Sophocles' play "Antigone" illustrates the conflict between obeying human and divine law. The play opens after Oedipus' two sons Eteocles and Polyneices have killed each other in a civil war for the throne of Thebes. Oedipus' brother in law Creon then assumes the throne. He dictates that Eteocles shall receive a state funeral and honors, while Polyneices shall be left in the streets to rot away. Creon believes that Polyneices' body shall be condemned to this because of his civil disobedience and treachery against the city. Polyneices' sister, Antigone, upon hearing this exclaims that an improper burial for Polyneices would be an insult to the Gods. She vows that Polyneices' body will be buried, and Creon declares that anyone who interferes with his body shall be punished. This is where the conflict begins. Thus the theme of this play becomes the priority of unwritten law. The question is whether duties to the gods are more essential then obedience of the state and law. Creon calls the rotting of Polyneices' body an "obscenity" because he believes that burial of the dead is a necessity of human law and not of a citizen. . There is no compromise between the two both believe in the absolute truth of their obedience.
Antigone believes that the unwritten and natural law supercedes any form of human written law. Honor and a principled responsibility to gods and family are given equal weight in her self-defense. She says that she fears, not men's condemnation, but penalties from the gods if she does not act The painful evils that beset her life (the loss of mother, father, and brothers) make death a gain in her eyes By contrast, if she had left her mother's son unburied, she would have grieved She expects to win glory for her gesture to the gods. Antigone displays the characteristic trait of pride in the way she justifies and carries out her decisions. She is obstinate in her beliefs, and throughout the play refuses to listen to advice. This poses a danger because it causes her to overlook the limitations of her own powers. Antigone's ethics derive from a dual responsibility to the unwritten laws and the gods' will and to family relations and care for others. Even though Antigone exhibits a blamable pride and hunger for glory, her vices are less serious than Creon's. Antigone's mistakes only harm herself, where as Creon's mistakes harm a whole city. Creon's refusal to bury Polyneices is a worse offense to human values than refusing to heed his order. Creon has no toleration for people who place personal beliefs over the common good. He believes that government and law is the supreme authority, and civil disobedience is worst form of sin. The problem with Creon's argument is he approaches He approaches every dilemma that requires judgement through descriptive generalizations. In contrast to the morality defined by Aristotle in his Nicomachaean Ethics, Creon shows that he is deaf to the knowledge of particulars--of place, time, manner, and persons, which is essential for moral reasoning. In short, he does not effectively bring together general principles and specific situations Creon does not acknowledge that emotion, and perception are as critical to proper moral consideration as reason. This explains why he does not respond accordingly with the reasoning of the guard, Tiresias the prophet, Antigone, her sister Ismene, or even his own son Haemon. Throughout the whole play, Creon emphasizes the importance of practical judgement over a sick, illogical mind, when in fact it is him who has the sick, illogical mind. He too exhibits pride in his argument. To Antigone and most of the Athenians, possessing a wise and logical mind means acknowledging human limitations and behaving piously towards the gods. Humans must take a humble attitude towards fate and the power of the gods, yet Creon mocks death throughout the play. He doest not learn his lesson until the end of the play when he speaks respectfully of the death that is...
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