In Sophocles' play Antigone, why does Creon choose live entombment for the execution of Antigone? 

In Sophocles' play Antigone, why does Creon choose live entombment for the execution of Antigone?

 

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jpn001 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Creon’s original decree prohibiting the burial of the bodies of any of those who had fought against Thebes set the punishment at death by stoning. However, when he is faced with the reality that it was his niece, Antigone, who defied the decree and buried her brother, Polynices, Creon seeks to find an alternative to such a direct and public execution by the state.

After his initial anger at Antigone subsides, Creon offers his niece a chance to save her life by renouncing what she has done. Antigone not only refuses to renounce her actions in burying her brother’s body, but adamantly proclaims that she would do the same again and that Creon’s law is an affront to divine law, and thus not to be followed. Creon, conversely, argues that the laws of the state are more important than the laws of the gods, and that he, as king, must follow the laws of the state as they are his own laws.

However, Creon is not unmindful that a public stoning of his niece, Oedipus’s daughter, would be problematic, especially given that she is also the betrothed of his son. Thus, Creon orders that Antigone be sealed in a cave with a measure of food. This action is not a direct execution by the state, but it is a sentence of death. And although everyone understands that it is a sentence of death, Creon states that it will not leave a stain on Thebes as it is Antigone’s choice whether she lives or dies, even though her food is limited and the eventuality is that she will die entombed in the cave. Thus, he ensures the enforcement of the law he had proclaimed while also insulating Thebes, and himself, from the stain of directly and publically executing Antigone.