Sophocles’ The Three Theban Plays explores the faults in one’s character that triggers irrational and unlawful behavior. A specific fault seems to recur throughout the plays and pushes characters to commit the greatest crimes. To find this fault, it is vital to retrace the motivation of each character’s actions. The root of all their actions is pride. Oedipus, Antigone, and Creon all succumb to this fault. These characters’ pride drives their every action and clouds their judgment. Pride is the ultimate vice that leads to one’s ruin.
Creon’s pride leads to his downfall. The first glimpse of his pride is observed when he enacts a law prohibiting to the burial of the body of Polynices. However, this law opposes the laws of the Gods that have perpetuated a tradition that states that all bodies need to be buried properly, so they can enter the underworld peacefully. However, Creon disregards this tradition and creates his law because he believes that he has a divine right to do so since he is in power, yet still believes the Gods would approve of his law. These impious beliefs make his actions punishable by the Gods since no law created by man can transcend divine right. Antigone reminds him of this “Nor did I think your edict had such force that you, a mere mortal, could override the Gods,” (Antigone, 503-505). In her eyes, Creon transgresses the law of the Gods and is wrong to think he can establish an edict that the law of the Gods. His pride clouds his judgment, and this causes him to disrespect the law of the Gods. His pride obscures his reasoning, and thus makes it impossible for him to amend his mistakes. Due to this, he denies both Tiresias’ and Haemon’s claims of his wrongdoings.
Creon’s encounters with Hameon and Tiresias exemplify his pride and impious actions. Haemon reports that the town’s people believe that Antigone should not be punished but rather she “deserves a glowing crown of gold” (Antigone 782) for her glorious actions to bury her brother. The people believe that Antigone did not do anything wrong, but simply respected the burial rights of her brother. The only person who believes she did something wrong is Creon, and he still thinks her punishment is justified. His response, “And is Thebes about to tell me how to rule?”( Antigone, 821), illustrates that his pride governs his every action because he is insulted by the behavior of the citizens telling him how to rule. During this heated discussion, Hameon even questions his father’s reasoning for condemning Antigone believing that Creon’s laws “ trample down the honor of the Gods” (Antigone 835). Hampton believes his father’s actions infringe on the laws of the gods. With the seer, a similar situation occurs. Upon their encounter, Creon affirms “never wavered from [Tiresias] advice” (Antigone, 1096). Creon trusts the seer and highly values his prophecies since they do come directly from the Gods. However, when Tiresias tells Creon that the Gods are “ deaf to our prayers” (Antigone 1127) because he has disrespected the laws of burial, Creon immediately believes the seer is lying. Creon accuses the seer of lying and being only driven by money. Creon completely dismisses all credibility of the seer, yet Tiresias has always said the truth in the past. He does this because of his pride; he cannot admit to himself that he has made a mistake. Finally, the seer warns Creon that “the god of death to strike you down with the pains that you perfected!” (Antigone, 1196-1197). Punishment is imminent for Creon because he has disrespected the rule of the Gods.
As predicted, Creon faces his ultimate punishment, the death of his whole family. At this moment, he realizes that his “ stupidity” (Antigone, 1399) has led to the destruction of his life, and “ the guilt is all mine” (Antigone, 1441). He finally accepts responsibility for his actions and truly believes he is the only one at fault for the death of his loved ones. This demonstrates the power of piety and how destructive it can be if one does not obey the traditions. Due to his pride, Creon commits impious actions that anger the Gods, and thus results in the destruction of his life.
Oedipus’s pride leads to his downfall. His pride is revealed through his belief that he can control his fate. He naively thinks he can outwit the prophecy of the Gods and prevent his fate from occurring. Oedipus hears of his prophecy claiming that he “must make love to my own mother, shed my father’s blood with my own hands” (Oedipus the King, 1091-1992). He believes by fleeing the city of Corinth, will prevent his prophecy from coming to pass. However, it is his pride that leads him to unravel the truth about his life. The chorus observes this flaw and comments on Oedipus’ behavior“ But if any man comes striding, high and mighty in all he says and does, no fear of justice, no reverence for the temples of the Gods - let rough doom tear them down, repay his pride, breakneck, ruinous pride” (Oedipus the King, 972-978). The Chorus notes that pride is consistently the downfall of man. In his attempt to find to disprove his fate, he only proves to himself and those around him that a cruel fate awaits him.
The encounter with Tireseis exemplifies his pride. Tiresias, a reputable seer, claims that Oedipus has killed Louis. His pride prevents him from even considering Tereisis’ words, so he quickly refutes “ you’ve lost your power’’(Oedipus the King, 423). Denying Tiresia's claim is impious in itself since Tiresais’s prophecies are directly from the Gods. Dismissing Tiresias’s words in itself is impious since his words come directly from the Gods. He does not want to believe the words of the seer in fear of the truth, so he dismisses them as his pride will not let him do otherwise. These actions ultimately lead to him discovering the truth about his family and thus reinforcing the truth of the prophecy. He learns that he truly did kill his father and married his mother. This revelation prompts his mother’s suicide and leaves Oedipus in ruin. He blames himself for the deaths of his family and demands justice for his actions. His persistence to find the truth leads to his demise because he has lost his parents and is now exiled from his home. Later, he does discern the power of piety.
In Oedipus at Colonus, Oedipus has a whole different mindset. He no longer believes he is guilty of any crime but rather that killing his father was “ self-defense” (Oedipus at Colonus, 290). He understands he cannot be guilty because it was fate. Nobody can control one’s fate, so he finally respects the law of the Gods. He recognizes the importance of respecting the Gods, “never honor the Gods in one breath and take the Gods for fools the next” (Oedipus at Colonus, 298-299). After this incident, Oedipus realizes the importance of piety and how it affected his life.
Antigone exemplifies that pride is the ultimate vice. Unlike the previous characters, Antigone embodies the idea of piety. Despite being forbidden by Creon’s law, Antigone buries her brother, Polycines. She justifies her actions by believing that burying the dead is seen as a divine right given to them by the Gods and that all bodies should have a proper burial. Antigone strongly agrees, and not burying the body would be “dishonoring the laws the Gods hold in honor”(Antigone 91-92). She upholds the law of the Gods to the highest degree, so she reasons that it would be acceptable the laws of men are always secondary to the laws of the Gods. Despite her piety, Antigone is prideful.
Antigones suicide exemplifies her pride. Antigone is very prideful in her belief in the Gods and is enraged by Creon’s impious laws against the burial of her brother. She would rather die at her own hand than at the hand of one who tarnishes the law of the Gods. Her pride prevents her from seeing any other solution to the problem and thus must kill herself to preserve her pride. Since Antigone is prideful and pious, piety cannot be the ultimate flaw. Thus, pride is the ultimate vice.
Pride is the root of one’s downfall. Oedipus exemplifies this through his time as the ruler of Thebes. Oedipus' belief that he can outwit the Gods reveals his pride. He believes that he can control his own fate without the Gods interfering. However, this pride quickly turns into disgrace as the murder of his father and his incestuous relationship with Jocasta are revealed. Creon experiences a similar cycle of destructive pride. He defies the law of the Gods by mandating a law prohibiting the burial of Polycines. His pride prevents him from realizing this and prompts him to disregard the rational opinions of others. Consequently, Creon is left with nothing and must endure the consequences. Antigone’s pride is perceived through her dedication to respecting God’s law over human law. She openly admits that she buried her brother despite Creon’s edict and does not fear the wrath of Creon. However, her pride overpowers her actions which ultimately causes her death. Pride is the ultimate evil that leads these characters to their demise.