Looking at Death through Antigone s Eyes- Obey the Gods or the King In Sophocles play, Antigone, the main character Antigone is faced with a horrible tragedy; her two brothers have just died fighting each other and now one of her brothers, Polyneices, is not given proper burial rights by the king, Creon. In Greek times, when a man dies there is a great deal of respect and praise given, and a proper burial is always necessary to support the path to the afterlife. When Antigone hears about this lack of respect for her brother, we see her side come out. She disobeys the king and secretly buries her brother, breaking the laws of the polis.
Why did she break the city s laws In examining death through Antigone s eyes, it becomes apparent as to why she broke the laws set by Creon to leave Polyneices unburied. This examination will prove that obeying the laws of man is secondary to obeying the laws of the gods, and that Antigone is very passionate in her views about death. In order to explain Antigone s feelings about death, let us first go over what the whole play, Antigone, is about. The story takes place in Thebes, and Antigone is the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta (who are not actually in the play). One of Antigone s brothers, Polyneices, left Thebes and went to Argos, because when Oedipus died the two brothers, Polyneices and Eteocles, were too young to rule so they alternated years of ruling.
At Argos, Polyneices gathered an army to attack Thebes so that he could become the only ruler of Thebes. During his attack, he gets involved in a fight with his brother where they both kill each other. The new king after their deaths, Creon, does not want to give Polyneices a proper burial because of his treachery against the polis, which Creon believes is the most important thing of all. Creon is a very stern, authoritative ruler who tries to exercise his power as often as he can.
So, these laws that h makes are final, and there is nothing Antigone can do to convince him to do what the gods would want, which is give Polyneices a proper burial. Antigone is very upset by this failure by Creon to bury her brother, so she secretly goes and buries him against the orders of the king. Once Creon finds out she is the culprit, he vows to have her killed for her treason, even though Antigone is the bride of Creon s son, Haemon. He is so upset with Antigone that he goes to any level that he has to in order to prove that he is the one in charge, and that nobody can get away with deliberately disobeying him. This disagreement between Creon and Antigone shows throughout the whole play, and this leads to the revealing of how Antigone sees and feels about death. When Antigone finds out about her brother not buried properly, her first thought about his death is extreme sorrow.
She is a follower of the rules of the gods, and for him to be unburied is a huge problem. If a man is unburied, the spirit cannot cross over to the otherworld, and they cannot drink from the river that will make them forget the past. The spirit will then come back and haunt its kinsmen until buried properly. She weeps continuously to her sister, Ismene, about how this kind of doom could happen to a loved one. She is also the daughter of Oedipus, so she has experience with horrible deaths in her family. She cannot stand that Creon is doing this, and a feeling of duty comes to her mind (which will be talked about later).
This initial feeling of sorrow that she has is what we would see from any person today if a family member had died and left unwept. However, we see that these feelings become more serious after her initial response, and now she has developed much more passionate views about the death of Polyneices, and about death in general. Antigone believes that death is sacred and that every man deserves to be mourned appropriately. From the sorrow, she realizes that if she does not bury her brother properly, she will never be able to forgive herself.
This sparks her to secretly bury him, and creates the plot line for the rest of the play. The next feeling about death that Antigone has is that it is a curse on her and her family. She thinks about Polyneices s death, and it sparks up thoughts about the history of her whole family. Her father, Oedipus, had died with a horrible reputation and hated by most people in Thebes.
Her mother, Jocasta, killed herself in the wake of Oedipus s fate and her two brothers died on the same day. That has to be some kind of evil fate. This theory makes sense in Greek culture because every man is supposed to have his own oracle and path set for him. This path is destiny, unchangeable. Well, seeing the history of her family s fates, we can see how Antigone sees death as a curse that she will always have to deal with. In finding out of Creon s laws that Polyneices cannot be buried, Antigone feels a sense of duty to bury him properly.
This causes her to break the laws of the polis in order to do what is right for Polyneices. What she is doing is right in the gods eyes, and that is much more important to her than Creon s laws. She does not believe that Creon, just one man, should be able to do over the laws that the gods set in the beginning. We see this loyalty to the gods and to her family when Antigone is captured for burying Polyneices.
As the guards go to rush her, she does not even flinch. This is because she believes that this is what the gods would want. She is taken into the palace where Creon accuses her of the crime against the city. He is outraged, ready to punish her with death, and Antigone stands up to the whole thing. She is so quick to take the blame, no matter what the consequences are, because at least she would have given Polyneices proper burial.
Death should be treated the same way for any person, whether or not that person died fighting for the country (Eteocles), or died fighting against their country (Polyneices). She believes she has done no crime, she only has done her duty for her family, and what would be right to the gods. Antigone states when she is confronted by Creon, What greater glory could I win than to give my own brother proper burial (84) She will die to do what is right for Polyneices and to the gods, and her admitting to the crime shows how passionate she really does feel. This sense of duty brings up another of her views about death, glory. Antigone develops feelings of glory and honor when she thinks about her own death.
Antigone has broken the city laws, sentenced to death. However, in the wake of her sentence, instead of trying to avoid the inevitable, she approaches her own death with glory and prestige. She expresses that her dying would be worth it as long as she was able to mourn Polyneices correctly. In addition, she has been through so much pain and sorrow so far in her life that to die before anything worse happens would be a gain.
Moreover, Antigone approaches her own death with an open mind because when she does pass away she will be reunited with all of her family that has already died. She shows so much honor in the wake of death that even though she has gone through so much agony, and has nobody to mourn her own death (which is her ultimate fear), she still believes it was worth it to honor her brother and the gods. She poetically states, No one to weep for me- they take me away in all my pain But now, Polyneices, because I laid your body out as well, this, this is my reward. (104) Antigone gave her own life to serve Polyneices, and her courage that she showed in the eyes of death is equal to that of a hero. Antigone shows more glory and honor in her own death because she did not want anyone else to suffer for her breaking the laws of the city.
When she is captured, Ismene comes to take some of the blame for the burial of Polyneices in support of her sister. However, Antigone would not allow it because she did not want death to take another one of her family. She would rather take double the blame so that Ismene can have a future. She states to Ismene, Save yourself. I don t grudge you your survival Live your life. I gave myself to death long ago, so I might serve the dead.
(88) Antigone acts like a motherly figure about death, she would rather have the pain inflicted on herself rather than anyone else that she loves. Even though Antigone shows honor and pride in her own death, she also shows that she is sad and depressed. She realizes that her life was filled with so many horrible things. She cries about the horrible fates of her family, and about how she has nobody who will be mourning her death just as she had done for her family.
At the same time, she does not know what to expect, except that her family will be there waiting to greet her. She thinks that she is a stranger in her own home, because she is the only one brave enough to question the king s laws. This brief fright about death that Antigone has is not characteristic of her, and it seemed that she had changed in to a completely different person when she has those thoughts. Through all of the feuding that this play had in regards to views on death, it is apparent that Antigone s views did teach Creon something. Ironically, right after Antigone and Haemon had taken their own lives, Creon has an epiphany where he decides to have Polyneices buried properly and Antigone s life spared.
He does this because he finds out that the city of Thebes agrees with Antigone, and that they are very upset with what Creon has done. Unfortunately, as in most Greek tragedies, it was too late to spare Antigone s life (because she had already taken her own). It turns out that after her death, Creon was much worse off than when she was alive. Nevertheless, Antigone s views did teach Creon that the laws of the gods will always be much more important and have much higher value than any law of man. He now knows, as Antigone tried to tell him throughout the play, that mourning a man s death, no matter who that man is, is necessary in order to keep nature in order in the polis and avoid further punishment from the gods. In examining Antigone s views on death, it is apparent why she went to such great lengths to bury Polyneices properly.
She showed that her views about death are the traditional ones that the gods created far before she was ever born, and those can never be tampered with or changed. She is so strong willed and passionate about these views that any man would dream to have a caring, supportive person like her to be there for them in a time of need. If only Creon had listened to Antigone earlier, but then you would not be able to call the play, Antigone, a true Greek tragedy.