Antigone is a tragedy that deals with conflict and despair at the end of the story. Creon who is the King, creates a law that states no one is to bury the body of Polyneices because Polyneices was the brother who started the fight between him and Eteocles in Thebes. Eteocles was the only brother who received a proper burial. When Polyneices and Eteocles sister, Antigone arrives at Thebes and hears the news decides to give her brother the proper burial he deserved. As Antigone proceeds with the burial, she is caught and thrown in jail for disobeying the new law Creon had established.
In a short amount of time, Antigone commits suicide. In the document “Tyranny and blood: Rethinking Creon” by Nancy J. Holland her main argument is that Creon isn’t as bad as he is set out to be portrayed. I believe that out of her arguments on why Creon is not a bad person are that Creon and Oedipus have the same actions but only Creon is seen as evil, the second argument is that people seem to forget about the back story of the play Antigone and what Polyneices did, and lastly that he deserved his punishment. I firmly agree with Nancy J. Holland and her idea of Creon being a better person than he is set out to be.
One of the first statements that were made in this document is that “He was not even the same person in Sophocles’ three Theban plays” (Jean Anouilh). Another statement is that in which the comparison of two different plays that have to do with each other come into play. The two plays that are being compared are Antigone and “Oedipus Tyrannus”, and the two kings compared were Creon and Oedipus.
In both plays the kings make a law and punish the person who breaks the law. In the both plays there is a bad ending but Creon out of both kings is the one who comes to his senses even though it was too late but Oedipus does not, and he carries on with his punishment. The law destroys both families in both plays but only Creon and not Oedipus is seen as evil at the end of the plays. Double Standards are essentially the first argument for why Creon isn’t as bad as he’s portrayed.
I also don’t think it’s fair toward Creon’s character that he gets to be frowned upon because of what he did when Oedipus has practically the same actions as Creon, but instead of them both being seen as evil only Creon’s character is. I believe the double standards in the way they characters are seen is unjust and they should both be seen as one thing or the other, either both of them can be seen as evil for their actions are as good characters.
In the text Creon creates a law that ends up destroying both families but so does Oedipus in the previous play. “It is now a crime for Thebans to bury him or mourn him.” This was the law that Creon put into place that caused everything to fall apart resulting in his bad image. The fact that Oedipus does the same in the play “Oedipus Tyrannus” and isn’t seen as evil is not fair to Creon. Just as readers seem to find that Polyneices not getting a burial isn’t fair when his brother did, it should be the same way towards Creon. There should not be double standards when it comes to Creon and Oedipus but not with Eteocles and Polyneices.
Another argument that is brought up in this document is that people seem to forget the backstory of the play Antigone. Polyneices led an attack against the city after he disagreed to share the throne with his brother Eteocles. The argument is that if Polyneices was buried he would have been honored, because that’s what a proper burial meant to them. Why honor Polyneices even if it’s just with a burial if he just launched an attack against his very own city. “To allow his killer to escape punishment would risk conveying the message that the city was less important to Creon, suddenly and unexpectedly king once again, than his personal relationship with the nephew who led the attack against it”(Nancy J. Holland).
According to this statement Creon cared more for his nephew who attacked their own city than for the city itself. “Men we have just survived some rough weather. Monstrous waves have battered our city, but now the gods have steadied the waters”(Sophocles, 193-195). In this quote Creon is addressing the civil war that had broken out between the two brothers who were to share the throne, Eteocles and Polyneices, which Polyneices himself attacked the city. The two quotes from the text “He had circled our houses, threatening all seven gates, his spearpoints out for blood, but he was thrown back before his jaws could swell with our gore”(Sophocles,137-140). As well as “I mean Polyneices, who returned from exile utterly determined to burn down his own city, incinerate the gods we worship, revel in kinsmens blood, enslave everyone left alive”(Sopholes,231-235). These show how Polyneices was going against his own city and wanted to draw blood. These quotes also come to prove that Polyneices was the bad guy rather than Creon himself.
My interpretation of this argument is that Creon had a valid reason for what he did. Polyneices attacked his own city in a fight against his brother to see who would get the throne, which was a selfish move from his part. I agree with Creon’s thinking and decision to make it a law to forbid the burial of his body. Nancy J Holland uses this as one of her arguments to prove why Creon is a good character and I believe it emphasizes her reasoning behind her statement on Creon.
In the document it is also argued that because the burial is a sort of rule of law they had so Creon is seen as evil for prohibiting someone to receive that form of honor and respect but nobody seems to remember he led the attack against his own city, so he deserved his punishment, but he is still seen as if he is evil. “And I will never give a bad man more respect than a good one” (Sophocles,240). This quote shows how Creon believed the punishment as fair because Eteocles was honorable since he was defending his country therefore he got a proper burial but Polyneices was the bad man in this scenario since he attacked the city therefore he didn’t get the same treatment as Eteocles who was the good man.
I believe Creon wasn’t evil because he was just punishing somebody who committed treason against his own city. Not allowing for his burial to occur is the most severe punishment that the state could’ve given him. “I’ll never think our country enemy can be my friend. Keep this in mind our country is the ship that must keep us safe. Its only on board her, among the men who sail her upright, that we make true friends”(Sophocles, 221-224). This quote shows Creon decided to give more importance to reuniting the city after the civil war, that Polyneices brought among the city, rather than on his burial. This shows that Creon was a really good King and that he wasn’t so bad because he was looking out for the best interest for the city not his own family, and if he can put the city’s best interest over his family’s than he is definitely not an evil person.
Also according to Holland if you look at other stories rather than just that of Antigone you can see that Creon insisted in the story of “Oedipus Tyrannus” that he had no intentions of being king but at the same time he had the city’s best interests at heart. This is another argument in favor of Creon being better than he is portrayed to be. Holland says “Once we leave aside the image of Creon as a tyrant, a proto-Nazi, it becomes easier to see him instead as a man, like Oedipus, who places the welfare of his city above the well-being of his family, who makes laws that apply ‘first of all’ to his kin, and who suffers horribly for that choice.
Unlike Oedipus, however, one could argue that the primary victim of Creon’s actions-of his intransigence-is not Creon but Antigone”(Holland). Her argument is that once you look behind the scenes and clear your image of him he is better than he is set out to be. I believe that it is just unfortunate for Creon because the person who suffered the most because of his actions was Antigone; therefore he is seen as the bad guy. These were all arguments and statements that Holland used to promote her belief of Creon being a pretty good person behind the scenes and not a cruel evil king that everyone thinks of him to be.
As I mentioned earlier in my thesis the author of “Tyranny and Blood: Rethinking Creon” proves her argument of Creon not being a bad person as he was portrayed by her first argument of Creon and Oedipus having the same actions but only Creon being seen as evil. They both created a law that ended up having negative results and also they both punished the person who broke the law.
For both of the characters to do the same thing and only one Creon being seen as evil isn’t fair. Holland also proves her argument by incorporating the back story of the play Antigone. The back story of the whole situation in the play of Antigone was that Polyneices launched an attack against the city to try and gain the thrown versus his brother Eteocles but they both ended up dying, and only Eteocles received the proper burial because he defended the city. Lastly she defended her argument by stating hoe Polyneices deserved his punishment. The way she did so was by also using examples of what he did in the text.
- Holland, N. J. (2017). Tyranny and blood: Rethinking creon. Philosophy and Literature, 41(1), 1-11. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/phl.2017.0018
- Puchner, Martin, et al. The Norton Anthology of Western Literature. W.W. Norton & Company, 2014.