The character of Creon, as Sophocles draws it in this
play, may be regarded in somewhat different lights. It is interesting, then, to inquire how the poet meant it to be read. According to one view, Creon is animated by a personal spite against both Polyneices and Antigone; his maxims of statepolicy are mere pretexts. This theory seems mistaken. There is, indeed, one phrase which might suggest previous dissensions between Creon and Antigone (v. 562). It is also true that Creon is supposed to have sided with Eteocles when Polyneices was driven into exile. But Sophocles was too good a dramatist to lay stress on such motives in such a situation. Rather, surely, Creon is to be conceived as entirely sincere and profoundly earnest when he sets forth the public grounds of his action. They are briefly these. Anarchy is the worst evil that can befall a State: the first duty of a ruler is therefore to enforce law and maintain order. The safety of the individual depends on that of the State, and therefore every citizen has a direct interest in obedience. This obedience must be absolute and unquestioning. The ruler must be obeyed ‘in little things and great, in just things and unjust’ (v. 667). That is, the subject must never presume to decide for himself what commands may be neglected or resisted. By rewarding the loyal and punishing the disloyal, a ruler will promote such obedience.
Creon puts his case with lucidity and force. We are reminded
Comparison with Plato's Crito.
of that dialogue in which Plato represents Socrates, on the eve of execution, as visited in prison by his aged friend Crito, who comes to tell him that the means of escape have been provided, and to urge that he should use them. Socrates imagines the Laws of Athens remonstrating with him: ‘Do you imagine that a State can subsist, in which the decisions of law are set aside by individuals?’ And to the plea that ‘unjust’ decisions may be disobeyed, the Laws rejoin,—‘Was that our agreement with you? Or were you to abide by the sentence of the State?’ When Antigone appeals to the laws of Hades (v. 451), might not Creon's laws, then, say to her what the laws of Athens say with regard to the hypothetical flight of Socrates:—‘We shall be angry with you while you live, and our brethren, the Laws in the world below, will receive you as an enemy; for they will know that you have done your best to destroy us’?
Plato, it has been truly said, never intended to answer the question of casuistry, as to when, if ever, it is right to break the city's law. But at least there is one broad difference between the cases supposed in the Crito and the Antigone. Antigone had a positive religious duty, about which there was no doubt at all, and with which Creon's law conflicted. For Socrates to break prison might be justifiable, but could not be described as a positive religious duty; since, however much good he might feel confident of effecting by preserving his life, he was at least morally entitled to think that such good would be less than the evil of the example. Creon is doing what, in the case of Socrates, Athens did not do,—he is invading the acknowledged province of religion. Not that he forgets the existence of the gods: he reveres them in what he believes to be the orthodox way1. But he assumes that under no imaginable circumstances can the gods disapprove of penalties inflicted on a disloyal citizen. Meanwhile his characteristic tendency ‘to do everything too much’ has led him into a step which renders this assumption disastrous. He punishes Polyneices in a manner which violates religion.
In Antigone, again,
Creon's attitude towards Antigone
he sees anarchy personified, since, having disobeyed, she seems to glory therein (v. 482). Her defence is unmeaning to him, for her thoughts move in a different region from his own. Sophocles has brought this out with admirable skill in a short dialogue between Creon and Antigone (508-525): we see that he cannot get beyond his principle of State rewards and punishments; she is speaking foolishness to him— as, indeed, from the first she had felt the hopelessness of their understanding each other (469 f., 499 f.). As this dialogue serves to show Creon's unconsciousness of the frontier between divine and human law, so his scene with Haemon brings out his incapacity to appreciate the other great motive of Antigone's conduct,—sisterly piety. Creon regards the Family almost exclusively in one aspect; for him it is an institution related to the State as the gymnasium to the stadium; it is a little State, in which a man may prove that he is fit to govern a larger one.
Creon's temper is hasty and vehement. He vows that Haemon ‘shall not save those two girls from their doom’; but, when the Chorus pleads for Ismene, he quickly adds that he will spare her,—‘thou sayest well’ (770 f.). We also notice his love of hyperbole (1039 ff.). But he is not malevolent. He represents the rigour of human law,—neither restricted by the sense of a higher law, nor intensified by a personal desire to hurt. He has the ill-regulated enthusiasm of a somewhat narrow understanding for the only principle which it has firmly grasped.
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