Themes are overarching ideas, thoughts, and philosophical concepts that the writers present in their works. Antigone has themes that are not only universal but also applicable to this day. Sophocles has put a few intriguing themes in Antigone that display his understanding of those concepts and ideas of his time. Some of the major themes of Antigone by Sophocles have been analyzed below.
Themes in Antigone
Blindness in a real or metaphorical sense is the major theme of various Grecian plays. Creon ignores Tiresias’s warning and is unable to see the facts which are similar to that of Oedipus. The words of this seer echo as they show the clear path to Creon who is unwilling to compromise like Oedipus. He appears to have attributed the holy laws to himself ordering not to bury Polynices, Antigone’s brother who has rebelled against him. He does not rethink and changes his mind about his order to leave Polynices’ body to rot. As he does not see past his pride, he is blind. When the crisis spirals out of his control, he becomes level-headed again cursing himself that his blindness to the facts has caused the death of his near and dear ones. This is metaphorical blindness as opposed to Oedipus who suffered from both.
The debate of law as a natural element or man-made has been going on since time immemorial. Creon, as the king, has assumed the role of a lawgiver as was considered during those times. He believes in complete obedience of his subjects to the law that is also from the divine powers. His command of non-burial of Polynices, the brother of Antigone, invites silent wrath from the citizens but open rebellion from Antigone. She appeals to the natural laws that have come from the divine powers instead of Creon. She believes that it is from the gods that the dead should be given a proper burial. However, when Creon distorts this divine law, her sense of justice is outraged, and she openly rebels despite severe consequences. She performs his burial rights and defies the kingly law of Creon.
Political and Family Loyalty
Greeks were aware of the rights and duties of a citizen and the role of a family in a state. They were also aware of how a citizen should behave politically. Both of the characters of Sophocles, Antigone, and Creon represent political as well as family loyalties in the play.
Whereas Creon is a king and has kingly duties of issuing commands and implementing laws, Antigone is loyal to her family. For Creon, the issue is not whether a transgressor is a man or a woman. He doesn’t hesitate to punish her niece and nephew for breaking the law. While Antigone goes against his rule of having no proper burial for her brother, Polynices was on the rebels’ side in the civil war unlike his brother Eteocles. As a citizen, she is bound to abide by the law of the city. On the other hand, long family traditions and family loyalty permit her not to bow before man-made laws. When she stands up against Creon who does not see the happiness of his own son, Haemon, she shows that she has loyal to her family as well as god and both of them outweigh the disloyalty to the city and the ruler.
Pride or Arrogance
Arrogance or pride is despised by the Grecian gods as shown by Sophocles in his plays. When Creon says that he has the power to create a law and that he believes that divine will is at his back, it is a pride and arrogance. As humans are not supposed to be law creator law nor have the divine right. Therefore, when Tiresias warns Creon that he would suffer, Creon realizes that he has sinned. He accepts Tiresias only when it dawns upon him that he will have to suffer more. In other words, his pride has brought him to kneel before the Thebans for what he considers his just and right path sheer in his arrogance of being a wise ruler.
The very title of the play shows that it is about Oedipus’ daughter, Antigone. She has risen to prominence for being the sister who has refused to accept Creon’s command. She decides to go against him and give a proper burial to her brother, who rebelled against the state. As a woman, a second-class citizen of Thebes, Creon has not given her any importance. However, she refuses to accept his logic. On the other hand, Ismene submits to the patriarchal will and power.
Civil disobedience is another major theme of the play. Creon argues his case that whatever he says is a law and that must be obeyed as it is the foundation of justice. He means that he cannot be wrong in dispensing justice as a ruler. However, Antigone, on the other hand, believes that Creon’s law is stressing upon is unjust as the dead has a right to burial. It is her moral duty to give a proper burial to her brother. She thinks that the law is contrary to the traditions and customs of the society in which they are living. Therefore, her decision to give a proper burial to her brother is a sort of civil disobedience.
Free Will and Fate
Even before the play, Oedipus was caught between free will and fate that the gods have decided for him. When Oedipus was about to die, he prophesied that his sons would kill each other and when Tiresias comes to Creon, he warns him about his wrong decision of not permitting burial. However, Tiresias has stated that now the fate has been sealed yet Creon has a free choice to redeem himself. On the other hand, Creon demonstrated the same obduracy that Oedipus did and faced a terrible fate.
Threat of Tyranny
The Greek city-states were inimical to the threat of tyranny. Citizens looked at such tendencies with a bit of antagonism. However, Creon seems to be crossing the line, due to which it also becomes one of its thematic strands. It is the abuse of power that he starts with issuing man-made laws to subdue what he calls rebellion. His noble intentions reach their point and stand exposed when he levels the same allegations against Antigone who sees Creon having crossed the line of landing into tyranny. When Tiresias comes to warn him about divine retribution, he does not pay heed and loses family.
Creon uses his power as a ruler to stop the rebellion and award death sentences. However, when it comes to natural or divine rights and prevalent morality, his power does not seem to override the moral framework. Although he tries his best to justify his action of preventing the burial of Polynices’ body and terrifying Antigone of consequences, he faces divine punishment in the shape of the devastation of his how family. This is what he has to face on account of the wrong use of power.
Antigone and Ismene are daughters of the doomed Oedipus. While Ismene seems reasonable and coward in the face of the mounting pressure, Antigone seems more confident than her sister. She has sensed that Creon’s legal thrust can be blunted with divine legitimacy and public morality. This rivalry, in the end, wins Antigone a good place as a heroic figure.