Almost all modern norms and rules of various cultural elements of the everyday life of modern society, especially Western, were formed in ancient Greece. It applies to the fundamental aspects of philosophy, literature, theater, politics, and general storytelling. Specialists and amateurs of these forms of culture should understand such factors as types of characters, the meaning of the context, and their multifaceted nature. It can be achieved not only by reading classical sources but also by meticulous analysis of them. One of these works, namely dramas, is Sophocles’ Antigone, which presents to the reader a broad set of different types of classical conflicts and confrontations. The center of the narrative is the relationship between Creon, who is the king of Thebes, and Antigone, the sister of the deceased Eteocles. The object of analysis in the current research work is Creon. The purpose of this paper is to attempt to prove that Creon is a tyrant. The author will argue that he can be considered both a tyrant and a protector and then bring a critical argument that Creon is a tyrant.
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Arguments for Creon is a Dedicated Civil Servant and Protector
The context of government systems in ancient Greece of Sophocles’ Antigone
To understand that Creon is not an authoritarian tyrant, it is necessary to know the context of local government systems presented in the work of Sophocles. Sophocles did not oppose democracy against fascism or liberalism against authoritarianism, the conflict of which is fundamental to the current Western philosophical paradigm and storytelling. According to Holland, Sophocles represented the central conflict, as “autocratic rule was opposed to aristocratic rule” (3). According to Sophocles, “Creon is not enough to stand in my way” (3). Therefore, the phenomenon of absolute power and the right to it can extend to both of these groups of urban elites, which deprives Creon of a unique tyrant status in the context of Antigone.
The context of laws and traditions in ancient Greece of Sophocles’ Antigone
One of the cardinal signs of tyrannical rule is a violation of local laws and traditions to achieve the personal goals of one person or an interested group. At the very beginning of the work of Sophocles, readers are informed on behalf of Antigone that it is officially forbidden to bury her brother, namely Polyneices. According to Sophocles, “no one shall bury him, no one mourns for him” (3). The modern reader may decide that this may be an infringement of urban traditions, but in fact, it is the highest degree of compliance (Holland 3). Moreover, this measure, which is contradictory from the perspective of Antigone and her sister Ismene, is aimed at reuniting and pacifying the urban community after a devastating civil war (Holland 3). It can be concluded that Creon’s actions seek to preserve and restore Thebes and the local society.
The tyranny of Creon within the metanarrative of Sophocles’ Antigone
One can assume that Creon is not only not a tyrant, but a dedicated civil servant and protector. This conclusion can be made after a review of the entire literary work. The ban on the funeral of Polyneices was undertaken by Creon in order not to split the Theban society. He also follows traditions and is ready to have mercy on Antigone, if this is the will of the gods. According to Sophocles, “but I will do it: I will not fight with destiny (34). Moreover, the punishment for violating and the subsequent events primarily affected people that are close to him, namely Antigone, his son, Haimon, and his wife, Eurydice, but not the people of Thebes (Stuttard 38). Therefore, the plot of Antigone can be interpreted as an attempt by Creon to save the Theban community at the cost of his own family. It can be considered as the great sacrifice for a much higher purpose, but not as tyranny
Arguments for Creon is a Tyrant
Creon as a tyrant from a terminological point of view
The hypothetical status of Creon as a tyrant can be considered through the prism of political and historical sciences. According to various sources, the Theban king is a tyrant due to political terminology and the ancient Greek model of succession. Kumar and Kumar note, “the term tyrant did not mean a despotic or oppressive ruler but a usurper, someone who has illegitimately occupied or captured power” (303). Creon is an illegitimate usurper because the ancient Greek tradition of the royal family kin implied the mother line as fundamental (Holland 4). It was Antigone who was to become the next ruler after the death of her brothers, Eteocles and Polyenes, in the civil war, but not Creon.
Creon as a tyrant with righteous intentions
There are many books, films, and theatrical productions about how righteous intentions led to sad consequences and the moral decline of the individual. Sophocles’ Antigone is one of the classic examples of such storytelling. A sincere desire to preserve the well-being of the Theban community through the glorification of the Eteocles and the humiliation of the Polyenes led to the formation of the tyrannical figure of Creon (Sophocles 3). Such a policy can also be seen as the forcible establishment of ideology as well as the restriction of freedom of thought, speech, and action. According to Stuttard, “harming enemies, results in harming friends” (38). Consequently, it led to the fact that Creon began to carry out repressive measures, even to his relatives.
Creon as a psychological tyrant
In Sophocles Antigone, there are several points in which Creon shows his real character, namely the psychological tyrant. The most striking of these episodes is the dialogue between Creon and Sentry in Scene 1. When Sentry informs the new Theban king about the violation of the burial prohibition of Polyenes, Creon becomes furious (Sophocles 10). A similar display of a tyrannical nature also occurred in the situation with Ismene, which showed grief from the possible loss of Antigone (Sommerstein 280). This moment shows his authoritarian essence, which does not want to agree with anyone and does not tolerate disobedience.
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Creon as a public tyrant
Creon is a public tyrant because of his relationship with society and local law. Throughout the narrative, Creon often compared and combined himself and the established law into a single entity, which everyone should obey. According to Sophocles, “my voice is the one voice giving orders in this City!” (23). Sommerstein also notes that Creon believed that “defiance of the laws ‘and defiance of those in power ‘are equally reprehensible” (282). Absolute power and the code that is established according to the morality of one person is one of the critical signs of a tyrant.
Creon is a Tyrant
In this research paper, arguments, which were presented above, stand both in favor of the fact that Creon is a dedicated civil servant and protector, and for that, he is a tyrant. Summing up and comparing the theses from both categories, one may conclude that Creon is more of a tyrannical nature than protective. However, it is necessary to provide an objective justification, coupled with academic evidence, that Creon is a tyrant. This justification is the current term of tyranny from the perspectives of modern political and philosophical currents of the Western community. For the most part, modern audiences cannot perceive tyranny as something with positive qualities, since ancient Greek principles have significantly transformed over time (Holland 8). Therefore, only one paradigm of perception of such a phenomenon as tyranny is fully accessible to society, which is, as was stated above, a modern one.
A modern understanding of the term tyranny is based on the thoughts of Socrates, Xenophon, and Aristotle. They understood tyranny as a distorted and worst form of government, a monarchy that serves the personal interests of a specific irresponsible person. Most of these properties were mentioned above in the paragraphs for that Creon is a tyrant. It is also worth mentioning that according to Kumar and Kumar, “in Antigone he employs the word four times, and every time he uses it negatively and in the modern sense of a tyrant” (304). That is why the author of this research believes that, despite the pronounced positive qualities of Creon, he is a tyrant.
The objective of this paper is to consider and compare two opposing points and prove one of them. One of these points is that Creon from Sophocles’ Antigone is a dedicated civil servant and protector. The essence of the second thesis is that the Theban king from classical drama is a tyrant. For the first paragraph, three arguments were given, the contexts of state systems, traditions, and laws of ancient Greece, as well as the metanarrative perception of Sophocles’ drama. The second paragraph, in turn, has four arguments. They are the classical and official understanding of the term tyrant, tyrant due to righteous intentions, and tyrant from psychiatric and public perspectives. As a result, the author of this work concluded that Creon is officially a tyrant. It is due to the modern system of perception and understanding of forms of government and the negative connotation of the term tyrant in Sophocles’ Antigone.
Holland, Nancy J. “Tyranny and Blood: Rethinking Creon.” Philosophy and Literature, vol. 41, no. 1, 2017, pp. 1-11.
Kumar, Sanjay, and Archana Kumar. “Tyranny and Legitimacy of Civil Disobedience in Sophocles’ Antigone.” Sustainable Humanosphere, vol. 16, no. 2, 2020, pp. 300-315.
Sommerstein, Alan H. “Sophocles and Democracy.” Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek and Roman Political Thought, vol. 34, no. 2, 2017, 273-287.
Sophocles. Antigone. 2020. Web.
Stuttard, David, ed. Looking at Antigone. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017.