Discussion Topic

Comparing the sympathy and honor deserved by Antigone and Creon

Summary:

Antigone deserves more sympathy and honor than Creon because she acts out of familial loyalty and moral duty, defying a decree to honor her brother with a proper burial. In contrast, Creon is driven by pride and a desire for control, leading to tragic consequences. Antigone's tragic heroism and ethical stance garner greater respect and empathy.

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At the end of Antigone, who deserves more sympathy, Antigone or Creon?

The question of whether Antigone is more deserving of sympathy than Creon goes to the heart of the problem of Antigone, namely, who is the protagonist? Following Aristotle, it's clear that Creon is the protagonist. He is an essentially noble ruler whose stubbornness and need to exert authority leads him to catastrophe. Creon, not Antigone, has a change of heart; he realizes, too late, that his harsh judgement of Antigone is misguided. When we reach the end of the play, and so many close to him have died because of his mistake, we do feel pity for him. If, as Aristotle says, the aim of tragedy is to cause catharsis, then it is Creon's loss that triggers that feeling.

Antigone, like Creon, is unbending, but unlike Creon she is never deceived about the consequences of her actions. She knows from the beginning that her decision to disobey Creon will result in her death, and in a way her fixation on burying her brother is the enactment of a suicidal wish. While it is certainly true that we admire her courage, she is too good and pure to evoke in the audience the kind of complex emotional engagement required by tragic heroes.

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At the end of Antigone, who deserves more sympathy, Antigone or Creon?

In his influential book, Sophocles: An Interpretation, the classical scholar Reginald Winnington-Ingram remarks that Antigone and Creon are essentially very similar characters. Both are heroic in their way, both are irrationally stubborn, and both are a menace to all the normal people, such as Ismene, Haemon and Eurydice, who have the misfortune to cross their paths.

This perspective gives rise to the idea that the archetypal Greek hero is not a very sympathetic character precisely because his or her objectives are so removed from those of the audience. In this respect, Antigone is perhaps an even more heroic, and correspondingly less sympathetic, character than Creon. Most people would want to give their dead brother a decent burial. Very few would be prepared to go to a terrible death in order to do so. Antigone's aims are probably more unreasonable than Creon's, and he does not go so far as to risk his life for any principle. It is true that he ends up indirectly causing the deaths of his son and wife, but he does not intend or foresee this. His devastation at the end of the play invites some sympathy for the fate he has unwittingly brought on himself.

Creon, however, is in a more powerful position than Antigone, and uses his power in a harsh, tyrannical manner to harm her and others. He is, therefore, somewhat more unsympathetic than Antigone, although she is at least equally stubborn and unreasonable. Most of the audience's sympathy, however, will go to Ismene, Haemon and Eurydice. They are the innocent victims of Creon and Antigone's obduracy.

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At the end of Antigone, who deserves more sympathy, Antigone or Creon?

The question as to who deserves more sympathy all depends upon the reader. There is no right or wrong answer. In the eyes of the gods, Antigone deserves more sympathy due to her piety and love, but Creon is not without sympathy either, even though there is no question as to the injustice of his actions.

Antigone is a heroic character whose nobility, love for her family, and respect for the gods gets her into trouble. She dies for what she believes in. However, some have argued that Antigone might be a bit too stubborn for her own good. Even though she completes the burial undetected earlier, she returns for a second rite and this second time she is caught and arrested.

Critics and audiences have been unable to determine why Antigone returns to the graves; however, there are a variety of theories, anywhere from the gods did it the first time to Antigone forgetting a part of the ritual. Some have argued Antigone returns when she sees part of the grave is uncovered, not because this endangers her brother's soul according to religious tradition (and it doesn't) but because she is stubborn to a fault. This could make her seem more hardheaded.

Creon is tyrannical throughout the play and creates his own problems in the end. When his entire life ends up in ruins, one's sympathy for him but be twinged with a sense of "he had it coming." However, some might argue he too is tragic, since his hamartia is what causes him to make all those bad decisions in the first place.

Some might argue both he and Antigone were trying to do what they believed best given the circumstances. Creon wanted to retain civil order after a destructive conflict, no matter how cruel his measures, and Antigone believed in obeying the dictates of the gods and loving her brothers in spite of everything.

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At the end of Antigone, who deserves more sympathy, Antigone or Creon?

Naturally, most people's sympathy would be with Antigone. She was the one who ultimately did the right thing by honoring her brother and, by extension, the gods. She is the play's tragic heroine, after all. And like all tragic heroes or heroines, she's brought to grief by forces beyond her control.

For much of the play, it's hard to have any kind of sympathy for Creon. He's stubborn, arrogant, pig-headed, and heartless. He's so full of overweening pride that he can't see the damage he's doing to his city, his family, and his relationship with the gods. Yet by the end of the play his whole life is in ruins. His son and wife have both killed themselves because of him, and his belated decision to relent and allow Polynices's body to be finally buried is too little, too late and shows a complete lack of judgement.

On a personal level, it's difficult not to feel a slight twinge of sympathy for Creon as he cradles the bleeding corpse of Haemon in his arms. Yet at the same time, we must also bear in mind that Creon, unlike Antigone, is entirely the architect of his own downfall. From the perspective of both the gods and the audience, Creon got what was coming to him.

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Who is more honorable, Antigone or Creon?

The question of whether Creon or Antigone acts with greater honor is a central issue in Sophocles' tragedy. The area of disagreement between the two characters is whether Polyneices, Antigone's brother, deserves a proper burial, as Antigone maintains, or whether he should be denied burial, as Creon decrees. 

We can use the responses of the Chorus to sort through this conflict. First Creon states that Polyneices, for his treachery against Thebes, must not receive an honorable burial. Creon asserts that if he valued his family more than the state, he would dishonor his fatherland. The Chorus acknowledges that Creon has the power to make such laws and therefore acknowledges that he acts honorably. 

After Antigone is brought in and explains that she cannot submit to a law from a mere mortal when the pre-existing laws of the gods requires otherwise, the Chorus does not agree with her. After Haemon's attempt at intercession, the Chorus attributes his arguments to his love for Antigone.

As Antigone is led forth to the tomb, the Chorus tells her that she can be praised for her reverence toward the gods, but that Creon can't be blamed for not allowing his laws to be violated. So the Chorus seems to be attributing more honor to Antigone than at first, but still gives more honor to Creon.

Then, after Teiresias comes and warns that Creon is dishonoring the gods by refusing to bury Polyneices, the Chorus changes its tune. The Leader advises Creon to bury Polyneices as quickly as possible and release Antigone to avoid the prophesied judgments. The Chorus has now swung over fully to Antigone's side. When Creon reaps the judgment of his son's death, the Chorus exclaims, "Ah me, how all too late thou seemest to see the right!" They blame Creon for not seeing "the right" earlier. The ending line from the Chorus Leader states: "Reverence towards the gods must be inviolate." This was Antigone's position from the beginning.

The Chorus in this tragedy performs the role of interpreting the action for the audience. Since the Chorus moves from first believing Creon to be in the right or more honorable, to respecting Antigone's position, to advocating for her side, we must conclude that Antigone actually displayed more honor in her beliefs and actions than did Creon.

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