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What is fate, and what is free will? In Sophocles' play Antigone, both fate and free will are important in determining the outcome of the play. Fate is presented as something that the gods determine. It is the destiny of human beings, and something that people have no control over. No matter how hard a person like Antigone or Creon tries to fight fate, their lives are not entirely our own to live. Free will exists, but with limitations. Human beings can make choices and decisions, and those decisions sometimes do alter one's fate. For example, Creon's decision to not bury Polyneices is the central decision that leads to the tragic ending of the play Antigone. Antigone knows that King Creon is going against the will of the gods by refusing to give Polyneices, her brother, a proper burial. This is the central issue of Antigone. Whereas Ismeme is resigned to her fate, and accepts Creon's decision, Antigone cannot do so. Antigone uses her free will to disobey the King and bury her brother. Her act causes a number of different tragic outcomes, including her own death and the death of others. How much of what happens in Antigone is fate, and how much is free will? It is difficult to determine the answer to this question, because Sophocles purposely shows that the lives of human beings are determined by both fate and by free will.
Two main characters are more in tune with the concept of fate than any other in the play. The Chorus of the play, considered to be one character, understands what fate means and how it affects the lives of people. For example, early in the play, the Chorus introduces King Creon by stating, "Creon, son of Menoeceus, our new ruler by the new fortunes that the gods have given." Clearly, the Chorus believes that Creon is king because the gods willed it to be so. Likewise, the Chorus introduces Antigone as someone who will meet a devastating fate. "What portent from the gods is this?-my soul is amazed. I know her-how can I deny that yon maiden is Antigone?" (Sophocles). The Chorus continues to identify Antigone as a victim of her fate in the sense that her father is the ill-fated Oedipus. "O hapless, and child of hapless sire,-Of Oedipus!" Therefore, the Chorus is pointing out that a person's family is part of the person's fate. A person is a product of his or her family, and there is no escaping that fact. This is very true in the play Antigone, because not only is Antigone the son of Oedipus, but she is also the sister of the two dead brothers whose death cause the central conflict of the play. If Antigone was born into a different family, she would have a different fate. As it is, Polyneices is Antigone's brother, and Antigone will not sit by while Creon refuses to honor her brother with the burial.
In addition to the Chorus, the blind prophet Tiresias is also very much aware of the power of fate. When Creon meets Tiresias, the prophet warns him about the future. The prophet is basically telling the King that the king determined his own fate by making a poor decision. Now that the king set the wheels of fate in motion, there is not much he can do. Fate will determine the future, and fate was also created by Creon himself. Tiresias states, "All men are liable to err; but when an error hath been made, that man is no longer witless or unblest who heals the ill into which he hath fallen, and remains not stubborn." If Creon had not been stubborn, the outcome of the play would have been different. In other words, Tiresias shows that human beings have free will even to make mistakes. Once the mistake has been made, the person cannot alter the outcome of that mistake. Fate will take over and determine the future. On the other hand, it is implied that a person who acts wisely will enjoy a good fate.
The title character also shows that no matter how much a person uses her free will, that person is still bound by fate. Antigone is concerned about the role fate plays in her life and in the lives of those around her. Antigone is determined not to let Creon determine her brother's fate, by refusing to bury his body. Therefore, she takes matters into her own hands. She buries Polyneices, even though what she is doing is against the law. Antigone understands that she was born into a particular family, and that her fate is linked to that of her dead brothers. Her actions are in part determined by her loyalty to Polyneices, her brother. Antigone does not try to change her own fate, because she understands the consequences of her actions. One of the consequences of Antigone's actions is the death of people she loves. However, Antigone did not actually cause anyone's death but her own, because she committed suicide. She might have been fated to commit suicide. Haemon and Eurydice also committed suicide. Suicide in Antigone is ironic because it shows that the person used free will to do what will happen eventually anyway, which is death. The fact that many people in Antigone die from suicide shows that Sophocles wanted to present fate and free will as being linked together. There is only so much that free will can accomplish before fate takes over, but a human being still makes choices independently of the gods. If the gods moved human beings like puppets, then they would not get angry when people did not obey them. In Antigone, it is clear after hearing Tiresias that the gods are very angry with Creon. Tiresias states, "from my offerings the Fire-god showed no flame," (Sophocles). The prophet means that the gods are so angry, that they will not take the sacrifices as usual.
Sophocles shows that both Creon and Antigone have strong free wills, which they sometimes use unwisely. Using free will unwisely, in ways that anger the gods, will create a negative fate. Using free will wisely, in accordance with the will of the gods, will create a positive fate. Therefore, free will can be used to create one's own fate. Fate is presented as a complex web. The gods are part of this web, as they determine ultimately the fate of all human beings. Human beings are not just puppets, though. Their free will interacts with the will of the gods to create the complexity of human life.
From a literary standpoint, Sophocles uses fate in his play so that the viewer (or reader) has foreshadowing. The reader knows what is going to happen from the beginning of the play, because the Chorus warns about it. Sophocles' literary strategy of foreshadowing sets the tone of the entire play, which is a tragedy.
The Chorus is the voice of fate in Antigone. At the beginning of the play, the reader learns that Antigone's fate is pre-determined because she was born into the family of Oedipus. The Chorus even foreshadows the death of Antigone. Also at the beginning of the play, the Chorus states that Creon was fated to be the King. In the middle of the play, the Chorus tells the King that he should listen to Tiresias the prophet. "I know that he hath never been a false prophet to our city," (Sophocles). Creon tries to listen, but it is too late. He cannot change his fate at this point, because the gods are already angry. The wheels of fate are in motion.
If the Chorus and Tiresias both represent the voice of fate (and the gods) in Antigone, then Antigone, Creon, and Haemon represent free will. Creon's free will causes the most damage. First, he disobeys the rule of the gods by not burying Polyneices. Second, he punishes Antigone harshly, sentencing her to death, just because she wished the best for her brother. Third, he sentences her to a cruel punishment that angers the gods. These are all acts of free will, which interfere with the fate of other people. Because of Creon's free will, Antigone committed suicide, Haemon committed suicide, and Eurydice committed suicide.
Sophocles portrays Antigone's free will as being in accordance with the will of the gods. She is doing the right thing. For Antigone, god's law is more important than Creon's law. Therefore, she uses her free will to enact the law of the gods. It was her fate to do so, however. Sophocles asks the reader, how much of Antigone's actions were truly of her own will, and how much of what Antigone does was predetermined by the Gods? After all, Ismene, Antigone's sister, was born into the same family. Yet Ismene did not take it upon herself to disobey Creon and get sentenced to death. Clearly, Antigone is special. Antigone was fated to interact with Creon, and together the two…[continue]
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