He’s to be left unwept, unburied, a lovely treasure for birds that scan the field and feast to their heart’s content.
Antigone speaks to her sister, Ismene, at the beginning of Antigone. Their brother Polynices has been killed in an armed battle with the forces of Creon. Creon has decreed a death sentence for anyone who buries Polynices. There are two kinds of laws that concern her. The first is the natural law that a corpse must be buried with respect and the person should be mourned by his or her loved ones. The second is the martial law decreed by Creon, summarized in these lines. Antigone is going to put natural law above Creon’s law, and for that, she will pay with her life.
See that you never side with those who break my orders.
Creon speaks to the Theban leader of the Chorus, warning him not to dare to break Creon’s proclamation and bury Polynices or even support anyone who does. The leader answers that “Only a fool could be in love with death,” letting the audience know that breaking Creon’s law will elicit the harshest punishment. This sets up the central conflict of Antigone: the battle between the wills of Creon and Antigone.
Nor did I think your edict had such force that you, a mere mortal, could override the gods, the great unwritten, unshakable traditions. They are alive nor just today or yesterday: they live forever . . .
Antigone confronts Creon directly, explaining her case concisely. She believes and tries to convince him that the laws of man are always secondary to the laws of the gods. She makes it clear that the laws of the gods are the ones that she holds dear and is bound to follow because of her conscience and her devotion to her brother.
Creon: What? The city is the king’s—that’s the law! Haemon: What a splendid king you’d make of a desert island—you and you alone.
This exchange between Creon and his son, Haemon, emphasizes the unyielding stance Creon takes in Antigone, a stubbornness that he will eventually regret. He is not simply a king but a tyrant, who believes that he is equal, in power and authority, to the city itself. In this battle of wills between father and son, Creon resents that his son takes the side of Antigone, Haemon’s betrothed. However, Creon’s hubris will be his downfall when Haemon eventually kills himself because of his father’s obstinance.
Creon: What if you are wholly wrong? Oedipus: No matter—I must rule. Creon: Not if you rule unjustly.
In Oedipus the King, Creon confronts Oedipus, the sitting king, and argues that perhaps Oedipus’s past disqualifies him from ruling or prevents him from ruling justly. Oedipus refuses to believe what the oracle has said and what Creon here suggests. The two men are in verbal combat in this scene, and Oedipus is furious that Creon would betray him. Creon, on the other hand, wants to get to the facts, the revelation of which eventually leads to his becoming king.
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