, as lying between two vices..” (Aristotle, 406). In this sense, one’s mean is their moral midpoint between the opposite ends of the spectrum, good and evil. Antigone’s actions are not meant to be selfish or evil in nature. She does not wish to insult or displease her King, it is simply collateral damage. At the same time, Antigone’s actions are equally not meant to be overly righteous or full of pride. She only seeks to selflessly bring...
Cited: Heaney, Seamus. The Burial at Thebes: A Version of the Sophocles’ Antigone. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Groux, 2004
Pojman, Louis P. The Moral Life: An Introductory Reader in Ethics and Literature.
Oxford University Press, USA, 2009
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