Antigone, Sophocles asks the question, which law is greater:
God's or man's. Sophocles votes for God (or more appropriately,
the gods, since the early Greeks were polytheistic). He does this in
order to save Athens from the moral destruction which seems eminent.
Sophocles wants to warn his countrymen about hubris, or arrogance,
because he knows this will be their downfall. Oedipus the King,
the prequel to Antigone, expounds on the idea of hubris-that of
Oedipus. In Antigone, the hubris of Creon is revealed.
God's judgment of man plays a key role in the battle between human
and divine law. Though Creon, the king of Thebes, renders judgment on
Antigone because she violates the state's law against burying her
brother, God's justice proves to be much more powerful when Creon
backs down at the end of the play and admits that his law is unjust.
To understand Antigone,
it's important to know some basic beliefs of Hellenic people. When a
corpse was not buried, but instead left uncovered to be eaten by birds
and animals, the gods were insulted and made angry, since this was
thought to be a supreme insult to the body's family. This is why
Antigone feels it necessary to bury the body of her brother, who is a
traitor to Thebes, but her blood nonetheless. Antigone presents her
side when she proclaims, "Isn't a man's right to burial decreed
by divine justice? I don't consider your pronouncements so important
that they can just.overrule the unwritten laws of heaven."
Yet the Chorus
espouses the other viewpoint when they warn, "God and the government
ordain just laws; the citizen who rules his life by them is worthy of
acclaim. But he that presumes to set the law at naught is like a
stateless person, outlawed, beyond the pale." Yet Creon learns that
his edict is wrong when Teiresius asserts that Thebes is falling apart
because the altar to the gods is tainted with the flesh of Polynices,
Antigone's dead brother. Now the Chorus turns on Creon, saying, "The
greater your arrogance, the heavier God's revenge."
Also, the lesser
theme of God's judgment being passed on through the generations of a
family is revealed in Antigone. Indeed Antigone suffers not
only because she elects to stand up for an ideal, but because her
disastrous destiny is predicted by fate. Oedipus' sin has now
haunted his daughter as well. The Chorus admits this, saying, "For
once a family is cursed by God, disasters come like earthquake
tremors, worse with each succeeding generation."