In Sophocles' Antigone, why does Creon, contrary to the chorus's advice, bury the body of Polynices before he releases Antigone? Does his action show a zeal for piety as shortsighted as his earlier zeal for law?
It is certainly very evident that the Chorus does indeed advise Creon to first free Antigone and then bury Polynices, as we see in their lines, "Go and release the maiden from her rocky home and make a tomb for the unburied man" (1109-1110). It is also very evident that Creon disregards their advice and first buries Polynices and then frees Antigone, but it is all too late--both Antigone and his son Haemon have already taken their own lives. His decision to disregard the Chorus, once again, certainly does show a couple of things about his character.
For one thing, it shows that Creon has actually not really grown much as a character--he is still the same stubborn old fool who refuses to take advice. Just like he refused to listen to either the Chorus's or his son's advice concerning burying Polynices or how to deal with Antigone, he is still refusing to listen to their advice concerning order of actions.
Secondly, it shows that he is putting his own welfare above anyone else's. Tiresias has just warned him that doom in the form of the death of his son will come to him for having disobeyed the gods and having put his own laws above the laws of the gods, as we see in his lines:
And you--know well that before the sun has run a few laps more, you will give one from your loins, a corpse for corpses, in exchange for those you have sent from above the earth to below it. (1072-76)
Hence, out of fear for his safety and the protection of his son, Creon's first response is to bury Polynices and pray that the gods will not unleash their wrath. Had he actually learned his lesson, he would have put Antigone's safety above his own rather than continuing to respond to situations out of selfish motivation. His selfish decision not to tend to Antigone's safety first is really no different from his selfish motivation to refuse to bury Polynices, which he refused to do out of selfish pride, seeing Polynices as a traitor to the state and a traitor to himself as the new king and the new authority over the land.
We may be able to say that his decision to bury Polynices before freeing Antigone is a sign of his sudden religious zealousness, just he was zealous about his own laws, but I think the true issue is his character flaws of pride and selfishness. It was out of pride that he felt it appropriate to place his own decision and law above the law of the gods, and it is further out of pride that he selfishly puts his own safety above the safety of Antigone.