The Oedipus Trilogy By Sophocles Summary and Analysis: Antigone Lines 179-376

Summary

Creon enters, assuring the elders of Thebes that the city is now safe and pledging to keep it so under his leadership. He formally announces his intention to bury Eteocles with honor and leave Polynices unburied. When Creon hears that someone has performed a simple ritual burial for Polynices, he becomes furious, accuses the sentry of taking bribes, and demands that those responsible be brought to him.

Analysis

In this very political scene, Creon asserts his leadership by right of kinship and by the decisiveness of his first official act — the decision to leave Polynices unburied.

The defilement of Polynices' body represents Creon's calculated decision to punish treason without mercy in order to deter any further uprisings. The physical and spiritual horror of a body unburied, Creon assumes, will remind all citizens of the consequences of challenging the state. Without admitting it publicly, Creon is in fact placing his authority to safeguard the city above the gods' laws concerning respect for the dead. This decision, as well as the tone of his speech about the ideal ruler he hopes to be, makes clear Creon's tendency toward arrogance and pride — characteristics that will become even more apparent as the play progresses.

Sophocles uses dramatic irony to great effect here. The audience knows that Antigone has already decided to defy Creon's orders, and so the new king's rule is already undercut and compromised. Creon will never be the ideal ruler of the stable Thebes he imagines in this scene. Accordingly, the news of Polynices' ritual burial — a merely symbolic sprinkling of dust — unnerves Creon, reducing him to wild accusations and threats. In contrast, in a passage that recalls Antigone's references to religious laws in the first scene, the chorus wonders if the gods themselves had a hand in the ritual. Faced with the first challenge to his leadership, Creon's calm facade cracks, while Antigone, unseen and unnamed, begins to emerge as a heroine.

In response to Creon's stern demand for loyalty, the elders promise obedience, replying "Only a fool could be in love with death" (246). Notice that their response promises obedience, but does not express approval of Creon's plan. Their practical, sensible, and safe perspective contrasts sharply with Antigone's rebellious determination — a passion that seems to embody her own love for death.

Throughout the play, in fact, the men of the chorus seem torn between their loyalty to Creon and their admiration for Antigone. As elders of the city, they must respect both civil and divine law. The drama that unfolds forces them into a difficult choice, which is sometimes reflected in their comments.

Glossary

Laius king of Thebes before his son, Oedipus. Killed by Oedipus before the action of the tragedy Oedipus the King.

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