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Sophocles on Tyranny

The most important message in Antigone is Sophocles’ warning against dictatorship. Sophocles demonstrates dictatorship in a negatives way through Creon. In a dictatorship one man can control the entire city. Creon rejects the ideas of the city in favour of his own, and everyone is powerless to stop him. Creon’s irrationality, pride, paranoia and rage are all reasons against why one man should not have too much power, as these are the key factors in his tyrannical behaviour.

The Sentry and Creon’s initial conversation gives the reader a glimpse of Creon’s tyrannical nature.

The Sentry is afraid to say the crime he witnessed. He begs to Creon that he should not be punished, as he did not commit the crime. “A comprehensive defense! More effective, perhaps, if I [Creon] knew its purpose. Come: what is it?”(199, Fitts, and Fitzerald).

He claims innocence even before he tells Creon what the crime is. The reason for this is because he knows that Creon will be irrational and blame them for the crime.

Which is exactly what Creon does: “Sold your soul for some silver that’s all you’ve done” (203). The Sentry was right to be afraid of reporting the crime, as Creon is shown to be prone to anger.

Creon uses anger and threats as a way to control the people who are around him. Antigone recognizes this stating: “All these men [Chorus/elders of thebes] here would praise me Were their lips not frozen shut with fear of you” (210).

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This clearly depicts the effects of Creon’s tyrannical nature. Under his rule people are afraid to speak their opinions as they fear for their own safety.

Creon does not seem to be bothered by this fact as when Antigone says: “They keep their tongues in leash”(210), Creon replies with apathy: “Maybe”(210). Haimon, his son, also comments on Creon’s temper: “Your temper terrifies them-everyone will tell you only what you like to hear”(218). Sophocles sets forth the idea that in a dictatorship everyone would be afraid to criticize the king’s ideas and they would only say what the king wants to hear, since they fear his power. Also, in a dictatorship the king might not care if he is trampling others voices.

Tyranny is displayed when Creon demands complete obedience from all his subordinates: “Whoever is chosen to govern should be obeyed … in all things, great and small, just and unjust”(217). Sophocles tries to show the irrationality of tyrants like Creon. Creon expects others to obey him even when he is being unjust. This is contradictory as he does not bury Polyneices based on the reasoning that it is unjust: “No traitor is going to be honoured with the loyal man” (196), “But not the same for the wicked as for the just” (211).

Since Polyneices invaded the city while Eteocles defended it, Creon sees Polyneices as unjust. This portrays to the reader that Creon has a double standard, where it is acceptable for him to be unjust but punishes others for doing the same. The power and pride that Creon has as king is responsible for this unfair behaviour as mentioned by himself, “Whoever is chosen to govern should be obeyed”.

All the characters that interact with him do not challenge his power and only try to convince him to change his decision. The statement, “How dreadful it is when the right judge judges wrong” (203) by the Sentry is paradoxical. If a judge judges wrong, then how can he be the right judge?

This was done purposefully by Sophocles to show the unfair amounts of power Creon holds just because he is a king and therefore the “right judge”. Antigone comments on this bitterly: “Ah the good fortune of kings, licensed to say and do whatever they please” (210). In both these quotes the characters are accepting Creon as the king and do not challenge him. Sophocles puts forth the idea that in a dictatorship everyone is helpless against the king’s desire.

Nevertheless, Antigone and the sentry are contemptuous of the power kings hold as they say their sentence is mocking the absurdity of kingship . The phrase, “good fortune” was used mockingly in reference to the luck kings have to be born royalty and have the unchecked power with no accountability for their actions. Using this phrase, Sophocles is criticizing kings and their ability to commit heinous acts without being reprimanded.

Sophocles shows that dictators like Creon to be paranoid. When the sentry informs him of dust on Polyneices’ body Creon accuses him of commiting this act, and being bribed by Anarchists. He then threatens to torture him. “There will be certain ways to make you Discover your employer before you die” (202).

This is dramatic irony as the reader knows that the sentry is not responsible as Antigone’s plan to bury Polyneices is revealed before this in the prologue. Irony was used to emphasise Creon’s tyranny as he was willing to punish an innocent man. Since, the reader will view Creon’s actions as unjust as they know who is really guilty. However, Creon distrust of those around him is evident here. He blames anarchists for bribing them, and his law being broken but there is no sign indicating this.

This displays his irrationality as he makes judgements without proof. His threat and accusations portrays him as tyrannical as he is adamant on his baseless beliefs. His paranoia as a king has led him to be tyrannical since he feels that he alone is responsible for the well being of the state.

Moreover when Creon says: “The State is the King!” (221), this statement portrays that he thinks that the state is an extension of himself. Creon sees Antigone and Ismene’s transgression as an attack against himself: “Snake in my ordered house, sucking my blood … These two sisters were aiming at my throne” (212). By internalising this transgression, Creon makes himself paranoid that the sisters will overthrow him and take his power away.

Creon also claims Haimon is “girlstruck” (222) and is challenging his opinion due to Haimon’s love for Antigone. He even accuses Teiresias of being bribed, the person who helped him become king. All these examples highlight his distrust of everyone who interact with him, since he accuses them in some way. Haimon and Teiresias came to help him but he mistrusts and discredits them. His pride does not allow him to accept others ideas so he makes baseless accusation so he can discredit their ideas.

Sophocles puts forth the idea that in a dictatorship, kings will be distrustful of others. This paranoia will make kings ignorant of others ideas and make them choose decisions that are wrong. Sophocles shows that Creon is wrong in his actions by punishing him for not listening to others ideas, through the death of his family members.

Creon does not takes others reasons into account is because he feels that he is superior to everyone else because he is king. “My voice is the one voice giving orders in this city” (220). This quote shows that Creon feels he himself can be the only one that should be in charge of the city since he is king, and that he will not take others opinions into account. It is evident when Creon says,”And the City proposes me to teach me how to rule” (220), he can be seen once again rejecting the ideas of others. He finds the notion of listening to the people as ridiculous as illustrated by his mocking tone.

Creon thinks that only a king has the right to make decisions. Sophocles is criticizing dictatorial governments in this quote by setting forth the idea that tyranny can exist in dictatorial governments. Where a king can do actions that the majority of citizens are against, and everyone else is powerless to stop him. Furthermore, Creon justifies his actions by saying: “The State is the King!” (221). This confirms that Creon places himself as the utmost importance, and is a clear display of his hubris. This also portrays what Creon’s belief on kingship. He feels that the entire nation is a part of him and that it belongs to him. He places his opinion over that of the entire city.

Sophocles depicts that pride is something that dictators can’t help but have. “Do you want me to show myself weak before the people? Or break my sworn word?” (217). This shows the reasoning behind Creon’s stubborn behavior. Admitting wrongdoing, and allowing someone to change his behavior will weakness to the people. By being placed in a position of power, Creon cannot show weakness as the people are looking towards him for guidance and stability, especially after the battle for Thebes.

If he appears weak in front of the people, how can he earn their obedience? “If I permit my own family to rebel, how shall I earn the world’s obedience” (217). Obedience is something a dictator must have, or else this would lead to anarchy. To prevent anarchy, Creon ought to be prideful. This explains his reason for why he was stubborn.

Having hubris is what enables him to be steadfast in his beliefs and prevents him from confessing wrongdoing. Which in turn would prevent anarchy. Creon, in tragic fashion, admits to his pride and wrongdoing, stating, “To risk everything for stubborn pride” (235), when shown the error of his ways.

A king cannot help himself from having hubris and be paranoid. It is caused by the powers bestowed upon them. As a king, Creon has unlimited power. Therefore it is only natural to be paranoid as he others like Polyneices might try to take such power away. Having too much power also causes him to view himself above others, and in turn, not listen to their ideas. In a democracy power would not be highly concentrated in one person, and everyone would have a right to their opinion.

By having Creon lose his family, and give in to the demands of the city, Sophocles places emphasis on democracy. He does this by punishing Creon for not reacting fast enough to the cities demands. Sophocles proposes that it is best to not have dictators at all, and have a more democratic state.

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Sophocles on Tyranny. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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