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Themes Of Justice And Revenge In Medea And Antigone

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Justice is a theme present in most in Greek Literature, to punish one’s actions or words that are considered wrong or to uphold ideals seen as good. Justice is used to instil that wrongs in society are stopped, and rights will be upheld. Revenge is the act of committing a harmful action towards a person or a group in response to a grievance however in many cases revenge can be seen as justice. While Medea and Antigone are alike in many ways (both being stubborn and independent individuals) Antigone shows us that justice prevails, and any wrongdoings are dealt with whereas Medea actions displays justice turning into revenge.

In the play Antigone written by Sophocles, the different perspectives of justice are portrayed by the characters in the play. Creon and Antigone both bring reasoning for what they believe to be the right way to carry out justice. Creon has convinced himself that his position as King justifies leaving Polynices unburied while Antigone see’s justice to be burying her brother. Santirocco, author of “Justice in Sophocles’ Antigone,” states, “[Antigone and Creon are a lot alike] both are isolated, both are stubborn, both respond to others, including those who love them, in the same imperious way, and both doom themselves and other by their actions. The greatest similarity, though, lies in their pursuit of justice”. From the beginning Antigone is aware of her morals and lets them steer her decisions which caused her to define her brother’s body being left to rot as unjust. Antigone was aware of the punishment and welcomed it with open arms not afraid “to die for this pure crime”. Creon is seen as an ignorant and oppressive ruler who demands obedience above all. Creon is not willing to listen to anyone, not his niece, not the people he rules, not the chorus and not even Haemon, his son. He believes that no act is worse than those who act against authority. The sentry is the unfortunate “poor fool” sent to give Creon the news of the burial of Polynices, the sentry constantly assures Creon that he and his friends had no part to portray Creon’s tyrannical rule and the fear and power he had over the people. The leader [Creon’s adviser], tries to give Creon an out my asking “could this be the work of the gods”, confirming that the people themselves have the same views as Antigone. Blinded by the rage and paranoia that has manifested in him Creon orders that Antigone be stoned up in a cave left to starve. By doing this he sent his son Haemon and his wife Euridice to commit suicide leaving Creon a broken man. Antigone’s death followed by Creon’s fate symbolises how justice prevails and punishes those in the wrong.

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Medea, the play heavily driven on revenge that is masked as justice. After being cast aside by her husband, Jason, who abandoned not only her but her sons the chorus pushes the need to eagerly await the “justice” done to Jason. Euripides highlights the effects of this on Medea who “will not eat; [she] lies collapsed in agony” painting the face of the victim on Medea. However, the Nurse {Medea’s most trusted friend] warns the boys to stay away from their mother in fear “that some dreadful purpose is forming in her mind” which depicts the villain face of Medea and foreshadows the fate of the boys. In the Greek world the 3 big sins were breaking an oath, killing a member of your family and committing the sin of hubris, Jason has committed several of these sins and deserves to be punished which can be seen as an act of justice but by killing his children turns it into revenge. Glauce is innocent does not deserve to be killed as in ancient Greek times it was up to the father to decide who his daughter would marry. The excessiveness and detailed description of Glauce’s death that seems to delight Medea expresses that this is an act of revenge. Medea on the other hand, has already betrayed her entire country, killed her brother to be with Jason, killed both Creon and Glauce followed by her two sons and is never punished. She gets to fly away to a new life in Athens. Just like her grandfather, the sun, she is viewed as an uncontrollable element in nature, often being compared to vicious animals and monsters, which implies that justice does not apply to such forces.

In most of his plays Sophocles tries to bring light to the importance of a democracy rather than a dictatorship that one person does not have the ability to rule by themselves, that a leader should not make decisions that benefits themselves but benefit the people. In Antigone, it is clear that when Creon sends his niece to her death for disobeying his tyrannical rule that Sophocles is trying to portray the consequences of this by leaving Creon a broken man who has lost everything. Throughout the entire play the Sentry, symbolising the people of the city, tries to convince Creon to look the other way for once along with the Chorus who are meant to advise Creon this adheres to the statement that the welfare of the city is above one person, including the king. “Every man can see thing far off but is blind to what is near”, Sophocles. The second half of the fifth century B.C. was a period of immense cultural crisis and political convulsion; Euripides used the characters in the play Medea to portray a culture under extreme stress. He wanted Athens to accept a more liberal point of view (humanitarianism and peace). He uses the pride Medea has to portray the pride of Athens.

These two plays illustrate the importance of justice and how it prevails due to Sophocles’ message about how a leader should be just and accept help from their people and that consequences are dire if otherwise while Euripides uses Medea to shows that justice doesn’t exist in a place that has become a victim of its rhetoric.

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Themes Of Justice And Revenge In Medea And Antigone. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 21, 2023, from
“Themes Of Justice And Revenge In Medea And Antigone.” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022,
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