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Sophocles' Antigone Was Creon A Tyrant Notes

Classics Notes > Greek Literature of the 5th Century BC Notes

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In what ways is Creon a tyrant?
In the classical sense a turranost is an absolute ruler, unlimited by laws or constitution. Creon certainly is this since he, "had acquired the all-powerful kingship of this land" (1163) It does not carry the negative connotations of the modern word tyrant and such a ruler can be benevolent towards his subjects. At the beginning of the play he shows that he can be this sort of tyrant, but as the plot progresses he begins to show the characteristics of a despot, similar to Xerxes in Herodotus. The most revealing ways in which Creon is shown to be a tyrant are the unilateral decisions he takes, and more importantly the ones he takes too far. Firstly the fact he uses proclamations to declare that Polynices will not be buried is a clear indication of tyranny because by definition proclamations are not vetted by any larger body but merely the orders of a sole ruler. This is supported by the way he rejects the views of his subjects and is so convinced that he knows best he ignores all advice. He angrily rebukes Haemon when he suggests on line 699 that the view in the city is that Antigone deserves to be honoured with a golden prize for burying her brother. He also rejects Haemon when he tells his father that he should bend to popular opinion like a skilled sailor slackens the sails for the wind and that he should, "not wear the garment of one mood only, thinking that your opinion and no other must be right" This illustrates well the characteristic of stubbornness in a sole ruler who is convinced of his own opinion. Even more dangerously he hubristically dismisses his wise advisor Tiresias, whose advice he says he has never erred from and by which, according to the prophet, he has saved the city. He calls him a liar and harshly says, "I think foolishness is the greatest plague." (1051) This rejection of a wise advisor is very reminiscent of Xerxes' rejection of his advisors which ultimately led to his failure. Furthermore whenever there is any suggestion that he us wrong he becomes angry, as with the chorus on line 278. When they say that perhaps the gods do wish for the burial to go ahead he replies, "Cease before your words fill me with anger!" By reacting in this way to every character who suggests he is wrong, he is displaying "tyrannical egoism of continual self-assertion" (Goldhill page 105) He has to assert himself in this way because he has overstepped the limit of what a ruler can legitimately make decisions upon. By making the decree that Polynices cannot be buried he is infringing the rights of the god, who have supreme control over matters of burial. According to Haemon on line 745 "You show no regard when you trample on the honours due to the gods!" Antigone echos this statement when she says that Creon has no right to keep her from her own. It is this tyrannical behaviour that in the end brings about his destruction. The fact he is punished so severely shows that in the gods' eyes he has, by stubbornly punishing Polynices, behaved hubristically and the reason he did this is he is a tyrannical ruler. As Reinhardt puts it, "In Creon's case also his first blindness is his false idea of his own strength." (Page 86) Behaviour of such an autocratic nature is fully understandable in the case of an ancient
turranost but what makes Creon a tyrant in a more modern sense is his strict militaristic control of the city and his citizens. The first reference to Creon is as ton stratigon in line 8, which sets the tone for the type of rule he demonstrates throughout the play. He is also constantly refered to throughout the play as anaks (lord or master) which again

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