Sophocles “Antigone”: The Tragic Consequences of Hubris

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Hubris in Greek Tragedies and “Antigone”

In Greek tragedies, hubris is a characteristic that “leads to suffering and then to a catharsis of man’s place in the system of life”. Man always seems to have this belief that they can escape fate or avoid the will of the gods. Throughout the play, Antigone, Creon’s hubris causes him to ignore the advice of Haemon, the Theban Elders, and Tiresias, which ultimately brings about his tragedy.

Creon’s Confrontation with Haemon

Creon’s pride leads him to not take the advice of Haemon and listen to what the people of Thebes want. Haemon attempts to offer his father some wisdom by telling him that “it is no weakness for the wisest man to learn when he is wrong, know when to yield … So, father, pause, and put aside your anger. I think … the next best thing is to be willing to listen to wise advice”. Creon then goes on to mock Haemon and call him a “despicable coward” and says that he has “no more will than a woman,” which causes him to begin alienating his son.

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As their conversation unravels, he becomes vehement with Haemon, saying “since when do I take my orders from the people of Thebes?… I am king, and responsible to only myself”. And Haemon responds by telling him that he’d “be an excellent king – on a desert island,” meaning that he only cares about his own opinion and has no loyalty to the state. By letting his pride consume his actions, he loses sight of what the people want and what is best for Thebes.

Warnings from Theban Elders

Not only did his son try to offer him some advice, but so did the Theban Elders. The Chorus warns Creon about not letting his pride get the best of him by singing about others who suffered for their rash choices in the past. They talk of a man who was killed for attempting to kill Danae’s son, a man who was torn apart by his own mother because he mocked Bacchus and a man who was punished for taking advantage of Zeus when he was unable to predict the future.

They also tell him that “roving ambition helps many to man a good, and many it falsely lures to light desires, till trips them unawares, and they fall on the fire that consumes them… evil seems good to who is doomed to suffer, and short is the time before that suffering comes”. They are telling him that he is letting his thirst for power lead him to evil, and that will only end in misery. All in all, the Chorus is trying to tell Creon that the gods punish those who have too much pride, so he should be wary of the choices he makes.

Creon’s Disregard for Divine Prophecy

Creon even turns down the advice of Teiresias, a wise blind prophet who tries to warn Creon of the suffering he is causing by ignoring the will of the gods and the people. Teiresias comes to Creon in good faith, acknowledging that he has “so far steered a steady course” but is now standing “on a razor’s edge”. He then gets defensive and tells Teiresias that he thinks “all prophets seek their own advantage” and then later implies that Teiresias is trying to make money by telling lies when he says, “Nor is my will for sale, sir, in your market”.

The prophet came to Creon to help him avoid anguish, but Creon was too blinded by his own arrogance. He continues to show how self-righteous and superior he feels when he says, “reveal all; but expect no gain from it,” meaning that nothing Teiresias says will change Creon’s mind. By this point in the play, Creon’s pride has interfered so much with his ruling that he thinks he knows better than the prophet and is above the gods.

When Creon did finally accept that he was in the wrong, it was too late. His pride had gotten the best of him for too long, and there wasn’t anything left for Creon to do to revive the situation. Thus, pride can be all-consuming if one is not willing to listen to wisdom. Creon’s pride was the key factor in his tragedy, as he was not willing to listen to Haemon, the Theban Elders, or Teiresias.

References:

  1. Greek Drama and Antigone. “Hubris and Catharsis.” Slide 7.
  2. Sophocles. Antigone.
  3. Foley, Helene P. Female Acts in Greek Tragedy. Princeton University Press, 2001.
  4. Knox, Bernard M. W. “Sophocles’ Artistry.” In Word and Action: Essays on the Ancient Theater. Edited by Bernard M. W. Knox. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979.
  5. Nussbaum, Martha C. The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy. Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  6. Segal, Charles. Tragedy and Civilization: An Interpretation of Sophocles. Harvard University Press, 1999.
  7. Vernant, Jean-Pierre. Tragedy and Myth in Ancient Greece. Zone Books, 1990.

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Sophocles "Antigone": The Tragic Consequences of Hubris. (2023, Aug 11). Retrieved from https://edusson.com/examples/sophocles-antigone-the-tragic-consequences-of-hubris

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