In the play, Antigone, Creon is depicted as a tragic character faced with the harsh reality of life and indifference. The maxims which King Creon proclaims in his first speech as well as further on are the words of a man who takes the principles of ruling seriously. He will follow good counsels and therefore grant free speech, he puts the state and country above everything, and when he announces his fateful decree he claims to be governed by purely patriotic and moral motives. Sophocles portrays that Creon is neither simply ‘the typical tyrant’ nor just the representative of the State.
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Throughout the play, Creon seeks freedom and independence as a ruler. The roots of the conflict between Antigone and Creon are to be found in the complete incompatibility of their spiritual worlds. In either view, there is, of course, some truth, and that is why the one or other has often been claimed as the one and only fact which explains Creon. Tyrant and State-bound though he is, the basis of his ‘political’ position is that he lives in a world alien and opposed to that of Antigone. To him, religious duties are secondary to the supreme sovereignty of the State and to the standards of human and political ethics. Creon states: “Yet I would have thee know that o’er-stubborn spirits are most often humbled; ’tis the stiffest iron, baked to hardness in the fire, that thou shalt oftenest see snapped and shivered; and I have known horses that show temper brought to order by a little curb” (Sophocles). He wants to prevent the pollution of the city because the unharmed greatness of the State is his chief aim, but his claim that men cannot pollute the gods is a household thought, well known from Euripides, of those who are fighting the old religion; they put the divine powers, if they still acknowledge them, so high above the human level that the link between men and gods breaks and the gods are powerless and meaningless. To him, it is therefore criminal and wanton to transgress the laws set up by the rulers of the State, even though these laws may be petty and unjust. He struggles for obedience to the ruler, against anarchy. The point in all this is not so much whether he is sincere and remains faithful to his principles (though this too is important), but the fact that Creon’s pride, if taken at their face value, is morally sound but reveals the complete lack of any divine sanction. He lives in a world in which the gods have no say, a world of purely human and political standards.
Creon denies the very foundations of religion when he refuses to admit the right of honoring those in Hades. The order of the world includes necessarily the dead, but only in so far as the living, and in particular the rulers among men, consent. The gods of the State, as Creon understands them, follow the principles of patriotism and government. “This is thy pleasure, for thou hast power to use any law, both for the dead and for those alive.” (Sophocles). Creon acts as he does, not so much because of a personal whim or his individual character, but as a result of what is typical of an autocratic and a religious ruler. The tyrant is by necessity impious, just as Otanes claims that a man is corrupted by the advantages of his position as a tyrant. The time of Sophocles and Herodotus had become aware of the demoralizing influence of absolute power, and that was something different from the democratic hatred of tyranny. The world in which Creon lives is narrow and blind, though his belief in it may be sincere. The poet leaves no doubt that this world is bound to be destroyed by the divine order.
In sum, the connection between Creon’s pride and his decree is loose enough even in his own words. He does not defend his action by proclaiming his principles, but he recites Polonius-like the principles in which he believes and merely adds that he had given his decree ‘in accord with them. There is room enough to doubt whether it was in any way in the interest of the State to leave Polyneices unburied, but that is off the point. Creon with all his principles is the State, and to him, no doubt and no problem can arise.
Sophocles. Antigone. Web.