Antigone Ethos Essay

Antigone, the daughter of King Oedipus, is the primary protagonist of the Ancient Greek writer Sophocles’ play: Antigone. Throughout the play, Antigone fights against her uncle (the new king of Thebes) to exercise her principles as an individual and uses many examples of rhetoric to support her claims throughout the play. Some background information: Thebes was ruled by King Oedipus who abandoned his throne for reasons that are explained in the other plays of the trilogy. Oedipus’s two sons, Eteocles and Polyneices, jointly ruled the throne.

Eteocles ended up frustrating Polyneices, who eventually left and erected an army and went to war with his sibling. In the end, the two died and the rights to the throne were handed over to Creon, their uncle. King Creon decided that it was acceptable to bury Eteocles, but since Polyneices was an enemy of the state, should not be buried (and wrote a decree that anyone who did would be stoned), a tremendous dishonor in the Greek culture.

Antigone believed that she should not suppress her morals in burying her brother, even if it was against the law or meant death. This is very radical for her setting as she was young and a woman, not to mention, going against the word of a king. On the other hand, however, throughout the play, her ethos manages to increase due to her effectiveness of employing ethos, pathos, and logos within her speeches to various audiences.

The first conversation in the play is between Antigone and her sister Ismene. In their dialogue, the reader learns that their uncle, King Creon, has issued a decree that none should bury the body of Polyneices. Antigone argues to her sister, Ismene, that she should help Antigone bury their brother’s body:

‘But the luckless corpse of Polyneices– according to rumor it has been published to the town that none shall entomb him or mourn but leave him unwept, unsepulchred, a welcome object for the birds, when they spy him, to feast on at will. Such, it is said, is the edict that the good Creon has set for you and for me… He does not count the matter light, but whoso disobeys in any way this doom is death by stoning before all people. You know now, and will soon show whether you are nobly bred or the base daughter of a noble line… will you aid this had of mine to lift the dead?… If you will, be guilty of dishonoring laws which the gods have established in honor.’ (Page 124)

Within this excerpt, we see multiple rhetorical devices that Antigone uses to try and gain her sister’s help in burying Polyneices. Antigone argues that without a burial, he is robbed of his dignity. The words ‘mourn’ and ‘unwept’ carry a strong connotation of how they should uphold Polyneices’ deserved honor as he is of royal blood and that without a burial, he is a lesser man. This is an extreme example of pathos in Antigone’s argument, as she is manipulating her sister to help her out by mentioning something close to her heart. She also argues that it is their obligations as Polyneices’ sisters, to uphold their morals and principles even in the face of death if it is for a good cause. Obviously, as morals are directly connected to ethics, Antigone is employing the use of ethos in this statement as well.

While Antigone concedes that she will be killed for going against the king’s decree, she disputes that she doesn’t mind because she knows that she is doing what is ethically proper and that the gods will be pleased because it edifies Greek principles. The thought process that Antigone uses is clearly seen here: Burying Polyneices is honorable and being honorable is an important virtue. Therefore, the gods will be satisfied with such virtuous acts, thereby justifying why burying Polyneices is alright even though it’s defying the state since the gods are much more credible than the state. This sequence of logically proving her argument displays logos in Antigone’s persuasion process. Through all these examples of persuasion methods, we can see that Antigone has a strong moral compass and that she is extremely credible because her superb argument has many points that make it a convincing source that is very capable of convincing her audiences. Although she does not immediately persuade Ismene, Ismene eventually realizes that Antigone was right because of Antigone’s effective points and increased credibility as compared to Creon.

A few scenes afterward, Antigone was caught red-handed, burying her brother and was taken to Creon by the guard. Creon and Antigone’s dialogue primarily consists of Creon questioning Antigone and her actions, and Antigone rebuking Creon for trying to stop her from doing what is morally correct. Antigone confesses to Creon that it would be better to die while abiding by divine law rather than living and not following it:

‘..I [did not] deem that your decrees were of such force that a mortal could override the unwritten and unfailing statutes of heaven… Not through dread of any human pride could I answer to the gods for breaking these. Die I must; that I knew well even without your edicts. But if I am to die before my time I count that a great gain. If anyone lives as I do compassed about with evils, could he find anything but gain in death?” (Page 134)

We can see a lot of the same rhetoric in this excerpt as in the last. When Antigone says that she’d rather die but uphold the will of the gods, she portrays a lot of obedience and reverence for them –something that can be connected to patriotism, which is extremely affected by emotion. Therefore, we can see that Antigone has once again used pathos in her argument.

Another thing that stands out when Antigone says that she’d uphold the will of the gods rather than Creon’s is the fact that she is not only talking about holding true to her principles and the will of the gods. Also, at this point in the story, she has already carried out the deed. This proves that she is willing to defy all the things in her path in order to maintain her Greek ethics and please the gods, a representation of ethos. Her use of logos in this excerpt is seen in her choice of the gods over Creon. This exhibits logos as it is logical to choose divine law over state law just as it is logical to choose a diety over a mortal. To her, the afterlife matters much more than her present life, and she would like to stay on good terms with the gods in order to not go to the Underworld. Through this excerpt, it is easy to discern that Antigone’s credibility is definitely stronger than before as this time, because not only did she go through with the act and bury Polyneices, but also, she is defying the king as compared to only trying to persuade her sister to help her out. Also, she managed to convince her sister, and after her sentence, was able to convince the chorus, the citizens of Thebes, and the king himself.

Overall, the message that Sophocles is trying to give off is unambiguous. Constantly throughout the play, we see our protagonist sacrifice everything in order to do what is right, even in the face of death. Time and time again, we see the universal statement of “Stay true to your morals no matter what” throughout Sophocles’ play: Antigone. The power of her words crescendo over time as she went from pleading her sister to help her, to having everyone side with her at the end, even her rival (Creon). It is quite clear that Antigone’s ethos and credibility both increase over time throughout the play.