Mortal Law Verses Divine Law: A Reflection on Antigone

Categories: LawPhilosophy

In the realm of ancient societies, laws played a crucial role in maintaining a delicate balance among interacting individuals. These laws, whether dictated by leaders or shaped by societal norms, were perceived as essential for the common good. However, conflicts arose when written, social, and ethical laws collided, creating societal discord as exemplified in the play Antigone by Sophocles. In this narrative, a stark conflict emerges between the mortal law established by the king and the divine law rooted in the religious beliefs of the time.

When Creon, the king of Thebes, issues a decree to leave the body of Polyneices unburied, he believes he is upholding justice. His motive is to project strength and intolerance towards treason, even from his own nephew. Creon, convinced of the righteousness of his law, accuses a sentry of complicity when the body is discovered covered with dust. Threatening the sentry with dire consequences, Creon seeks to find a scapegoat, ensuring that justice is served, even if the actual wrongdoer remains elusive (p.

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Creon assumes a conspiracy against his law, believing that only those with nefarious intentions would oppose it. The sentry becomes a pawn in Creon's pursuit of justice, a means to quell dissent within the kingdom. However, the revelation that the culprit is Antigone, a young girl driven by love for her brother and a belief in divine laws, infuriates Creon. Antigone boldly challenges the compatibility of Creon's laws with those of the gods, displaying a defiance that further intensifies the conflict.

Ismene, Antigone's sister, also violates a written law by concealing Antigone's intentions, albeit of a lesser magnitude.

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Despite her innocence in burying her brother, Creon deems her a traitor, showcasing the clash between mortal law and familial loyalty. Antigone's open condemnation of Creon's law as corrupt introduces a social transgression, challenging the expectation of unquestioning obedience to the king's decrees.

Antigone's defiance of both mortal and social laws resonates with the broader theme of conflicting values. In attempting to reason with his father, Creon's son, Haimon, mirrors Antigone's opposition but employs logic to persuade. The ensuing confrontation highlights the struggle between generations and the rigidity of Creon's convictions. Even the blind prophet, Teiresias, steps into the fray, offering a prophetic perspective that incites Creon's wrath.

Teiresias, an outsider to conventional societal norms, unequivocally condemns Creon's actions, leading to a rare moment of introspection for the king. Creon, in his obstinacy, accuses Teiresias of bribery, dismissing the prophetic warnings as he did with the sentry and Haimon. However, as events unfold, Creon grapples with the realization that he has violated divine laws, emphasizing the reverence accorded to a higher set of laws.

The play underscores the significance of divine laws, particularly the belief in providing a proper burial for the deceased. Creon's neglect of Polyneices' body, in defiance of this higher law, becomes a grievous transgression. Antigone, recognizing the supremacy of divine laws, defies Creon, choosing to face mortal consequences rather than invoke the wrath of the gods. Her actions embody a timeless struggle between individual moral values and societal laws.

As the narrative unfolds, the characters grapple with the consequences of their choices, shedding light on the complexity of the mortal law versus divine law dichotomy. Antigone's steadfast commitment to burying her brother, despite knowing the consequences, reveals a profound belief in the sanctity of familial bonds and religious obligations. Her actions challenge the very fabric of societal norms, questioning the legitimacy of laws that stand in opposition to fundamental human values.

Creon, on the other hand, represents the embodiment of mortal authority. His insistence on enforcing a law that denies a proper burial to the fallen Polyneices underscores the conflict between political power and ethical considerations. The king's unwavering commitment to his decree blinds him to the inherent morality embedded in divine laws, leading to tragic consequences for himself and those around him.

The dynamics between Creon and Antigone unfold against a backdrop of familial discord, with Ismene torn between loyalty to her sister and allegiance to the king. Ismene's internal struggle mirrors the broader societal tension between personal convictions and the demands of mortal rulers. The clash between familial duty and civic obedience adds layers to the overarching theme of mortal law versus divine law.

Furthermore, the character of Haimon introduces a generational perspective to the conflict. His attempts to reason with Creon showcase a nuanced approach, blending emotional appeal with logical argumentation. Haimon's plea for flexibility in governance highlights the evolving nature of societal values, moving away from rigid authoritarianism towards a more inclusive and compassionate leadership.

Teiresias, the venerable blind prophet, emerges as a voice of divine wisdom. His prophetic insights pierce through the veil of mortal arrogance, challenging Creon to reconsider his stance. The accusation of bribery against Teiresias reflects Creon's desperate attempts to maintain control over the narrative, even when faced with divine revelations. This confrontation between mortal authority and divine wisdom serves as a pivotal moment in the narrative, signaling the impending clash between the temporal and the eternal.

The unfolding tragedy in Antigone serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of prioritizing mortal laws over divine principles. Creon's eventual realization of his transgressions underscores the timeless truth that higher laws, rooted in morality and universal values, should supersede the fleeting decrees of mortal rulers. The play invites introspection on the part of the audience, urging them to contemplate the enduring relevance of divine laws in the face of ever-changing societal norms.

Antigone's defiance becomes a symbol of resilience against oppressive systems, echoing the sentiment that individuals must stand firm in their commitment to higher principles, even in the face of formidable authority. The play implores its audience to question the morality of laws that defy fundamental human values, prompting a reevaluation of the balance between mortal law and divine law in contemporary society.

In conclusion, Antigone by Sophocles masterfully navigates the intricate interplay between mortal law and divine law. The characters' struggles and conflicts provide a rich tapestry that explores the consequences of prioritizing societal norms over fundamental human values. As the narrative unfolds, the audience is compelled to reflect on the enduring relevance of divine laws in the face of evolving societal structures. Antigone's unwavering commitment to higher principles stands as a timeless reminder that, regardless of the era, the clash between mortal law and divine law remains a profound and universal theme.

Updated: Jan 02, 2024
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Mortal Law Verses Divine Law: A Reflection on Antigone. (2016, Jun 21). Retrieved from

Mortal Law Verses Divine Law: A Reflection on Antigone essay
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