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Lines 155-225

The First Episode or Creon’s Opening Speech

Summary

The leader of the Chorus announces Creon’s arrival and informs the audience of Creon’s newly acquired power. The leader wonders why Creon has called for a conference of the elders of Thebes.

Creon enters and assures the elders that the kingdom of Thebes is, once again, “on a smooth course” after the terrible battle between the two sons of Oedipus. Creon has specially selected the audience of elders from those among the Thebans who are loyal to the throne of Laius. Creon stakes his claim to rule the land as the next of kin of the slain ruler, Eteocles. He believes that a good leader should use his power to maintain order.

Creon promises that he will not “keep silence” if any danger threatens his citizens. He will not befriend anyone who does not love Thebes. In order to rebuild Thebes as a great city, Creon proclaims his new decree regarding the two sons of Oedipus. Creon considers one of them a hero and accords him a proper burial: Eteocles, who had fought on the Theban side. By contrast, he considers Polynices to be a traitor who wanted to destroy Thebes. Accordingly, he orders that there will be no burial for Polynices’ corpse; the body shall lie in the open for dogs and carrion to feed on. Creon swears that he will never let a crime against the state go unpunished. At the same time, he promises to honor all those who love the state.

The Chorus accepts Creon’s laws as all-powerful. Creon asks the Chorus of elders to support and maintain his law. When the Chorus asks Creon if he wants them to watch over the corpse, he replies in the negative. He wishes only that they do not show favor to anyone who breaks the law of the state. The Chorus responds by saying that it is not “in love with death.” Creon believes that some man in the Chorus, hoping for financial retribution, may betray him by breaking his law.

Notes

In this scene Creon, the antagonist of the play, is introduced. He is Antigone’s uncle and has now become King of Thebes following Eteocles’ death. Creon is an expert at political maneuvering. Comparing the state of Thebes to “a noble vessel” (a ship), he positions himself firmly at the helm.


Creon calls a conference among the elders of Thebes in order to make known to them his decree. He favors Eteocles. He tells the Chorus of elders that he is not unwilling to use force to curb any threat to the state. He brands Polynices a traitor to the state and refuses to give him a decent burial.

In this scene Creon portrays himself as a just and noble ruler, who is willing to go to any extent to protect the state. In acceptance of Creon’s edict, the Chorus asks, “Who is so fond as to be in love with death?” This rhetorical question underscores the absolute authority of the king.

Creon’s speech appears to be a veiled threat to the elders. He does not want any of them to aid potential subverters of his law. The Chorus promises obedience to Creon: “And sure, ’tis thine to enforce what law thou wilt/ Both on the dead and all of us who live.”

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