In Defense of Creon
I am uncomfortable with the characterization of any person as wholly good or wholly evil. It must be remembered that “Lucifer” means “Light Bringer,” and was a title earned by merit and accomplishment – the one who is now called Satan was once a great and noble prince of the realm, who by process of time and pride became the degraded devil he now is. Our Savior, ever without offense, nevertheless grew from grace to grace and necessarily made some mistakes, even though these mistakes were never of sinful nature. Those who are now evil were once possessed of some good. Those who are now perfect were, at one time, subject to human infirmity. In Antigone, Creon is such a character, often unfairly classed as completely heartless and evil. As a Creonite apologetic, I will seek to explain (though not excuse) his case by appealing to his virtue as a leader, his commitment to his conception of morality, and by placing some of the blame where it rightfully belongs.
“Remember this: our country is our safety. Only while she voyages true on course can we establish friendships, truer than blood itself. Such are my standards. They make our city great” (658). There is no patriot of any country who can find much to disagree with in this statement from Creon’s opening speech. Having found himself in charge of his beloved country, he sets in action a law, reasonable to most, seeking to make an example of the traitors. In countries throughout history the fates of traitorous few have been shown as a warning to those within and without the country – the second World War saw Mussolini’s body dragged around his homeland, Saddam Hussein’s public execution (though having the opposite effect on some) brought closure to Iraqis who had been the victims of his regime. Leaving Polynices' body to rot in the street was a bold and powerful statement and political move, and cannot be faulted. Creon could have had little clue of the aftermath of the action. Creon’s goal was just as outlined in the above quote: to keep his country “true on course” for the safety of all his people.
It is right to cite Antigone’s noble commitment to virtue, but often this is done at the expense or denial of Creon’s similar commitment. As will be treated later, both of their brands of commitment proved their downfall when taken to blind extremes, but both of their brands of commitment showed true character. Even as Antigone cites the unwritten law of the gods requiring burial, Creon exclaims alongside Vizzini from The Princess Bride “Exactly when did you last see the gods celebrating traitors? Inconceivable!” (661). Both of these powerful wills drew, at least at first, on loyalty to the gods. Creon is torn in many directions by his desire for stability in his kingdom, loyalty to his gods, and consideration for his family. His very anger seems to be a ploy as he seeks to shield himself from the pain of actions that he sees as necessary. From his earlier declaration that a country must be protected even at the expense of a friend (659), he struggles to reconcile himself to what must be done. In this he becomes blind and rage crosses the threshold of righteous indignation, but he is no blinder than the rest of the characters in their brash actions.
Within minutes, Creon’s actions cost him his son, his wife, and Antigone. In a matter of days he has become alone in the world, a king atop a throne with no one to care for. But, is it really fair to place all the blame with Creon? Instead of cursory decapitation, he opted to have Antigone placed in a prison – was he perhaps giving himself time to cool off before he did anything else brainlessly? Antigone immediately committed suicide – noble action, escapist mistake, or prideful punishment of her uncle? The son’s suicide – was it a la Romeo and Juliet, or a la lovesick, asinine, quick-to-be-dumb kid (is there a difference?)? The queen’s suicide is, perhaps, the most understandable – she had just lost her posterity – but why so quick to end it? In a moment, everybody goes lemmings and throws themselves onto sharp pieces of metal, and for what good? Did any of them consider the effect their actions would have on those around them – their families, their friends, those over whom they had responsibility (and, as royalty, they certainly had responsibility)? As angry as they undoubtedly were at Creon, did they consider what state they would leave him in? What state would they leave the country in, with the royal family dissolved? Allowing room and sympathy for mental conditions that leave the victims bereft of the sense that would prevent suicide, this all just seems so unnecessary and stupid. It is unlikely that all of these people suddenly became severely chemically imbalanced. In light of all of these possibilities, it is only honest to stop blaming Creon alone. Without reservation I say that Creon made mistakes, but the very poor choices of others only compounded the mistakes that would have been rectified if only a few more minutes of sanity had prevailed.
The power of tragedy is to stir up within us strong emotions that cleanse and teach. If this is true, then Antigone is powerful stuff, indeed. Not only do we see the terror that befalls people due to a lack of communication, an influx of pride, and the pointlessness of rash actions, but we identify in ourselves times when we have been party to one or more of these sins. By examining the characters in tragedy and history and attempting to see in them round and complex human beings, we can better get at the true stuff of human life and humanity. We are less likely to look at ourselves as quite so good, and we are less likely to look at our enemies as quite so bad. Taking the sad tale of Creon as our guide, we can begin to consider more carefully, act with more foresight, and see the people in the world as more akin to us than we once thought.