Answer these two questions: (1). Episode 1 begins at line 196 on page 27 and ends at line 413 on page 34. What are your impressions of Creon? What about the guard? How does this episode display different aspects of Creon’s personality? (2). Choral Ode #1 begins at line 414 on page 34 and ends at line 455 on page 35. This ode is often called “Ode in the Praise of Man.” Interpret this ode and try to relate it to the larger issues of the play. Think about what the chorus is saying about man and about law.    

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Episode 1 is prefaced by Creon's pronouncement to the Chorus, who represent the people of Thebes, and then consists of his interaction with the Chorus. Episode 2 is the Choral Ode that follows and reflects on this interaction.

In his announcement to the people about the deaths of Oedipus's Sons, of Eteolces and Polynices, Creon says the following:

Nevertheless, I say to you at the very outset that I have nothing but
contempt for the kind of Governor who is afraid, for whatever reason,
to follow the course that he knows is best for the State; and as for the
man who sets private friendship above the public welfare, ––I have
no use for him, either. I call God to witness that if I saw my country
headed for ruin, I should not be afraid to speak out plainly; and I need
hardly remind you that I would never have any dealings with an
enemy of the people.

Here, Creon establishes the kind of ruler he intends to be. Before this, he tells the Chorus that he appreciates and recognizes their loyalty to the previous monarchs Laius and Oedipus. Creon then establishes himself as a rigid ruler who believes in putting "the State" first and all else second, including "private friendship." As we will see later in the play, this results in his placing law above familial responsibility, duty, and affection, and expecting Antigone to do the same. On the positive side, it means he cares for the people and the greater good; on the negative side, it means he is inflexible and stubborn in his interpretation of the law.

Next, Creon makes the crucial pronouncement that, because Polynices fought against Thebes, he should not be honored with burial because he is a traitor to the city, despite his affiliation with Thebes. The Chorus says they will follow Creon's will, and he asks them to support and defend his decision.

A sentry arrives to tell Creon that someone has buried Polynices, and it is clear that the Sentry does not want to be the one to tell Creon this news, because he knows how outraged the king will be. The sentry reports that it's not a formal burial but "Just enough for the ghost’s peace," and Creon grows visibly angrier and angrier. The Chorus suggests that "the gods" are responsible, and Creon is naturally outraged to hear this suggestion, which implies that his edict is against the gods' wishes. Creon instead thinks that there have always been people conspiring against him, looking to betray him and challenge his power. This shows Creon to be somewhat paranoid and desperate to have the approval and obedience of his people. The sentry suggests that Creon is actually disturbed by his own conscience, but if that's true, Creon is too proud and obstinate to admit it.

This scene is followed by the first Choral Ode, in which the Chorus then reflects on the nature of man and how he controls the world around him until death. Then, they assert that they do not sympathize with the man who would defy Creon, and that they would never help the traitor. At this point, the Chorus is therefore still loyal to their king.

This episode continues with the entrance of the sentry, followed by Antigone, who has been arrested for burying Polynices. Antigone admits to the "crime," and Creon begins to question why she would defy his law. She tells him:

Your edict, King, was strong,
But all your strength is weakness itself against
The immortal unrecorded laws of God.
They are not merely now: they were, and shall be,
Operative for ever, beyond man utterly.

Antigone asserts that Creon's law was against the gods, and that they are more powerful than man thus making their edicts more powerful than any king. She claims that she'd rather be dead than allow such an injustice to be visited upon her brother. The Chorus, at this point, identifies her as stubborn, like her father Oedipus, and unwilling to listen to reason. Creon and Antigone argue about whether Eteocles would be betrayed by Antigone's burial of Polynices, but she asserts that familial bonds are stronger than national or political ones. Antigone's sister Ismene is also arrested and wants to be punished, but Antigone insists that Ismene did not want to help and so should not be executed with her. Ismene lastly begs Creon to reconsider, as his son Haimon is supposed to marry Antigone. Creon says he doesn't want his son to marry a "wicked" woman. Choragos steps in at this point and asks if Creon really wants to take his son's bride from him, illustrating that some are starting to question Creon's edicts.

At this point, we have the second Choral Ode of this section, which you refer to as Episode 2. This Ode focuses on the justice of the gods more than the law of man. The Ode suggests that we have to pity those cursed by the gods, or Oedipus's familial line, in this case, because even if it seems like they are doing well for a while, the gods' justice always prevails in the end. The Strophe exclaims, "What mortal arrogance / Transcends the wrath of Zeus?" They go on to describe Zeus as eternal, and thus humans can never, even at the peak of their lives, compete with his power. The Antistrophe ends with a lament about how human life shows that fate works toward sorrow. Any happiness or success will be short-lived. This Ode implies that human law is nothing in the face of the gods, who have the ultimate say in human life.

The larger issue of the play is what "justice" means and who decides what is just and right. Creon tries to assert his will and explains why it is just; Antigone's actions show that she disagrees and thinks her decision more just than his law. The Chorus repeats Antigone's earlier claim that the gods' law is superior to that of humans.

In Sophocles's surviving Theban plays, of which Antigone is the last, there is a major connecting theme of how the gods or fate contribute to human lives; all of the plays struggle with this question of free will versus fate. In Antigone, the more specific focus area is justice and law, and the relationship between human law and divine justice.

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