One of the most curious aspects about the way the drama plays out, though, is that the tyrant Creon is the conservative voice. He argues for much that sound decidedly modern: the rule of law and the application of objective judgment to be applied to ruling the people. His decision to elevate one of Antigone's dead brothers as a hero and castigate the other as a traitor comes off as the type of falsehood Machiavelli, the father of modern political philosophy, would propose as good leadership for maintaining civil order.
Yet Creon is the mouthpiece of the conservative movement in Antigone. He represents the status-quo, the way that rulers have ruled Thebes for hundreds of years. The innovator is Antigone who proposes laws that are bound into the very fabric of nature itself and that subservience to these laws are more important than heeding laws created by mortal legislators. How curious to go back in time to an era where the principle that underlies modern conservative movements such as the Islamicists and the Christian Dominionists is the new kid on the block.
But perhaps this principle is not so foreign to the modern liberal mindset. The very liberal idea that all human beings have inherent rights such as freedom of conscience and freedom from torture by the state simply because they exist as human beings also stems from Antigone's concept that unwritten laws exist. The prosecution of brutal dictators such as Saddam Hussein for war crimes which were not crimes under existing law presupposes the existence of law that transcends mere human law. To say that human law is all there is, Sophocles seems to suggest, justifies all human rulers no matter the consequences of their actions. If Creon is justified, then too is Saddam Hussein.
But Sophocles also throws in something that the modern mind tends to rebel against. Both Creon and Antigone are presented as heros. Despite that the actions of both characters result in their own misery as well as the misery of those who love them, Creon and Antigone are both presented as heros rather than as villains. They conflict and clash over ideas and actions, but both are models of virtue and, in the grand scheme of things, both are losers to fate. This is because in the ancient world goodness was seldom seen as the result of one's actions. Rather, goodness was seen as an interior quality of specific persons. A hero, to the ancient Greek mind, is no less of a hero if his or her actions leads to the misery of all rather than to some greater good.
What a scandal to the modern mind! Who today could accept the idea that goodness has little to do with the consequences of the actions one takes? The modern mind condemns figures such as Saddam Hussein precisely because of the descpicable actions they've taken that have resulted in pain and suffering for many. How could it be that a person who is more a monster than a man like Hussein could be good or virtuous irrespective of the great evils he has brought about?
So Sophocles does what few Hollywood movies dare to do, to invite us to see the hero in those who bring doom to themselves and misery to others. He invites us to look into the mirror and question just who we are irrespective of our actions and the consequences of our actions. He does this not to resolve the conflict, but to reinforce it, to make the reader uncomfortable by knowing that who we are in our heart of hearts will not necessarily save us from bringing about pain and misfortune to ourselves and our loved ones.
Perhaps by facing these questions we can, as the chorus in Antigone concludes discover wisdom in our old age.
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