God Versus Man in Antigone
Throughout Sophocles’ drama, Antigone, there are many themes that can be traced. One of the most predominant themes is god versus man, which appears not only in Antigone, but also in many of the classic Greek tragedies written in Sophocles’ time.
Choragos: There is no happiness where there is no wisdom;
No wisdom but in submission to the gods.
Big words are always punished,
And proud men in old age learn to be wise. (158)
The quotation above serves as the moral for this tragedy, which includes an illustration of the theme as it was applied to the play. In the drama, Antigone, the theme of the inner struggle between allegiance to human law versus divine law can best be seen through Antigone’s reverence for the gods in relation to her actions, Kreon’s realization of the effects of his selfish pride, and the people of Thebes’ observations about Kreon’s decisions.
Antigone has the most direct struggles with human law and a higher law in the drama, for it is the application of this theme that decides her fate. Faced with the decision to defy the King and properly bury her brother, Polyneices, or leave his body unprepared for death as Kreon wished, she chose to obey the wishes of the gods and bury him. At the time of the drama, the Greeks believed that a decent burial was essential for the soul to be at rest. Kreon accused Polyneices of fighting against his own country and forbade all citizens of Thebes to prepare his body. Instead, it was left to decay on the field on which he was killed. When Antigone first hears this news, she immediately reacts by telling her sister, Ismene, that she wants Polyneices’ soul to be at rest, and therefore is going to bury him on the field. Fearing Kreon’s reaction, Ismene declines the offer to help her sister, and Antigone goes on without her. She justifies her blatant disregard for the King’s law by commenting,
Antigone: But I will bury him; and if I must die,
I say that this crime is holy: I shall lie down
With him in death, and I shall be as dear
To him as he to me.
It is the dead,
Not the living, who make the longest demands:
We die for ever… (140).
Antigone feels that her crime is a display of respect for her dead brother, and her intentions were, in no way, criminal. Antigone’s love for her brother and her reverence for the gods' wishes help her to overcome her fear of punishment for her actions. She makes the final decision to go through with the preparation of her brother’s body and his burial after coming to terms with her religious beliefs and their prevalence over Kreon’s demands. A sentry catches her in the process of covering her brother’s body with dirt, and brings her before Kreon. Antigone openly admits to her actions, as seen in the following passage:
Kreon: And yet you dared defy the law.