Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely in Antigone
"Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely," said Lord Acton generations ago. In the Greek tragedy Antigone, written by Sophocles, there was a character named Kreon, the antagonist, who was the king of Thebes. Thebes was an autocratic state where Kreon had absolute power. Throughout the course of the play, Kreon abused his privilege of absolute power; and this caused him to suffer greatly, even though he was warned by a few people of his bad deeds. What Sophocles commented on absolute power was that one should not abuse it. If it was abused, he or she had to expect bad consequences. This was indicated by what happened to Kreon when he abused his power.
Kreon settled a decree that prohibited anyone from burying Polyneices' dead body. He was proud of his decree, and he also stated that he would be a good king by listening to what people said regarding his decisions. When the decree was broken by Antigone, Kreon sentenced her to death. This angered the gods because they wanted the dead body of Polyneices buried, and they did not want a live body (that of Antigone) buried in a cave. Kreon was told by Haimon to change his mind, but Kreon rejected his request and went ahead and buried Antigone alive. Teiresias warned Kreon that the gods were angry and his actions were to be blamed. Kreon rejected both Haimon's request and Teiresias' warning, and as a result, he suffered in the end. In the beginning of the play, Antigone and Ismene were found arguing about whether Polyneices' body should be buried. Antigone wanted to bury her brother's body, but Ismene objected because she said that they should not disobey Kreon, who had absolute power and had prohibited Polyneices' burial (26-80). Ismene indicated that the citizens of Thebes did not dare to go against what Kreon decreed. They all knew that if they objected to Kreon, punishment would be the result. In the play, Kreon was first found addressing the senate as to how a ruler should rule his state. He said in his long speech, "'I believe that he who rules in a state and fails to embrace the best men's counsels, but stays locked in silence and vague fear, is the worst man there. I have long believed so'" (217-221). To impress the senate Kreon told them that he would listen to any advice they gave him because that was what a good ruler should do. However, this was not how he reacted when Kreon heard that somebody buried Polyneices' body. While he was talking to the senate, a sentry came in and told Kreon that Polyneices' body had been buried. "'...somebody up and buried the corpse and went off: sprinkled dust over it and did the ceremonies you're supposed to'" (310-312). Kreon got very angry and threatened to kill the sentry if he didn't find the culprit who had buried the body. Kreon thought that all of the sentries were bribed into not telling him who was the culprit (372-391). Koryphaios suggested that the gods might have had buried the body: "'My lord, we have been considering whether a god might not have done this'" (350-351). Just like a dictator, as if he knew the actions of the gods, he declared that it was impossible for the gods to honor (bury) criminals (363-364). He defied what Koryphaios had said and just declared that the gods would never bury Polyneices, and he got his way. Before, Kreon had said that a good ruler like himself would listen to people, but Kreon did not do that. He went against what he had said. This showed that Kreon was very hypocritical, and he always only declared what he thought was right. Some time passed, and the sentry came in the palace with Antigone, who had buried Polyneices out of sheer respect. Kreon asked her if she really went against the decree, and Antigone denied nothing. 'Yes, because I did not believe that Zeus was the one who proclaimed it; neither did Justice, or the gods of the dead whom Justice lives among. The laws they have made for men are well marked out. I didn't suppose your decree had strength enough, or you, who are human, to violate the lawful traditions the gods have not written merely, but made infallible.' (550-558) Antigone said that the choice of burying Polyneices or not was not in the hands of humans. When a person died, the gods expected the body to be buried so that they could take it to the underworld. A dead body was the property of the gods. Burial was a tradition the gods had set for the people, and it was to be be continued. Kreon acted selfishly, abused his power, and went against the will of the gods to get his wish. As a reaction to Antigone's infallible concept of burial, Kreon said, "'...these stiff minds are the first to collapse. Fire-tempered iron, the strongest and the toughest, that's the kind you most often see snapped and shattered'" (578-580). Ironically, what Kreon said applied to himself. Kreon himself was stiff-minded about Polyneices not to be buried. Like all dictators, Kreon did not realize his stubbornness because he thought he was always right. Another case of when Kreon rejected other's suggestions was in the scene with his son, Haimon. Kreon explained to Haimon the situation Antigone was in and the death penalty, and Haimon objected too it. Haimon said that he did respect Kreon a lot as a leader, but he said that in this situation, "'perhaps a second opinion will be valuable'" (832). Haimon thought that "'no one is more innocent, no death more awful, no deeds more noble than hers'" (841-843). Haimon kindly asked Kreon to change his mind for once and accept what others had to say and not give Antigone the death sentence. Kreon lost his mind and didn't accept what Haimon said, and Kreon claimed that only he was right. Again, he went against what he said earlier in the play about listening to other people. Kreon and Haimon argued more, and Haimon left by saying that Antigone's death will bring about other deaths, and Kreon would never see him again (908, 924). After Haimon left, Kreon ordered for Antigone to be locked in a cave. According to tradition, the gods had a right over dead bodies, but they did not want live bodies buried or killed. This was exactly what Kreon was doing to Antigone. He went against the will of the gods, the most high, and angered them. He abused his power by not making decisions with other people, and he just wanted things his own way even though they were not for him to handle. After Antigone was locked in the cave, a prophet named Teiresias came to inform Kreon about his deeds. Teiresias told Kreon that once again he was walking on thin ice. Teiresias had heard weird noises of birds "'squawking in an evil frenzy'" (1155). He told Kreon that he had tried to perform a sacrifice, but the ritual had failed. Teiresias informed Kreon that the "'state is sick'" (1170) and that Kreon's code of conduct was to be blamed. He also said that it was not too late to undo his terrible deed of burying someone who was living and not burying someone who was dead. Kreon replied to all this by saying that the prophet had been bribed by someone to say what he said, so that Antigone would be set free (1171-1223). Once more, Kreon rejected advice from a holy figure and did what he favored. Teiresias was known not to have had ever lied, so his statements were true. Kreon was not being fair and Teiresias warned him of that, but he still didn't change and misused his power. Teiresias mentioned to Kreon, just before Teiresias left, that Kreon had dishonored a living soul by putting Antigone into exile in the cave. He also stated that matters that had to be taken care of by the gods were out of his hands and that "'a crime of violence is being done'" (1249), and Kreon was in charge of it. Teiresias ended by saying that that was why evil will pursue Kreon (1243-1250). By the end of the play, Kreon found out that both Antigone and Haimon had committed suicide. When Kreon's wife, Eurydice, found out about her son, she committed suicide too.
As the result of Kreon's bad code of conduct and his constant abusing of his power, he had three dead bodies. He was responsible for all those deaths. By the end of the plot, Kreon learned an important lesson. He realized that he had been wrong, and his son had been right (1464). "'I have learned, and I am ruined. It was a god. Then, right then!'" (1466-1467). The gods became very angry at Kreon because he went against their traditions and abused his absolute power. He did this by doing what he favored, regardless of the gods' rules, which was to bury a live soul and let a dead body rot in the open. He was being very hypocritical by not listening to anyone regarding his decisions; he himself had said a good ruler like him would listen to people. In the denouement, he had three dead bodies, and their deaths broke his heart. However, he was completely responsible for their deaths, and he could have prevented them. Sophocles made it certain that if one abused his or her power, it would bring adverse results, like what happened to Kreon. Kreon learned an important lesson from his suffering. Aeschylus once said, "By suffering comes wisdom."