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Sophocles´ Antigone And Euripides´ The Bacchae

1314 words - 6 pages

Sophocles’ Antigone and Euripides’ The Bacchae are indubitably plays of antitheses and conflicts, and this condition is personified in the manifestation of their characters, each completely opposed to the other. Both tragedians reveal tensions between two permanent and irreconcilable moral codes; divine law represented by Antigone and Dionysus and human law represented by Creon and Pentheus. The central purpose is evidently the association of law which has its consent in political authority and the law which has its consent in the private conscience, the association of obligations imposed on human beings as citizens and members of state, and the obligations imposed on them in the home as members of families. Both these laws presenting themselves in their most crucial form are in direct collision. Sophocles and Euripides include a great deal of controversial material, once the reader realizes the inquiries behind their work. Inquiries that pertain to the very fabric of life, that still make up the garments of society today.
In Sophocles’ Antigone, the most prominent theme is the concept of divine law versus human law. The play opens with the debate between the sisters Antigone and Ismene concerning which law comes first- the devout obligations of citizens, or civic duty. Antigone requests for Ismene to assist her in burying their brother Polyneices, though the new king Creon, has prohibited burial on pain of death. It can be argued that Creon’s edict, which deprived Polyneices of his funeral rites, is understandable. The young man had been killed perpetrating the most atrocious crime of which a citizen could be guilty, and Creon, as the responsible head of state, naturally supposed that exemplary punishment was the culprit’s rightful due. Furthermore, since he represents the city of Thebes as its king, his will is sovereign. Creon explains the decree to the old citizens, and their leader agrees, “[I]f this is your pleasure Creon, treating our city’s enemy and our friend this way…The power is yours, I suppose, to enforce it with the laws, both for the dead and all of us, the living” (236-9). The announced decree with its annexed penalty became law, and as the law it was obligatory on every citizen to obey it. Herein lies the dilemma; in Greek culture, the spirit of a body that is not buried by sundown on the day of death cannot find rest but condemned to unhappy revenants.
This is the crux of the theme, the opposition between the law of king Creon, and the law of the gods. It can be argued however, that according to Greek belief, Creon would have been ordained by the gods to become king after the deaths of Eteocles and Polyneices. Thus, wouldn’t his laws be their laws as well? “[L]ook, the king of the realm is coming, Creon, the new man for the new day, whatever the gods are sending now…what new plan will he launch?” (174-6). The king is thought to be the chosen of the gods and to rule in their stead on earth. Yet, by attempting to punish...

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