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Analysis of Fallacies and Rhetorical Strategies in Antigone

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Identifying logical fallacies and rhetorical techniques in a work is essential to understand its argument and overall persuasiveness. In Sophocles' tragedy Antigone, he emphasizes a higher power that transcends the laws of human civilization. In the tragedy, sisters Antigone and Ismene argue over the proper burial for their brother Polyneices. Creon, the new king, wants to punish Polyneices for his disloyalty and let his body rot, unburied. Antigone is outraged by this and believes it is intrinsically immoral to leave Polyneices unburied. So she goes against the new king’s wishes and attempts to give him a proper burial; however, she is arrested in the process and is punished by Creon. The disputations throughout the tragedy contain several fallacies and rhetorical devices that strengthen their purpose. The characters in the play utilize several rhetorical devices such as irony, allusions, and symbolism; they also employ the use of logical fallacies such as red herrings, bandwagon, and ad hominems.

The conflict between Antigone and her sister Ismene, as they discuss the outcome of their brother’s deaths, includes several fallacies, allusions, and appeals to pathos that devolve into a passionate dispute. Antigone begins by alluding to the “curse on Oedipus” (Sophocles 474), her father, to show the connection between the stories. She refers to this tragedy to highlight the unfortunate events that have already occurred in their family. This ties into Antigone’s beliefs that the gods punish those who go against their laws. Moreover, Antigone uses a formal tone to address her sister, “Listen, Ismene” (475), to stress the seriousness of the circumstances. She is emphasizing her argument that the gods are a higher power that demand a particular reverence for life. Ismene is not yet convinced and still affirms her loyalty to Creon. Antigone appeals to pathos throughout her argument in an attempt to convince Ismene to help her. By vividly depicting the decay and brutal treatment that their brother’s body will endure, Antigone intends to shock and horrify Ismene. The verbal picture of the “carrion birds” desecrating Polyneices’ body, draws emotions from Ismene and further strengthens Antigone’s appeal. Furthermore, the poetic diction that Antigone uses to call her brother’s body “a sweet treasure” (475) emphasizes the importance and precious nature of the body. She wants to appeal to Ismene’s emotions as a person they once treasured, is being treated like garbage. Antigone further appeals to pathos as she declares that Ismene is either “a true sister, or a traitor” (475) to their family. This is an example of a false alternative fallacy. Antigone is only giving her two choices, she either loves her family or she is a traitor. The positive connotations of the word ‘sister,’ directly conflicts with the negative word ‘traitor.’ Thomas Allbaugh describes this event in his literary criticism “An Overview of Antigone;” once “Ismene opposes this decision, Antigone calls her a foe.” This also reveals Antigone’s persuasive and forceful characteristics as she tries to please and embody the gods’ wishes. Antigone attacks Ismene’s emotional nature again by asserting that the “laws of the gods mean nothing to [her]” (476). Antigone is trying to get a rise out of her sister and guilt her into helping. The first appeal to shming Ismene does not work, so she strengthens her argument by claiming that she should fear the gods in the afterlife. While Antigone used many strong rhetorical strategies, Ismene chose to remain loyal to the new king and disregard her sister’s initial warning.

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Another conflicting claim in the tragedy is between Antigone and Creon; Anigone utilizes irony and appeals to pathos to strengthen her argument against Creon while he adheres to several fallacies. In the beginning of Scene II, Antigone is related to a “mother bird come back to a stripped nest” (Sophocles 484). This appeal to pathos highlights the overall sense of despair and grief that Antigone feels towards her brother’s unburied body. Moreover, Antigone utilizes irony when she claims that “a fool convicts [her] of folly” (485). It is ironic that a fool can punish someone for committing a crime of foolishness. She emphasizes Creons’ inability to appear as powerful king by calling him a fool. Furthermore, Creon’s aggressive diction throughout this argument reveals his disdainful tone towards Antigone. My addressing her as a “girl” (485) he is demeaning her status. According to his standards, she should be respectful to him as a male superior. Both characters commit ad hominem fallacies throughout this conflict, Antigone when she calls Creon a fool, and Creon when he attacks Antigone for being “headstrong [and] deaf to reason” (485). They both seek to criticise or attack the other, rather than to disprove one another’s arguments logically. Antigone continuously brings up the divine law as compared to the human law distinction in her argument, yet Creon attempts to change the subject and place the blame upon her for supporting a traitorous brother. This is an example of a red herring fallacy, where the speaker attempts to divert the attention away from Antigone’s argument. Furthermore, Antigony continues to appeal to pathos to evoke a sense of pity or guilt into the audience. When Creon determines that she will rot in jail for her acts against the king she cries out to emphasize the tragedy she faces. By associating her “vaulted bride-bed” (495) to her inevitable entombment, Antigone is making a connection between her life that will no longer be lived as she accepts death. This appeal to pathos draws audiences’ emotions into the argument. Antigone also indirectly commits a logical fallacy, wherein she suggests that all the “men here would praise [her]” (486). She is pointing out that the Chorus would agree with her if they were not so scared to be punished my Creon. This example of a bandwagon fallacy emphasizes the ultimate uncertainty and beliefs that are conflicting in the argument. Overall, both Creon and Antigone utilize strong rhetorical devices and commit some logical fallacies that develop their claims accordingly.

In Scene III of the tragedy, Creon and his son Haimon dispute over the treatment of Antigone. Haimon appeals to logos or Creon’s sense of reason to strengthen his argument, while Creon commits some logical fallacies. According to author Allbaugh, Haimon appeals to his father “on the basis of the good of the state to spare Antigone.” He rationalizes with his father to be open-minded to more wisdom. However, Creon attacks his son’s feelings for Antigone by dismissing their supposed marriage and calls Antigone an untrustworthy “lawbreaker” (Sophocles 489). The repetition of the word “anarchy” (489) also highlights Creon’s connection of this to disobedience. Creon clearly values loyalty over duty. Haimon on the other hand, attempts to reason with his father’s foolish behavior and reveal the community's opinions. According to Judith Fletcher in her article “Citing the Law in Sophocles's Antigone,” Haimon can overhear the city’s voices and “and how it mourns Antigone, who dies undeservedly for a praiseworthy act.” Creon is blind to what his people want and see, and Haimon is trying to show him from the city’s perspective. Moreover, Haimon appeals to pathos as he addresses Creon as “father” (490) instead of king. He is appealing to the emotions of Creon as he is his son and should listen to him out of love. Creon responds to his son’s appeal with anger and claims that Antigone has blinded him from the importance of loyalty. He commits a red herring fallacy by diverting Haimon’s claim about the rights of the gods and their rath. He attacks his son for agreeing with Antigone and calls him an “adolescent fool” (491). Creon tries to avoid the discussion of the divine rights of the gods and their ultimate disapproval for his treatment of Polyneices’ body. While he is trying to make Haimon’s argument appear irrational, he is further blinding himself from the truth behind the matter.

Overall, the use of rhetorical devices, such as pathos and allusions, and logical fallacies in the conflicting claims aided the characters in strengthening their arguments. Analyzing the text and distinguishing common fallacies is important to view the persuasiveness of a conflict. The two main characters of the tragedy, Creon and Antigone, have contrasting views. There is a clear question of morality in this tragedy, between the beliefs of divine powers or the significance of loyalty. This analysis also emphasizes the main idea of a higher power and the preservation of both the civil and religious laws. This tragedy also brings about the questioning of justice and pride; the two should not be mistaken for one another as it could lead to devastating results such as the conclusion of this play.

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Analysis of Fallacies and Rhetorical Strategies in Antigone. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 21, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/analysis-of-fallacies-and-rhetorical-strategies-in-antigone/
“Analysis of Fallacies and Rhetorical Strategies in Antigone.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/analysis-of-fallacies-and-rhetorical-strategies-in-antigone/
Analysis of Fallacies and Rhetorical Strategies in Antigone. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/analysis-of-fallacies-and-rhetorical-strategies-in-antigone/> [Accessed 21 Feb. 2024].
Analysis of Fallacies and Rhetorical Strategies in Antigone [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 29 [cited 2024 Feb 21]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/analysis-of-fallacies-and-rhetorical-strategies-in-antigone/
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