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Shadows and Sunshine: Imagery in Antigone


In Sophocles’ Antigone, Creon, the King of Thebes, is left to look after Antigone and Ismene, the daughters of the dead Theban King Oedipus. Nonetheless, Creon as well as the strong-willed Antigone clash on the problem of the funeral of Antigone and also Ismene’s sibling Polyneices. Polyneices and Eteocles, one more bro, passed away in the fight that occurred when Polyneices invaded Thebes and also his bro’s ruling party. Due to the fact that Eteocles’ side won, as well as since Polyneices was the banished intruder, Eteocles was to be provided a hero’s funeral while Polyneices was bought to be abandoned outdoors for the birds as well as pests to eat his corpse. Creon fully concurs with this evaluation, due to the fact that it lines up with the nomos, or the government’s legislation, but Antigone despairs over the injustice of it-in her view, every person should be offered a correct funeral, according to the physis, or all-natural legislation. This problem between Creon as well as Antigone, as well as the narrating Chorus’ point of views of both sides, goes to the center of the events in the play. Sophocles uses contrasting light and also dark imagery to portray the Carolers’ assumption of not just the play’s characters as well as occasions however of the contrasting regulations of nature as well as government that they stand for as well.

At the start of the play, the Carolers stands in support of Creon as well as his depiction of nomos; therefore, descriptions of Creon as well as his brand of justice are bathed in sunlight as well as light. Even Creon himself invokes a picture of light as he warrants his ruling, claiming, “I would not count any kind of adversary of my country as a friend-because of what I know, that she it is which gives us our security. If she cruises upright and we cruise on her, good friends will be ours for the production. In the light of policies like these, I will make her better still” (202-210). Considering that, in his sight, Polyneices is an opponent of Thebes, he must not be sensible as an ally, such as Eteocles, should. The Chorus reacts really positively to Creon’s thinking, as received their first ode peppered with light imagery:

Numberless are the world’s wonders, yet none/more wonderful than man; the storm grey sea/Yields to his prows, the massive crests bear him high;/ Earth, divine and endless, is graven/With shining furrows where his plows have gone/Year after year, the ageless labor of stallions (368-376).

When the Carolers points out the “beaming furrows where his plows have gone,” they are referencing the marks that Creon’s nomos has left on Thebes-obviously positive ones, because his judgments are called “radiating” on a “divine and infinite” planet.

Eteocles, too, is greatly preferred by the Carolers and also the gods; considering that he led his military to success over the invader Polyneices-and this positive opinion is again interacted by light images. Eteocles’ triumph is explained in literally glowing terms when the Carolers states,

Sunlight’s light beam, fairest of all/that ever before till now shown/on seven-gated Thebes;/ O golden eye of day, you shone/coming over Dirce’s stream;/ You drove in headlong thrashing the whiteshielded male from Argos,/ complete in arms;/ his bits rang sharper/under your prompting (118-127).

Eteocles’ triumph is a scene depicted in a laundry of gold sunlight, cozy as well as welcoming and also extremely favorable. With the use of this imagery, Sophocles conveys the Carolers’ assumption that Eteocles, along with his advocate Creon, was their ambassador of light and their rescuer from the threatening Polyneices.

As the play advances, the Carolers as well as the personalities end up being not sure of which legislation needs to be followed-physis or nomos-so the light as well as dark images surrounding Creon and Antigone comes to be increasingly scrambled. Haimon, Creon’s son as well as Antigone’s fiancà ©, sustains his papa initially, saying “You make things clear for me, as well as I follow you. No marital relationship implies more to me than your continuing wisdom” (688-691). He goes on to point out, nevertheless, that “in the dark” he hears this report:

The city grieves for the woman; they assume she is passing away most incorrectly and also most undeservedly … [she] would not leave her bro unburied … to satisfy his end by hoggish canines or by the bird that chanced this way. Definitely what she advantages is golden honor, isn’t it? That’s the dark rumor that spreads in trick (744-755).

This is not the very first mention of Antigone’s kind motives-several scenes earlier, Ismene had actually remarked to her sibling, “You have a warm heart for such freezing actions” (102 ). It is just now, nonetheless, that Creon is listening to the total debate and is very first provided with the possibility to alter his mind. Instead of really thinking about Haemon’s debates, Creon clarifies on exactly how he will certainly punish Antigone. “I will bring her where the path is loneliest, as well as conceal her active in a rough cave there. I’ll provide simply enough of food as shall be sufficient for a bare expiation, that the city may stay clear of pollution” (840-843). He invokes images of darkness as well as contamination associated with Antigone by claiming that he will certainly close her up in a dark cave, “secured like a tomb” (904) to maintain her from polluting Thebes with her rebellion. Antigone herself laments at this judgment as she looks “… for the last time on this light of this sun-never once more” (870-872). She asks, “What legislation of God have I broken? … for indeed as a result of piety I was called impious. If this case is excellent in the gods’ eyes I shall know my wrong, once I have actually suffered” (978-983). As revealed by the modifications in imagery, the various other personalities in the play are beginning to realize that possibly Antigone does not represent darkness and that Creon is not always the harbinger of light.

As Antigone as well as the Chorus lament, the blind prophet Teiresias enters; actually, this male who resides in actual darkness is the one who will certainly bring the light of truth magnificent law to the viewed, however unenlightened Creon. Teiresias condemns Creon’s choice to lock up Antigone in the cavern, advising him that “… you will certainly not outlast many cycles more of this quick sunlight prior to you give up exchange among your very own loins bred, a corpse for a corpse, for you have propelled one that belongs over listed below the earth, and bitterly dishonored a person by lodging her in the tomb …” (1132-1138). He also implies that Creon’s judgment has actually thrown him out of favor with the gods by informing a parable of a sacrifice that the gods would not melt-“instead of bright flame … the entrails dissolved in gray smoke, the bare bone burst from the welter. And no blaze!” (1063-1065). The images of the light being dispatched represents that the light of Creon’s nomos has been dispatched by his poor decision, and that currently the gods are representing physis, the smoke that surpasses the fire. Antigone additionally believes that Creon’s punishment for her is severe and also unjustified, telling him that “… all your words are bitter, and the very light of the sun is cool to me” (929-934). Without a doubt, Creon’s law has actually turned its cold, dark side to Antigone. He starts to recognize, however, that maybe his judgment is not completely sound which to follow through on his actions can bring repercussions. He admits, “My mind is all bewildered. To generate is terrible. But by resistance to ruin my really being with a self-destructive curse should additionally be believed in what is terrible” (1166-1171). The pictures of sun and darkness portrayed by Teiresias and Antigone share the concept that, in the eyes of individuals and the gods, Creon’s law might not be one of the most authoritative one after all.

Near the end of the play, Creon lastly recognizes that it is physis that ultimately dominates over nomos; thus, Antigone was appropriate and also his ideas were wrong. He insists, actually, on freeing her himself, proclaiming that “… given that my intention is so altered, as I bound her myself, myself will certainly free her. I hesitate it may be best, ultimately of life, to have actually kept the old approved laws” (1189-1192). Antigone is currently bathed in pictures of light as the law she has actually been complying with is shown to be more favorable in the eyes of the gods, such as Zeus, that “… in a rainfall of gold poured love upon her” (1007 ). Creon is depicted as a “blinded male”-that is, one whose sight is dark-and he calls his very own laws “themselves inflexible and also loaded with fatality … oh, the awful blindness of those plans of mine” (1340-1344). The curse of darkness has actually likewise fallen upon Creon’s family-when his partner Eurydice becomes aware of their son Haemon’s suicide, she “experiences her darkening eyes to shut” (1378) all the while cursing Creon. Upon knowing of this, Creon wishes death upon himself too, pleading, “Allow it come, allow it come! That I may never ever see another day’s light!” (1403-1404). Creon, when considered as a carrier of light and also fairness to the Theban people, is now thought about a dark curse, as well as the seemingly deceptive Antigone is now the ambassador of physis. The changes in images from light to dark surrounding Creon mirror the altering point of views of the people towards the supremacy of nomos over physis.

Creon’s journey, highlighted by the images of the Carolers’ descriptions, reveals that the natural law, or usual regulation, is more effective and long-lasting than fabricated legislations troubled a nation by its leader. Though his regulation was at first portrayed in a complementary light, by the end of the play, also he himself had actually recognized that no temporal man’s regulation can even approach, much less eclipse, the divine legislation. The light and also dark pictures throughout the play stress the decline of nomos as well as the rise of physis at Creon’s expense. Sophocles communicates to his audience that hindering the order of the gods is past the range of temporal man-and the tale of Antigone’s penalty as well as unfortunate death brings that to light.


Sophocles. Antigone. 2nd Edition. Ed. David Grene. Chicago: College of Chicago Press, 1991.

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