How does Creon change throughout Sophocles's Antigone?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Creon seems to undergo an awakening of consciousness during the course of the play. This involves improved understanding of his duty to the gods and his family, with compassion toward his niece Antigone, in particular.

Creon initially aims to rule Crete with an iron fist. He brooks no disobedience...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Creon seems to undergo an awakening of consciousness during the course of the play. This involves improved understanding of his duty to the gods and his family, with compassion toward his niece Antigone, in particular.

Creon initially aims to rule Crete with an iron fist. He brooks no disobedience of his orders. Creon’s ruthlessness toward Antigone is especially heinous, as she is attempting to follow her familial obligation—something on which Creon has turned his back. Not content simply to give Polynices a less-than-glorious burial, he orders his corpse left “for birds and dogs to eat.”

Whether Creon would have realized his errors in his own time is open to debate. Instead, the prophet Tiresias makes him see that he has angered the gods. Does Creon act out of fear of their retribution, or does he act out of conscience? Regardless, he changes course and modifies Antigone’s punishment.

The entreaties of his son Haemon initially had fallen on deaf ears. Creon’s change of heart may indicate his realization that he is jeopardizing his entire family’s future—and by extension that of Crete, as he may have no heirs. This revelation comes too late, however; his niece, son, wife—they all perish by suicide. Creon, still holding on to his prized power, is left to rule alone.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One interesting debate among literary scholars is that of whether Creon or Antigone is the tragic hero of Sophocles's Antigone. One of the arguments made in favor of Creon being the more tragic character is that he does, in fact, change over the course of the play, while Antigone, despite experiencing changes in external circumstances, does not fundamentally change in character or beliefs.

When viewers initially encounter Creon, he is portrayed as a sort of "law and order" ruler who is sticking by his decree concerning the burial of Polyneices (which comes from what I argue is a belief that only a sort of Hobbesian authoritarianism can restore peace and order to the city after its traumatic immediate past). While his dedication to the city and its well-being remains unwavering, what does change about him is his understanding of how to attain that peace and his gradual realization that law must be tempered with mercy and human decisions subordinated to the will of the gods. He eventually, albeit too late, acknowledges his own fallibility (changing his mind about condemning Antigone to death) and sees that the solution to the historical problems of Thebes is not human strength but piety and ethical behavior.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Sophocles' Antigone, Creon, the king of Thebes decrees that Polyneices, who has waged war against the city to regain the kingship, must not be buried. Creon declares that anyone who performs burial rites for Polyneices will be put to death. Even after Creon discovers that his own niece and soon-to-be daughter-in-law has defied his order, Creon stubbornly sticks by his decree. Even when Creon's own son tries to reason with him, Creon refuses to change his mind.

Eventually, though, Creon does change his mind after the prophet Teiresias predicts disaster for Creon unless he changes his mind about Antigone. After Teiresias departs, the chorus of Theban elders advises Creon to heed the prophet's warning. Thus, Creon changes his mind:

Alas—it’s difficult. But I’ll give up.
I’ll not do what I’d set my heart upon.
It’s not right to fight against necessity.

(Ian Johnston translation)

Unfortunately, Creon changes his mind too late. Upon arriving at the cavern in which Antigone has been imprisoned, he discovers that she has hanged herself. His son then kills himself after failing to kill his father. Finally, Creon's wife kills herself when she hears that Haemon has died.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team