The Central Conflict of Antigone

Sophocles uses Antigone’s brazen character to portray the conflict between natural and human laws, thus making the play more subversive and powerful. The play opens with the debate between Antigone and Ismene about which law reigns supreme – the religious duty of citizens or the civil duty? Antigone defies Creon’s orders not to bury Polyneices and asks Ismene to join her in burying their brother. Loyal to the king, Ismene tells Antigone that, “I yield to those, who have authority” (Fitts & Fitzgerald, 1946). Antigone does not recognize the king’s authority in the matter of burial. Instead, she thinks of it as of a sacred duty she is bound to fulfill. She brazenly protests, “He has no right to keep me from my own” (48). She also believes that “It is the dead, not the living, who makes the longest demands (Fitts & Fitzgerald, 1946). Antigone even cautions the king, “your edict, King, was strong. But all your strength is weakness itself against the immortal unrecorded laws of God” (Fitts & Fitzgerald, 1946).

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These lines illustrate that Creon believes the laws of the state are supreme and thus should be obeyed at all times. On the contrary, Antigone believes in a moral law, which directs her conscious and religious beliefs. Antigone’s natural law is anchored on standards for what is right and wrong. These are more fundamental and universal, compared to any human law (Burns, 2002). According to Antigone, the gods expect people to give the dead a proper burial. Therefore, the wishes of the gods and Antigone’s greater sense of duty to her brother outweigh any law made by man. Through Antigone’s firm belief in her conscience and moral law and the king’s downfall, Sophocles suggests that the natural law should reign over the laws of the state.

 

References

Burns, T. (2002). Sophocles’ Antigone and the history of the concept of natural law. Political Studies50(3), 545-557.

Fitts, D., & Fitzgerald, R. (1946). The Antigone of Sophocles. Harcourt, Brace. Accessed from file:///C:/Users/admin/Downloads/5_antigone_2.pdf