Explain this quote by chorus in Antigone: "Wisdom is by far the greatest part of joy, and reverence toward the gods must be safegarded. The mighty words of the proud are paid in full with mighty...

Explain this quote by chorus in Antigone: "Wisdom is by far the greatest part of joy, and reverence toward the gods must be safegarded. The mighty words of the proud are paid in full with mighty blows of fate, and at long last those blows will teach us wisdom."

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athenaia86 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To understand this quote, it is important to contextualize it.

Creon, King of Thebes, makes a decision at the beginning of the play, in his capacity as the ruler of the city: he will not allow the burial of Antigone's brother, Polyneices. This was a major taboo in Greek society, as Antigone reminds Creon in act 1. It was believed that unburied corpses offended the gods, and the souls of the unburied could not cross the Acheron into the Underworld. Despite the seriousness of this decision, Creon will not change his mind, so Antigone defies him and buries her brother herself. Creon is outraged at her defiance and declares he has no choice but to sentence Antigone to death. He orders his guards to wall her up, alive, into a tomb. Creon's son, Haemon, was engaged to Antigone; he is devastated by her sentence, and kills himself. Creon's wife, Eurydice, kills herself upon learning her son is dead. Creon, while still King of Thebes, is left without a family, all because he would not yield to Antigone's plea to bury her brother, Polyneices. He cries:

Ah, the blunders of an unthinking mind, blunders of rigidity, yielding death! Oh, you witnesses of the killers and the killed, both of one family! What misery arises from my reasonings!

The Chorus replies:

Ah, how late you seem to see the right!

Creon bewails the loss of his wife and son, and is horrified that his initial decision has led to so much tragedy. He now wishes only to die himself, so that his suffering can end. As he leaves the stage, the Chorus recites:

Wisdom is by far the greatest part of joy, and reverence toward the gods must be safeguarded. The mighty words of the proud are paid in full with mighty blows of fate, and at long last those blows will teach us wisdom.

These lines are the final words of the play. As such, they may be read as its moral; its parting message to the audience. Creon did what he believed was correct when he ordered that Polyneices remain unburied, but his belief in his own righteousness clouded his judgment. He was not willing (or perhaps even able) to understand Antigone's passionate argument that leaving Polyneices unburied was monstrously offensive to the gods. He was thinking purely in political terms, as Polyneices had come armed against the city, and should be punished as an example to others. The Chorus emphasizes what Antigone had earlier said, that "reverence towards the gods" is paramount above mortal concerns.

Creon felt himself to be a king, whose will must be obeyed. He did not reckon with the will of the gods, and he has been severely punished for it. He can either learn from this punishment, or be destroyed by it—the implication is that the audience, also, must learn, or suffer the consequences.

ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The chorus is giving a warning to Creon. In the first part of the first sentenc, "widsom is by far the greatest part of joy", the chorus is pointing out that in order to be happy, one must be wise and act on that wisdom. In the second part of the sentence explains that wisdom mean following the gods' laws. Creon has disregarded the laws of the gods by preventing the burial of Polyneices. Creon has been warned that this disobedience is caused by pride, or "hubris" as the Greeks called it. The second sentence spells out what the consequences of pride and disobedience to the gods is. The Chorus says that Creon's words forbidding the buial of Polyneices will be "paid in fully with mighty blows of fate." In other words, the gods will see to it that events will occur that will punish Creon for his disobedience. The final consequence will be that "these blows will teach us wisdom." Thus, after suffering the consequence of his actions, Creon will finally learn wisdom and will realize the consequences that go with disobedience to the gods' laws.