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Sophocles' "Antigone" is perhaps the oldest tragedy to retain the most contemporary relevance of all the Theban plays. Historically, Antigone appears at a moment of national vehemence for Sophocles. The lack of political propaganda in the play that would have been expected during these imperial ages notwithstanding, Sophocles manages to depict one culturally pregnant theme through "Antigone"- epiklerate or the right of a female heir to continue the lineage of her father (Rosenfield 8-9). Perhaps the most focused on in the play, the theme of fidelity and devotion is acutely portrayed, as a virtue of the time. This is not only as desirable quality in reverence of the gods, but a virtue in human undertaking too. The pursuit of fidelity is the heroic predisposition that Antigone displays and the absence of the same essentially becomes Creon's greatest undoing. By first reviewing the episodes in the play, this paper highlights, what in the writer's interest and opinion, the most culturally significant theme in Antigone- fidelity.
Before the play commences in earnest, Polyneices, and Eteocles die in a fight that portrays the downside of their disparate engagements in the Thebes' civil war. Thebes ushers in Creon as its new ruler. Creon immediately declares that Polyneices should be disgraced and Eteocles honored. Polyneices, who has two sisters- Antigone and Ismene- dies. In an attempted iconoclasm to the ruler's edict, Antigone asks Ismene out for a late night meeting outside of the palace gates where she shares her plans to bury the dead Polyneices. To this, Ismene develops cold feet. She refuses to assist her sister for fear that she too would be put to death. However, she is not able to dissuade her sister from her plan.
Meanwhile, Creon and his Chorus of Theban Elders agree to regard the edict on how Polyneices' body woud be treated. At this point, a Sentry reports the awful news that the body is buried already. He is ordered to find the culprit, failure to which he would be put to death. The latter leaves and brings back Antigone. Antigone is questioned by Creon and in her defense, argues intrepidly about the probity of the edict viz a viz that of her decisions and consequent actions. This infuriates Creon who summons Ismene too in the belief that she helped her sister execute the "heinous" act. The latter surprisingly confesses fallaciously having assisted her sister by Creon does not buy of it. Both are locked up temporarily.
Creon's son, named Haemon, and who happens to be Antigone's fiancé, enters. He initially shows allegiance to his father but on attempting to dissuade his adamant father about Antigone, loses his cool and the two engage in a war of insults. Haemon is incensed. He leaves and promises never to return to his father. In what ensues, Ismene is spared while Antigone is earmarked for a burial in a cave. In one last belated time, she defends what she did and bewails her fate. She is whisked away to her living tomb, nevertheless, as the Chorus expresses sorrow for her ultimate fate.
At this point, a blind prophet named Tiresias enters the scene. He warns of the need to bury Polyneices urgently but his plea is ignored by Creon, who accuses him of corruption. Tiresias, nevertheless, predicts that, because of Creon's mistakes, he would lose "a son of own loins" (Rosenfield 16). For failing to bury Polyneices decently and for keeping Antigone under the earth while alive, Tiresias alludes to the high likelihood that all Greece would despise Creon and that Thebes' sacrifices would not be time-honored by the gods. This terrifies the Chorus, which then seeks Creon's indulgence. He agrees and asks in a retinue of men who would help him right his past slip-ups. As the Chorus delivers an ode to Dionysus, the god of wine, a messenger arrives with the news that Haemon and Antigone had committed suicide.
In what follows, Creon accepts home his son's body. He carries it in himself in the understanding that he caused the deaths. Eurydice, the king's wife who had disappeared into the palace after receiving news of her son's death is also confirmed to have killed herself minutes later. The King blames everything that has happened to his mistakes and asks to be showed inside. While the order he esteemed has been protected and he remains the King of Thebes, he is clearly a broken man. His proud acts against the gods, the Chorus says, have been punished in an outcome that brings wisdom to the Thebes.
Significantly, Antigone explores three major conformity questions. First, was Polyneices supposed to be buried more decently? Second, would a burial in defiance of such rituals be punishable by gods? Last, was Creon actually entitled to the Theban Throne? Having buried Polyneices as the play commenced, the rest of the play concentrates on answering the two ensuing questions. Most debate thereof thus explores which itinerary adheres finest to strict righteousness (Letters 147). From this premise, the outcome of the play becomes the most relevant. Creon as the King would naturally decree and demand obedience to the same. Nevertheless, Antigone, for whom she is, would naturally disregard the decree. Each person's pride leads to his or her different fates. In the death of Haemon and Antigone and later Eurydice, the fate of Creon's disregard of strict righteousness is revealed in an anticlimax that relays his lack of fidelity.
In most tragedies of ancient Greek, Antigone qualifies as one in few women who accepted to sacrifice themselves in perfect fidelity to the law of their lands. As the play opens, Antigone makes a very emotional appeal to Ismene with regard to protecting their brother, ostensibly out of sisterly love. This is the height of fidelity to kith and kin. In this endeavor, she is not afraid of betraying the state and its decrees. This is apparently in disregard of higher laws. She perhaps thinks state laws are inferior to those that refer to acts that honor family ties. Without reproof, her limited reference to the gods in her plans further portrays her as iconoclastic of divine laws.
Antigone's insistence on burying her brother is indicative of her desire to honor not just the gods but her family too. In repeated declarations, she insists that she would appease "those that are dead" (An. 77). This is in her understanding that the dead held more weight than any living ruler does. Her self-sacrificing and inspirational gesture is consummate in her opposition to the King's decree. Even though her acts do not perfectly fit contemporary law-and-order schemes, she becomes a hero in her human insistence. She is adored in public memory for her acts.
Creon, on his part, appears to reject Antigone's push for family honor but holds state authority in high regard. In An. 671, he says, "there is nothing worse than disobedience to authority." Even then, he finds admiration for familial ties quite strapping too. When addressing Haemon, Creon expects him not only to be an obedient citizen but also a respectful son. This is the height of adherence to family faithfulness. He even goes as far as saying that all other things the son did or thought of doing "[ought to be] second to your father's decision" (An. 640-641). While Creon strongly advocates near fanatical obedience to the state and its laws above all else, this episode is an extreme display of fidelity to the family bonds. Whereas the play does not portray what he would choose against another if it so happened, it shows clearly that even for Creon, familial fidelity was high enough, or perhaps higher than loyalty to the state and its laws.
In sum, fidelity and devotion is Thebes' greatest virtue of the time. It is portrayed not only as a desirable quality in reverence of the gods, but also as a desirable quality in human mission too. In disregarding state decree, Antigone is alive to the wishes of society that familial ties be honored and respected. To the extent that she appears to disregard even divine decrees, Antigone pursues her intentions that, surprisingly, find favor in the eyes of gods and men of Thebes. The King learns this act of fidelity by making the most erroneous mistakes. He regrets them, perhaps in confirming that before any form of adherence to law, fidelity to societal pursuits comes first. As such, Antigone's devotion and the absence of the same in Creon become their cherished and reproached fates respectively.