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The Many Layers
Sophocles was a master at incorporating several general themes into a single, twisted and unique plot. Antigone and Oedipus are perfect examples of Sophocles’ genius composition methods. He uses the final passage of Antigone to summarize the many themes hidden throughout both plays.
“There is no happiness where there is no wisdom;
No wisdom but in submission to the gods.
Big words are always punished,
And proud men in old age learn to be wise.”
In Sophocles’ classic play, Antigone, these hidden themes are delicately unfolded in a tragic series of events. Creon’s lack of valuable knowledge, purposely disobeying the gods, the hardships he encounters because of his edict, and the lessons he learns all have thematical significance in explicating the many layers in Antigone.
Creon’s lack of valuable knowledge aid in proving that, “There is no happiness where there is no wisdom.” Creon accuses the Sentry of burying Polyneices before he has even been fully informed of the situation. Creon is basing his accusation on only minute pieces of information instead of the story as a whole. Creon says that the Sentry has “sold your [Sentry’s] soul for silver” (704). If Creon had only waited until he knew more about the situation, he would have come to see that threatening the Sentry was a mistake. Creon could not be truly happy until he knew the truth behind who had disobeyed him. In an attempt to determine who buried Polyneices, Creon demands that “the man who has done this thing shall pay for it” (704). Creon thinks that knowing the truth will make him happy, but in reality, valuable knowledge brings Creon to his downfall.
Creon learns that there is “no wisdom but in submission to the gods.” Creon purposely disobeys the gods by allowing only one of the two brothers to be buried. Creon is furious to find out that someone has buried the corpse anyway. When Choragos asks “Can it be that the gods have done this?” (703), Creon dismisses it as foolishness. He sees it as impossible that the gods would care about Polyneices. He will not allow anyone to bury Polyneices for this reason. He is in a way making himself to be a god by disobeying the gods laws. Creon asks himself how could “the gods favor this corpse?” (703). He doesn’t wonder that maybe it is not up to him to decide if the body deserves a proper burial or not. His disobedience of the gods is an impediment, keeping him from the wisdom he so desperately needs.
Creon encounters many hardships because of his edict. When he issues the edict he has no idea whom is going against his will. When he finds that it is his son’s fiancé, he has already claimed, “I swear by God and by the throne of God, the man who has done this thing shall pay for it” (704). Creon then shows his power by telling everyone what is right and just. He says, “My voice is the one voice giving orders in this City” (719). His high self-image makes him feel that he is in control of the destiny of all those he is ruling over. It is not until his son and his wife have been killed that he realizes that in the end of it all, “Big words are always punished.”
Throughout the play, Creon learns many lessons concerning his pride. He allows his pride to get in the way of going back and making things right. He knows that killing Antigone is not necessary, but he has already declared the fate of law-defying citizens. After talking to a prophet, it is clear to Creon what needs to be done, but still his pride interferes. Creon says to the prophet “Whatever you say, you will not change my will” (730). Slowly Creon begins to realize that “Proud men in old age learn to be wise.” Creon feels “It is hard to give in! but it is worse to risk everything in stubborn pride” (731). Unfortunately, Creon discovers this hard to learn lesson an instant too late.
Creon’s lack of valuable knowledge, purposely disobeying the gods, the hardships he encounters because of his edict, and the lessons he learns are key elements in composing this classic play. Sophocles brings together the
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Operas, Antigone, Civil disobedience, Creon, Sophocles, Oedipus, Polynices, Antigonae, The Burial at Thebes, Haemon
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