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Character Motivations in Antigone

The main characters in Sophocles’ drama, Antigone, are Antigone herself, the play’s tragic heroine and Antigone’s uncle and King of Thebes, Creon. Both characters are ruled by powerful motivations and beliefs; however, they differ from one character to the next. Antigone’s motivation is love for her family- she puts it above all else. In fact, she is willing to sacrifice her life to defend that love.

Antigone goes to great lengths to bury her deceased brother, who according to an edict issued by King Creon, died in dishonor, consequently making it illegal for anyone to bury his body.

Through her actions to comply with her motivations, it is revealed that Antigone’s actions are also fueled by her strong beliefs that, first, the gods’ laws are more powerful than any law made by man, and second, that it is better to die a heroic death than a cowardly one.

Throughout the play, Antigone stands firm on these beliefs by standing up for them even through her death as demonstrated through the following dialogue in which she admits her crime, and voices her beliefs to Creon; “It was not Zeus who published this decree, nor have the powers who rule among the dead imposed such laws as this upon mankind; nor could I think that a decree of yours- A man- could override the laws of heaven unwritten and unchanging…For me to meet this doom (death) is little grief; But when my mother’s son lay dead, had I neglected him and left him there unburied, That would have caused me grief; this causes me none” (437-459).

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This scene illustrates the essence of Antigone’s character. She’s defending her “crime” of burying her brother, thus demonstrating that she is motivated by the love that she has for her family.

She’s further justifying her act by stating that Creon’s law is not the law that she feels she must adhere to- she follows the gods laws, another one of her guiding beliefs, and finally, she’s not only accepting her impending doom, but actually welcoming it because she’s dying defending her beliefs, therefore dying a heroic death rather than dying in cowardice. On the other hand, Creon is also motivated by love; however, his love is love for his country, rather than his family. He puts country above all else, including his family- he’s willing to do whatever he needs to do to make sure that Thebes remains powerful. In order to achieve this goal he demands loyalty from his subjects, once again, family included; he rules by intimidation, and is very proud. In fact, pride is another one of his major motivations. For these reasons, his character is a feared leader.

First of all, the fact that he issues that his nephew cannot be buried shows that- one, he demands loyalty, even over loyalty to the gods, and two, he defends his country over his family. He continues displaying his beliefs when he doesn’t revoke the edict even after his wife, and niece clearly disagree with it. Creon’s pride continues to take precedent when he begins falsely accusing his subjects, and acting rashly with little thought. Creon’s character, while a complex character is strongly represented in much of his dialogue, perhaps this passage of dialogue between Creon and the prophet Teiresias best captures his essence. “Sir, all of you, like bowmen at a target, let fly your shafts at me. Now they have turned even diviners on me! By that tribe I am bought and sold and stowed away on board.

Go, make your profits, drive your trade in Lydian silver or in Indian gold, but him you shall not bury in a tomb, no, not though Zeus’ own eagles eat the corpse and bear the carrion to their master’s throne: Not even so, for fear of that defilement, will I permit his burial-for well I know that mortal man cannot defile the gods” (994-1006). Through this single quote, Creon demonstrates all of his predominate qualities; he’s accusing Teiresias of bribery, therefore, acting before thinking, he won’t repeal his edict even though he admits that the edict does defy Zeus, thus illustrating his pride. He likes being in power of a powerful state, so much so that he is blind to his own pride, and is fine with ruling by intimidation and demanding loyalty from his subjects.

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Character Motivations in Antigone. (2016, Sep 13). Retrieved from

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