In what way can it be said that Sophocles' "Oedipus Rex" addresses piety and private emotional life while his "Antigone" deals with civic, political, and moral life? How different is the hubris of...

In what way can it be said that Sophocles' "Oedipus Rex" addresses piety and private emotional life while his "Antigone" deals with civic, political, and moral life? How different is the hubris of Oedipus from that of Creon?

1 Answer | Add Yours

thanatassa's profile pic

thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Both Sophocles' "Oedipus Rex" and his "Antigone" address the travails of the Theban dynasty, and working out of a curse due to Lauis' disregard for the will of the gods.

On a superficial level, the story of Oedipus appears more of a personal tragedy, as it involves killing his father and sleeping with his mother, and the story of Creon in "Antigone" more a political tragedy, involving the fight between Eteocles and Polyneices, and Creon's attempt to restore order in the city.

On a more complex level though, the lives of rulers in antiquity cannot be treated as purely personal. The decisions of the ruler affect the ways the gods view a city, and an impious ruler can cause "miasma" or ritual defilement of a city. Oedipus' act of slaying his father and marrying his mother is not simply personal; it brings a plague to Thebes that can only be lifted by his exile. Similarly, the unburied body of Polyneices is both a personal issue for Antigone and one of ritual impurity for the city. Even Creon's decision to wall up Antigone in a cave rather than kill her is an attempt to avoid the impiety of murdering a relative. 

An important element the plays share is the prophet Teiresias, who Oediipus insults and ignores in "Oedipus Rex" and Creon dismisses in a similar way in "Antigone." In both cases, this refusal to heed an expert prophet who knows the will of the gods leads to disaster.

Hubris in classical Greek is a technical legal term meaning something closer to "aggravated assault compounded by insult" than the popular mistranslation "arrogance". Both Oedipus and Creon, in their own ways strive to be good rulers and do what is best for Thebes. Both, however, overstep the limits of their human power. With Oedipus, his killing of Laius was due to failing to give the respect due to an elderly stranger, an act offensive to Zeus, in his role as the god of strangers. For Creon, the insult to the body of Polyneices was an offense to the gods, especially his disregarding the miraculous signs suggesting the body should be buried.  

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,982 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question