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“The Theban Plays” by Sophocles Literature Analysis Essay


Sophocles is among the three tragedians in ancient Greek whose plays managed to survive. Through his brilliant writings and creation in plays, Sophocles greatly influenced the growth of drama. During his life time, Sophocles managed to write 123 plays among them being The Theban Plays which consist of Oedipus the King, Antigone and Oedipus at Colonus. The Theban Plays are the most popular works of Sophocles as they apprehend Thebes’s fate after and during the rule of King Oedipus.

The three plays were written in different years for festival competitions. These three plays have greatly moved readers and playgoers since the 5th century. Among all the dramas that have ever been written, they are considered to be amid those which have managed to survive; they are considered as timeless dramas. Robert Fagles’ managed to translate The Theban Plays where he conveyed all Sophocles’ power and lucidity. Creon, one of the characters in the play Antigone clearly conveys power and lucidity in Sophocles.

The following illustrates Creon’s relationship to power, how he influenced the people he ruled, how he used his power as a leader of Thebes and the result of his ruling. It also clearly states how the people of Thebes responded to his ruling and what can be learnt through other characters through the interactions they had with Thebes.

Creon is Antigone’s uncle in the play Antigone. After Oedipus the former King of Thebes passed away, his two sons Polynices and Eteocles battled over the kingdom. Eteocles fought his brother back in order to defend himself and also the Kingdom. Polynices on the other hand collected massive army and attacked Thebes but unfortunately neither of them won since they ended up killing each other at the battle. This is how Creon managed to get power in Thebes as he was named the King of Thebes since he was Locasta’s brother.

Creon gave Eteocles an honourable burial as he considered him a hero while Polyneices’ body was left to rot away and serve as food for dogs since he was considered a disgrace to the city of Thebes. Creon gave a decree that nobody was allowed to bury Polyneices body without his affirmation. He used his authority to decree death penalty for anybody who tried to bury the body. Creon stated that “the penalty _is_ death: yet hope of gain hath lured men to their ruin oftentimes” (Fagles 270).

However, it was outrageous to leave human body exposed and unburied as this offended the Greek gods. This shows that Creon had no respect for the gods of Greek and that is why he ordered Polyneices body not to be buried.

This affirms that he had greatly distance himself from Oedipus tragic aspirations. Despite the fact that Oedipus ended up in a tragedy, he was faithful and followed all the rules of the oracle unlike Creon. Oedipus main problem was that of trying to evade and reverse his destiny without the full knowledge of whom he was.

When Antigone decided to go against Creon’s law of not burying Polyneices, Creon did not show her any mercy of executing her despite Antigone being a family member. This brings out the inhuman nature in Creon. This is because, first of all, Creon did not honour the gods of Greek when he decreed that Polyneices body be left in the open without burial to be eaten by dogs. On the other hand, Antigone’s actions were moral; she followed the laws that were set by the gods.

Antigone continued to explain to Creon why she was not able to leave her mother’s son unburied. Honouring Creon’s commands will mean that she will be disloyal to the family. This is why Antigone did not care about the punishment and decided to act without the help of the sister Ismene. Creon’s cruel rule greatly influenced Ismene who feared disobeying the king’s rule despite the fact that she desired to help her sister burry their brother.

Creon after seeing that Ismene was upset, he did not investigate the cause of her sadness instead, he made a quick judgement that she might have helped her sister burry Polyneices. Creon ended up summoning Antigone and Ismene together before throwing them into prison. Out of fear and love to her sister, Ismene decided to falsely confess that she helped her sister bury Polyneices since she wanted to die alongside her. Both of them are sent to prison as they await the final verdict from Creon.

He later decided to free Ismene but to bury Antigone alive which was against the gods since it was a taboo to bury a living person. Sparing Ismene was not going to bring joy or happiness to her since Antigone was the only close family she had. Seeing her being forced into death was going to bring more sadness and grief to Ismene. Creon did not show any form of mercy to both Antigone and Ismene since they were still mourning the death of their father and two brothers. Creon could not honour the state they were in by being merciful to them.

Creon was a proud and stubborn leader and that is what led to his downfall and also caused the lives of Antigone, his wife Eurydice and his son Haemon. It took him time to accept that what he did was wrong and against the gods. Creon only changed his mind of burying Polyneices after he was warned by Tiresias the blind prophet that Polyneices needs urgent burial or else he was bound to lose his son and be despised by all the citizens of Greece.

Creon was terrified by the prophet’s words which made him change his mind to correct all his mistakes by first freeing Antigone and then burying Polyneices. This shows that Creon is also a selfish ruler; he only cares about himself and his own family. The fear of losing is son and authority is what made him correct his mistakes which he never did since it was too late; Antigone and Haemon had already committed suicide.

Nothing could change Creon’s mind not any advice from the council, not his son Haemon request to spare Antigone’s life, not even the mourning of the people for brutally killing Antigone was not enough to make him withdraw his decree. Creon even accused the prophet of being corrupt when he first advised him to bury Polyneices. He said that “Old man, you’re all like archers shooting at me—for you all I’ve now become your target— even prophets have been aiming at me” (Fagles1160).

In conclusion, Creon clearly conveys power and lucidity in Sophocles. His selfish, foolish and erratic actions greatly influenced the people he ruled. Creon did not obey the gods until when he was told by the prophet that his actions may cause him Haemon and make him loss authority. He is not wise in his ruling and that is why he ended up suffering the loss of his wife and son together with the whole city.

His stubbornness made him realise his mistakes when it was too late as his wife Eurydice, Antigone and Haemon his son had already committed suicide. In the end of the play, he is left humble but greatly heartbroken such that he could not support himself without help.

Work Cited

Fagles, Robert. The Three Theban Plays. New York: Penguin, 1986.

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""The Theban Plays" by Sophocles Literature Analysis." IvyPanda, 28 Apr. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/the-theban-plays-by-sophocles-literature-analysis/.

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IvyPanda. ""The Theban Plays" by Sophocles Literature Analysis." April 28, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-theban-plays-by-sophocles-literature-analysis/.


IvyPanda. 2020. ""The Theban Plays" by Sophocles Literature Analysis." April 28, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-theban-plays-by-sophocles-literature-analysis/.


IvyPanda. (2020) '"The Theban Plays" by Sophocles Literature Analysis'. 28 April.

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