English jurist William Blackstone once said, No enactment of man can be considered law unless it conforms to the law of God. Although this was said at a different time and age than Ancient Greece, it still applies to the same concept Antigone teaches readers. In Antigone, Sophocles demonstrates through the characters Antigone, Ismene, and Creon that the divine laws always come before the states, no matter what the circumstances are.
Antigone is a prime example on how the people should put the gods laws before any state law. She strongly and truly believes that every person, good or bad, deserves a proper burial, mainly because that is what the gods would want. She says to Ismene at one point in the play You may do as you like, since apparently the laws of the gods mean nothing to you (Prologue, line 60). She is implying that Ismene isnt doing at all what the gods would want, and that she is being as repulsive as Creon. Later, when she is brought in to see Creon for burying Polyneices, he starts questioning her over-all motives for burying her brother and going against his new law. She replied, It was not Gods proclamation. That final justice that rules the world below makes no such laws (Scene 2, line 57). Antigone is simply stating that since it was not a decree justifiable by the gods, it wasnt a decree she would expect herself or any other person to follow. Even though characters like Antigone have been straightforward about their opinions throughout the entire play, there are some whose views seem to change by the end.
Antigones careful and withdrawn sister, Ismene, is one of the many characters whose opinion on Creons new law changed throughout the play. In the beginning, Ismene thought that Antigone going against Creon was absurd. She said, They (the gods laws) mean a great deal to me; but I have no strength to break laws that were made for the public good (Pardos, line 60). Ismene follows with only her mind and not her heart. Although she knows the divine laws are extremely important, she says she isnt strong enough or even near willing to break any state law for the sake of all that is good. Before Antigone is taken away to die, Antigone says that Ismene shouldnt feel guilty and shouldnt want to die with Antigone because she was in no was part of the plan to bury Polyneices. Ismene responds by saying But now I know what you meant; and I am here to join you, to take my share of punishment (Scene 2, line 133). Ismene has changed her mind from being completely against Antigones idea to wanting to die with her sister. She finally realizes that no matter what the situation, the divine laws always come before Creons. Not only did Ismene change her opinion on the situation of burying Polyneices, but many other characters did, also.
Although the whole reason the law about not burying Polyneices was made by Creon, towards the end of the play he learns the hard way that what he did was wrong. While addressing the public about the new law, Creon says Polyneices, I say, is to have no burial; no man is to touch him or say the least prayer for him; he shall lie in the plain, unburied; and the birds and scavenging dogs can do with him whatever they like (Scene 1, lines 32-34). Creons opinion is obviously completely against anyone burying Polyneices in the beginning of the play, which is against the laws of the gods. This opinion and attitude are the reasons for the dreadful consequences in the end for Creon. Not only does Antigone kill herself, but also so does Haimon, his son, and Eurydice, his wife. After all of these tragic events, it becomes clear to Creon that what he did was wrong and that he needs to own up to his actions. He says, The truth is hard to bear. Surely a god has crushed me beneath the hugest weight of heaven, and driven me headlong a barbaric way to trample out the thing I held most dear (Exodus, lines 94-96). Creon finally realizes the gods are punishing him for his wrong doings by taking the lives of all of his loved ones. Creon had to learn the hard way that, once again, the gods laws will always come before the states laws, and nothing will change that.
Through Antigone, Ismene, and Creon, the universal significance of Antigone is that no matter what happens and what new laws rulers make, the gods divine laws and commandments come before any law of the state. Sophocles shows us the importance of religion and gods on the people of Ancient Greece. So, just as Blackstone once said, No enactment of man can be considered law unless it conforms to the law of God.