On Absolutism and the State

Sophocles’ Antigone provides an interesting perspective on the absolute ruler. In lecture today, we talked about the idea of Creon as the real tragic character of Creon, whose fatal flaw of stubbornness and unwillingness to change is his downfall. As the other main character and the arguable antagonist, the audience gets to see a lot of what makes Creon tick. An antagonist he may be, but Sophocles develops Creon as more than just a villain seeking to gain power.

Creon’s opening line in Antigone begins with “Gentlemen, the State”. Here, we are shown Creon’s heroic qualities and good intentions. Far from being a tyrant, he rules for the good of the people and puts the people of Thebes before himself. Although, as king, he technically wields absolute power, he exercises it only in what he believes to be the best interests of the people. Ultimately, this leads to him making a decision that results in the opposite of his intent, and therein lies the tragedy.

Sophocles views the struggle between absolutist rule and rebellion against that rule, as characterized by Creon and Antigone is less of an ideological struggle than it is a struggle between old and new, tradition and progress. We cannot fault Creon for how he used his power, as his intentions were certainly for the best, but we can fault him for his failure to make the correct choice. In any case, he is not a tyrant. In cases like these, we can see why Plato would want the absolute ruler of a polis to be a philosopher as well. Perhaps if Creon had some kind of philosophical education, things would have turned out differently.

Q: How would Plato categorize Creon? How does our understanding of Creon’s reasoning change how we perceive that category?

Q: How does the chorus deal with Creon’s decision? Are the chorus “correct”/omnipotent?

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