The play Antigone, written by Sophocles in early 5th century B. C. , is a staple of the education of classical or ancient literature and philosophy. It deals with themes such as grief, punishment for those who break the law, and what it means to be “good”. Morality, as depicted through Antigone, is so prominent that it has long influenced the modern interpretations of Antigone. The eponymous character of Antigone presents herself as a “good” person, who insists on burying her brother Polyneices.
This would be against Greek law, which prohibits burying those who waged war against their city-state and lost their lives because of this act. Creon, ruler of Thebes at the time, had passed this law. However, Antigone’s main opponents are not the characters in authority; they are her sister Ismene and her uncle Kreon (Creon). Ismene does not want to disobey the law by helping bury Polyneices; she fears punishment for herself and for her family. Kreon, on the other hand, insists that Antigone be punished for disobeying the law.
Antigone is a deeply religious person, who believes firmly in keeping one’s word to gods and respecting their wishes. For example, she maintains that burying Polyneices will allow him to rest until he can go up to join Hades (the underworld god). She also believes that breaking the law meant to punish those like her brother would actually break his spirit further by denying him this ability. To Antigone, these laws are unjust and cruel; furthermore, they do not make sense because she has already given Eteocles (brother of both Polyneices and Ismene) a burial when he returned to Thebes after the battle.
So, Antigone reasons that if she can do it for Eteocles, she should be able to do it for Polyneices too. Throughout the play Morality is depicted through Antigone’s actions and her dialogue with other characters. She insists on burying Polyneices despite knowing there will be consequences; in fact, when Creon tells her of his decision to execute anyone who defies him by doing similar acts, she replies saying “I am not afraid…execution won’t stop me” (Sophocles). She also remarks that being executed would have been better than living her life without honouring gods or family members.
Morality is also visible in how Antigone often discredits those who disagree with her. For example, she calls Ismene’s decision to obey the law as cowardly and not worth respecting because it was made out of fear of consequences. Morality is also apparent when Antigone makes a connection between what she sees as two unjust laws: one against burying Polyneices, and another that forbids Tyndareus from defending his children’s murderers (she refers to the Furies as “the Terrible Ones you left unpunished–for what greater wrong could there be? ”).
The play itself consists of eight monologues by Antigone (three in response to Ismene, two to Kreon, three to the chorus), one monologue by Kreon (following Antigone’s death), and thirteen choral interludes. Morality in these speeches is mostly depicted through Antigone’s use of metaphors and appeals to emotions. The beginning of this article references Morality as depicted through her actions; however, she only makes extensive use of Morality when Eteocles returns to Thebes, where he agrees with Creon that Polyneices should not be buried.
At this moment, Antigone says “he [Eteocles] himself was much worse than the Furies! Who would expect such cruelty? I’d rather die! ” (Sophocles). This shows Morality in how Antigone portrays Eteocles, who she believes is worse than the Furies–a reference to Morality in terms of the dead. Morality is also visible when Antigone calls Creon a coward for imposing his will on Ismene and herself despite being outnumbered. As well, Morality is shown when she calls Kreon “arrogant” because he thinks he should be able to make decisions without consulting the gods or the citizens of Thebes.
Finally, her Morality can be seen through examples such as “I don’t care what you do! My mind won’t change – I will bury my brother…Nurture your anger at someone else’s house-for I will not obey you” (Sophocles) and “I will bury him…he is my brother, I must look after him-I won’t let him lie like carrion for the dogs to tear! ”(Sophocles). Morality is evident here as Antigone directly refuses to follow the law because it goes against her own Morality. In addition, Morality can be seen when she refers to laws as being “puzzling” and “unjustly cruel” (Sophocles).
In Sophocles’ play, Antigone’s Morality defined her tragic downfall. To Antigone, the killing of a fellow family member was a crime that could never be forgiven and was unforgivable no matter what. Morality for Antigone dictated that those who killed those from the family were evil, not just those who committed murder themselves. This Morality makes sense as it is a direct reflection of how her culture views acts of revenge as justified if someone from the family has been murdered. Morality also dictates that obeying unjust laws is cowardly and not worth respecting.
Morality in this case takes up much of the play because Antigone’s Morality causes Creon to bring down a curse on his own house which will kill all his children and drive him mad with grief. Thus, Creon’s Morality dictates that he should rule over Thebes by any means necessary without hesitation, even if it means killing his own niece. Morality is also seen in the play when Creon curses Antigone to be left to die of exposure after she hangs herself because she could not stand living with having murdered her brother.
Morality shows itself through how Antigone’s suicide was an act of defiance against the king. The same Morality that made Antigone take extreme measures by burying someone who had been declared forbidden for burial is the Morality that caused her downfall at the hands of Creon. It is stated, “Antigone has violated not only a terrifyingly inflexible law but also what Sophocles calls The unwritten laws whose source lies deep in our being…spirited young women are not meant to challenge Laws of this kind” (Sophocles).
Morality here presents itself as The unwritten laws whose source lies deep in our being, which are actually the laws expressed through Sophocles’ play. Morality was also present for both Antigone and Creon throughout the play. Morality was felt by Antigone when she decided to bury Polyneices, knowing that she would die for it, Morality is what caused her downfall; Morality is Creon’s drive to rule with an iron fist because he believes he must be strong enough to do so; Morality causes him to curse his own house and family because of Antigone’s transgression against his laws.