In Antigone, what role do the gods play in the story?

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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References to the gods occur throughout the play, and the behavior of the characters is often assessed in terms of what the gods would approve or disapprove. Early in the play, Antigone draws a sharp distinction between the laws of the gods and the laws of men. When Ismene protests that the laws of Creon are strong and must not be ignored, Antigone replies:

You may do as you like,

Since apparently the laws of the gods mean nothing to you.

Antigone also declares that if she must die for burying her brother, then hers will be a holy crime. She believes that Creon's cruel edict is his own, not one from the gods, and she reminds him that their will supersedes his:

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 forever, beyond man utterly.

Antigone's views are borne out by the play's conclusion. Teiresias warns Creon that the gods will punish his sins against Antigone and Polyneices in a swift and terrible way. Creon's punishment is delivered with the deaths of both his wife Eurydice and son Haimon; after their loss, Creon wishes only for the comfort of his own death.

The gods' role in the play, then, is one of moral judgment and punishment for those who defy their will in favor of their own. This theme is stated by Coragos in the play's end:

There is no happiness where there is no wisdom;

No wisdom but in submission to the gods.

Antigone understood this truth; Creon did not, to his sorrow.