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Crime, Punishment, and Guilt in Antigone

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The interactive oral presentations for the play Antigone, written by Sophocles, has allowed me to acquire new knowledge about the background details of the characters, the history of burial, and the rules of marriage in the ancient Greek times. When I first started reading the play, I was confused with the storyline, characters’ names, and their family tree.

However, the presentations were a great opportunity for me to gain a better insight into the play. Also, I believe that I was able to expand my knowledge on the origin of the ancient Greek names and give a unique presentation by introducing my topic through a video presentation. The interactive oral about the history of burial rights was important in shaping my understanding of the play because it helped me understand the characteristics of Antigone and Creon even further. I decided to join their demonstration of the burial practices so I can understand the rituals seen in the play. I volunteered to demonstrate it and by doing this, it left a strong impression of their topic. Also, I enjoyed the marriage skit which showed the difference between the modern times and the ancient Greek times. Their skit helped me understand the traditions of marriage and I was able to connect this to the where Haemon was not allowed to marry Antigone. I believe that their presentation again, allowed me to connect their topic to the play.

Prior to the interactive orals, I did not understand how Sophocles shaped the characters, but the interactive oral helped me deepen my understanding on the play and the characters. For my interactive oral presentation, I presented on the names in ancient Greece and the roles of prophets. By learning about the backgrounds of their names, it is more helpful to analyze the characters in the play. In addition, I did not know what prophets do but after my interactive oral presentation, I was able to understand their role in the play. I chose to do a video presentation, which was hard to prepare but the process throughout the video making was an enjoyable experience for me and I was able to expand my knowledge of the play and the history of ancient Greek in multiple ways.

Sophocles’ play Antigone is the third of the three Theban plays written around 441 BC in Athens, Greece. The play explores the internal conflict the characters feel when they try to judge whether their actions are right or wrong. It starts off by explaining how Creon, the brother of Oedipus become the king of Thebes after the deaths of Eteocles and Polyneices, the sons of Oedipus. The Oedipus’ sons battle each other in order to rule the city of Thebes. Creon states that Eteocles, the hero of Thebes, shall receive a funeral when on the other hand, Polyneices shall not receive a proper burial and to be left to the animals to be eaten.

Antigone does not agree with Creon’s behavior towards Polynecies which causes her to go against the law. Antigone feels that Polyneices should be treated equally, and receive a proper burial just like her other brother, Eteocles. Sophocles explores crime, punishment, and guilt through the characterizations of Antigone and Creon in Antigone. The playwright, Sophocles, portrays Antigone as a criminal for giving her brother, Polyneices, a proper burial. The conflict of Polyneices’ burial is introduced when Polyneices decides to attack Thebes because Antigone’s other brother, Eteocles did not agree to pass on the throne to Polyneices. Therefore, after the death of the two brothers, the new King, Creon decree that Polyneices’ corpse is not to be buried or even mourned because he betrayed his own city. However, Antigone believes in the law of the gods which supports the idea of burying Polyneices in order for him to return to the gods. Antigone believes that both Eteocles and Polyneices should be treated equally as she tells Ismene, Creon buried our brother Eteocles.

With military honors, gave him a soldier’s funeral, And it was right that he should; but Polyneices, They fought as bravely and died as miserably, — They say that Creon has sworn No one shall burry him, no one mourn for him… (Sophocles, 3) Antigone decides to have a burial for her brother, Polyneices, which is viewed as a “crime” in Thebes because it goes against the rules of Creon. Antigone states, It was not God’s proclamation. The final Justice That rules the world below makes no such laws… (Sophocles, 14) Creon asks why she would place herself in danger by burying her brother and Antigone replies saying that because she will follow the historical customs their ancestors were practicing rather than considering Creon’s idea of divine law. Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood, scholar in the field of Ancient Greek religion states, “the fact that Polyneices’ dust-covered corpse had not been disturbed by animals could be taken as a possible sign that burial was accepted as valid by the gods” (Sourvinou-Inwood, 142). Since the animals did not even bother to eat the body of Polyneices, it can be interpreted that others are supportive about having a proper burial for him. However, Creon only cares about the fact that Antigone went against his authority and disobeyed the law he made which shapes Antigone into a criminal in this situation.

Antigone buries Polyneices knowing the consequences she would need to face because she believed that faithfulness and respect towards her family is more important than to follow Creon’s law. Creon first punishes Polyneices, who rebelliously attacks Thebes. His punishment is to not be buried after death because he is accused for betraying his own state. Although Polyneices betrays his own city, Antigone decides to go against the law to organize a proper burial for her beloved brother. When Antigone finds out about the burial Antigone had performed, she is taken to Creon to be punished. Creon does not understand why Antigone buried Polyneices when she knew that there will be consequences she would have to face.

She responds, Think Death less than a friend? This death of mine Is of no importance; but if I had left my brother Lying in death unburied, I should have suffered. Now I do not. (Sophocles, 15) Creon says that Eteocles, who is the hero through Creon eyes, needs to be praised for his action while Polyneices, the betrayer, needs to be punished.

However, Antigone does not agree with Creon. Creon finds Antigone as a threat to their city so he decides to ban her from the country and send her to an island. Eventually, Antigone dies but she always believed that what she did was the right thing to do for her brother. She says,

And yet, as men’s hearts know,

I have done no wrong, I have not sinned before God. Or if I have,

I shall know the truth in death. But if the guilt

Lies upon Creon who judged me, then, I pray,

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May his punishment equal my own. (Sophocles, 28)

Sophocles illustrates Creon as a guilty character because he is responsible for causing many deaths in the play. Creon’s greed, craving of control, and his excessive pride, or hubris, draw out suffering among other characters. Antigone ends up hanging lat herself because Creon had sent her to a stranded island. Haemon dies after the death of Antigone because he will not be able to bear with the grief caused by the death of his future wife. Haemon responds to Creon by saying, “Then she must die. –But her death will cause another” (Sophocles, 24) indicating that Haemon will die together with Antigone. Haemon’s mother, Eurydice is also in a deep grief over the death of her son, which causes her to kill herself by thrusting a sword into her heart. Furthermore, she curses Creon for killing Haemon. By the end of the play, Creon feels guilty for all the deaths he has caused. Creon is guilty because he did not show an effort to listen to his citizens and this was caused by his hubris. The citizens of Thebes are supportive of the action of Antigone to bury her brother, however, they are afraid to tell Creon how they feel. This shows the dictation Creon has over his citizens, emphasizing the influence of democracy. Creon does not take Antigone’s fate into consideration and he focuses on how he will be viewed as the King of Thebes. Even when he receives a warning from the prophet, Teiresias, who counsels him saying, Listen, Creon:

I was sitting in my chair of augury, at the place

Where the birds gather about me. They were all a-chatter, As is their

habit, when suddenly I heard

A strange note in their jangling, a scream, a

Whirring fury; I knew that they were fighting,

Tearing each other, dying…

Think, I beg you:

It is for your own good that I speak as I do.

You should be able to yield for your own good. (Sophocles, 31)

he does not listen to his prophecy. Teiresias alerts Creon by saying that Polyneices should not be left unburied and the deed of killing Antigone would be wrong. In addition, Teiresias says that if Creon kills Antigone, there will be a punishment. This punishment is to kill his own son, Haemon. After listening to the consequence he would have to face, he changes his mind and decides to release Antigone from the punishment he gave. However, Antigone had already committed suicide and the messenger tells Eurydice, Creon’s wife and Haemon’s mother, the news of her son’s death. Creon realizes that his pride as the King of Thebes had interfered to making the right decision. He even confesses, “It is right that it should be. I alone am guilty.” (Sophocles, 40). Creon is concerned with preserving his decree rather than caring for his own citizens which characterizes him to be a guilty character in Antigone.

Sophocles explores the complexities of crime, punishment, and guilt in Antigone through the characterizations of Antigone and Creon. In Creon’s opinion, Antigone commits a crime when in fact Creon is the one that is considered guilty by the citizens and his son, Haemon. Furthermore, throughout the play, there was a chance for Creon to repair his wrong doing, but because of his pride as a King, he chooses not to listen to others. In the end, he receives a punishment to live alone for the rest of his life. By not listening to his own citizens and insisting on his decree, he creates a representation of a criminal himself.

Works Cited

  1. Sophocles. Antigone. Oxford University Press, 1973.
  2. Sourvinou-Inwood, Christiane. ‘Assumptions and the Creation of Meaning: Reading Sophocles’ Antigone.’ Assumptions and the Creation of Meaning: Reading Sophocles’ Antigone. N.p., 15 Mar. 2014. Web

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Crime, Punishment, and Guilt in Antigone. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/crime-punishment-and-guilt-in-antigone/
“Crime, Punishment, and Guilt in Antigone.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/crime-punishment-and-guilt-in-antigone/
Crime, Punishment, and Guilt in Antigone. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/crime-punishment-and-guilt-in-antigone/> [Accessed 5 Dec. 2022].
Crime, Punishment, and Guilt in Antigone [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 29 [cited 2022 Dec 5]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/crime-punishment-and-guilt-in-antigone/
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