The Sovereignty of Divine Law Over Civil Law in Antigone: Critical Essay Sample

Paper Type:  Literature review
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1166 Words
Date:  2022-02-11


Antigone by Sophocles is a tragedy play written around 440 BC. It shows the conflict between divine law and written law, a topic still relevant today. Divine law vs. written law is one of the play's main themes. Sophocles shows us that divine law will always triumph over civil law. Divine law emerges superior in the conflict between the two. Antigone represents divine laws in following the gods' moral laws, and Creon represents civil laws as he rules Thebes.

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There is a depiction of characters who are quick to defy divine law. In the beginning of the scene, Antigone attempts to persuade Ismene to aid her entomb their brother Polynices. Ismene refuses to say, "You have just said the law forbids it" ( Book tutor 3). Antigone goes on with her plans despite her sister's remarks. The rebellion shows that Antigone is aware of the civil laws but is only conforming to divine law (Oleson 669). Haemon, betrothed to Antigone, is another character that obeys only divine law. He is quick to support Antigone in following the moral law after finding her during her trial. Haemon is defiant to his father's decree, and the two engage in a fierce argument. These two characters are Sophocles tools in showing us that there are those who would follow the divine law no matter the coming consequences.

There is also the use of characters who quickly change into conforming to divine law from civil law. In the play, the Choragos are in support of Creon's decree, "You have the right to enforce it: we are yours" (Book tutor 8). They even call Antigone's resistance as moral arrogance. Later in the play, they change their conformity to divine law while advising Creon. They ask him to free Antigone and prepare a tomb for Polyneices. They call the old prophet's decree, Teiresias, as being true, "But I don't remember that he was ever false" (Book tutor 33). This use of the Choragos shows characters who would change their minds after have been following the civil laws (Minadeo 134). They know that the gods' actions in administering justice are swift and tell Creon to act immediately. The administering shows characters who pay respect to the gods despite being conforming to human law. The Chorus considers the divine law to be superior to civil law and are ready to change their reverence.

There is also greater punishment for defying divine law than that of civil law. The play defines the two laws with characters disobeying either facing punishments as justice. Antigone loses her life for defying the civil law. Teiresias, the blind seer, prophesies a great punishment to the people of Thebes for the crimes against moral law committed by Creon. The gods were angry and would not accept the peoples' offerings. Creon loses son and wife, Haemon and Eurydice respectively. He is left miserable with his self-pride to blame, "I have killed my son and my wife" (Book tutor 40). The extent of punishment for defying both laws shows that justice for disobeying divine law is more severe than the one for civil law (Oleson 669). Characters are more afraid of the gods than their fellow human rulers' decrees. This shows the superiority of divine law even to those characters conforming to civil laws.

Antigone is painted as a martyr while Creon as blasphemous (Minadeo 150). Antigone is courageous in defending the moral right to bury her brother. She is following the customs laws to perform burial rituals of burying someone in the society, "and if I must die, I say that this crime is holy" (Book tutor 4). Teiresias describes Creon's crime against the gods and prophesies the greater consequences. He describes his faults as being blasphemous to the deity, "You have kept from the gods below the child that is theirs" (Book tutor 33). Antigone's fate invokes admiration and sympathy. By following gods laws, Antigone dies. "For a generous act, they say no woman has ever so unreasonably died such shameful death," (Book tutor 22). She portrays courage in willingness to defy the human laws over one of the gods. She is a hero to the audience. However, Creon is portrayed as the villain who defies the gods and kills the hero. He evokes anger and satisfaction as he is left miserable in the end. Sophocles here shows us that it is rightful to obey the divine law. Pride from civil law is chopped down by the justice of the gods.

There are also statements belittling the civil law. Antigone describes human beings as being imperfect and so are their laws while the gods are perfect, and so are their laws. She says, "But all your strength is weakness itself against the unrecorded immortal laws of God" (Book tutor 14). Creon himself is also reverent to the divine decree as he sees himself as inferior to the gods, "I will not fight with destiny" (Book tutor 34). Haemon also describes how the society in Thebes outside the palace are belittling the civil law and are angry at the sentencing of Antigone for pursuing her moral right. The characters in the play all seem to consider civil law as inferior to the gods (Oleson 670). They tend to choose the moral law when the two laws come into conflict. This is also a way in which Sophocles uses to show us civil law means nothing in the presence of divine law.

Creon changes his decree and sentence after the visit by Teiresias. This character after being painted as holding strongly to the civil law changes his options after learning of the coming implications. He is at first stubborn saying, "You forget yourself! You are speaking to your King" (Book tutor 32). Teiresias tells him of the losses he will suffer personally and also to the people of Thebes. He is quick to change his arrogant ways as soon as the prophet leaves. He acts to correct his actions by rushing to free Antigone from her grave. He is however late, and Antigone is already dead. This portrayal of the quick changing of mind shows the superiority of the divine law (Oleson 669).


In conclusion, Sophocles' main intention with this play was to show the superiority of the gods' laws over men. This through the representation of the conflict between the two in which divine law emerges superior after evaluation. Characters appear to be more afraid of the gods' decrees that those of Creon. Creon himself is also conforming to the divine law despite being the representation of written law. Punishment for defying divine law is also more severe and ruthless than for civil punishment. I think this function is the main reason as to why this play still maintains relevance to the contemporary audience.

Works Cited

Book Tutor. "Antigone by Sophocles - Animated Play Summary." YouTube, commentary by The Book Tutor, 22 Oct. 2017. Retrieved from

Minadeo, Richard W. "Characterisation, and Theme in the "Antigone." Arethusa 18.2 (1985): 133-154

Oleson, James C. "The Antigone dilemma: when the paths of law and morality diverge." Cardozo L. Rev. 29 (2007): 669.

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The Sovereignty of Divine Law Over Civil Law in Antigone: Critical Essay Sample. (2022, Feb 11). Retrieved from

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