Arrogance and Wisdom in the Tragedy of Antigone

Sophocles advocates a life that should not be filled with excessive pride, but rather a devotion and dedication to the gods. One example of arrogance that Sophocles portrayed in Antigone was through the character of Creon, who was prideful in his laws against the burial of Polyneices. After punishing Antigone and continuing to be stubborn about his laws, his vanity caused him to be left with nothing, for his son Haimon and his wife both ended up committing suicide. At the end, he realizes his mistakes and states, ‘So it is one learns, in old age to be wise.’ (Line 1353).

Wisdom is necessary to understand what is of real value in this world and possesing the knowledge to pursue it. ‘No wisdom but in submission to the gods’ (line 1348) describes our shortcomings. In order to truly gain wisdom, according to Sophocles one must accept that we do not already possess it or there is lot more to learn. That we do not have all the answers. In submitting to the discretion of the gods one is able to gain the wisdom that we can only get by accepting that we are subordinates and need to learn from superior being.

Sophocles believes that the message of a complete loyalty and obedience to the rule of the gods. In Antigone, the main conflict revolved around the burial of Antigone’s brother. Polyneices did not receive a proper burial and this angered the gods. We see, in the beginning, Antigone has the will of the gods and the people behind her while Creon starts having a downfall.

Throughout the play, the actions of Antigone illustrate how loyal she is towards her family. According to Sophocles, Antigone disobeys the laws of the land and sacrificed her life in order to fight for her brother proper burial. As a sister, Antigone believes that she has every right to fight for her brother’s entitlement even though her brother betrayed the laws.

As a religiously dedicated person, Antigone also believes that she is right because she’s following the laws of the gods, giving her the permission to defy Creon’s laws. With that mentality, Antigone would do anything to bury her brother regardless of the penalties and repercussion. Antigone believes that being loyal towards one’s family member is correct, even if that meant antagonizing the concept of being loyal to the state. She felt she is following god laws.

In contradiction to Antigone actions, the arrogance of Creon as a king depict his loyalty towards the city of Thebes. As a king, Creon holds a huge responsibility of taking care of the whole city through the government and these laws that are enacted by the government. According to Sophocles, Creon believed that the sacred laws and traditions within the city make a person a citizen of an modern society. Creon also thought about consequences for people who violate the laws of the government.

The king made an example out of his nephew Polyneices and proved that regardless of blood relations, his nephew deserved to be punished for violating the laws of the city. Creon’s actions are also indicative of his arrogance. He refused to listen to counsel from anyone even when others plead that his stance is contradiction to what the gods want. He felt he knew everything and that even the gods were wrong.

Creon’s decree against Polyneices is what triggers this entire tragedy that is Antigone. Its conformity lies in the fact that this is what pushes Antigone’s fierce defiance of Creon, and therefore what he represents which is man’s law. However, there is also a different kind of law at work here and that is divine law.

Access to it comes in the form of Teiresias, the blind prophet of Apollo. In Antigone, Teiresias comes into the picture and predicts the future. This character and what he represents (god) is so significant because it essentially shows that regardless of Creon – disregarding of what he decides is the law, whether he changes his mind in an attempt to change the future that Teiresias predicts. Events will work out exactly as the gods determine, not him. This renders him and mankind attempts to control their own destinies, powerless in the face of divine will and law.

‘Great words, sprung from arrogance, are punished by great blows’ (line 1348) highlight god punishment for presumptuous language. Sophocles mention of “Great words” are suggestive and points to pretentious and arrogant language often used to intimidate and hurt others. People often gloat to make others feel like of lesser being. Sophocles is hinting these words are meant to belittle another person. These people consequently are punish by “great blows” which is an obvious indicator of punishment by god. Sophocles seems to be advocating in the play is that shouldn’t portray any hints of arrogance or vanity whatsoever.

Those who live a life with those traits would eventually pay the price for doing so. Instead, Sophocles would rather advocate a life that was lived humble, noble, and portrayed dedication towards the gods. An example of this arrogance was portrayed through Creon. He was certain that his law against the burial of Polyneices was right and needed for the country. Because of his insolence, he was blinded to reality and was eventually left empty handed. His son and wife commit suicide and he caused Antigone to commit suicide. In other words he was punished by great blows.

Sophocles state ‘So, it is one learns, in old age to be wise.’ refers to aging as process of gaining knowledge and becoming wise. A proud man will make choices and decisions based on protecting that dignity as was the case with Creon and any decision based on protecting one’s pride will be a wrong decision. With age comes wisdom, obtained through making mistakes and finally learning to accept it.