CreonÆs Defense to OedipusÆs Accusations and Their
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CreonÆs Defense to OedipusÆs Accusations and Their Relevance
The role of the king in the time of Greek tragedies was simultaneously desired and dreaded because of the king’s responsibility to the people and because of the effects of the position on the king’s character. Creon reveals such ambivalent thoughts towards the kingship in his speech defending himself from Oedipus’s conspiracy accusation in Oedipus the King; these ambivalent thoughts reveal much about the nature of the kingship, especially in conjunction with Creon’s later actions in Antigone.
In attempting to refute Oedipus’s assertion that Creon has taken part in a conspiracy to obtain the kingship, Creon evaluates the nature of the kingship and of his present role. First, he says, "Consider, first, if you think any one/ would choose to rule and fear rather than rule and sleep" (36.584-585). By this, Creon means that the main difference between his position and the king’s is that of the accompanying action to ruling. In both positions, one is a ruler who holds great power over the state. However, the king is placed in a greater place of accountability to the people. This accountability is what Creon says inspires "fear" in the king, for if affairs of state or of the people fall into decline, the king is the first person whom the citizenry look to blame. This is analogous to executive leaders throughout history, as one can see in looking at American presidents and the correlation between the present conditions and events of the nation to the public’s opinion of the president, regardless of the actual impact that his decisions may have made in these conditions. Creon maintains that he has the same amount of power as the king but without the accountability that inevitably leads a king to distress.
Creon’s reasoning concerning the equality between his power and Oedipus’s leads him to state:
I was not born with such a frantic yearning
to be a king- but to do what kings do.
And so it is with every one who has learned
wisdom and self-control.
He means that he has never desired the position of king, because he sees no advantage over his present position in the state. Rather, he sees the disadvantage of the fear that accompanies the position of king. Creon has evaluated this situation for his circumstances and then goes further in stating that anyone with wisdom and self-control would come to such a conclusion as well. This could be interpreted as an insult to Oedipus in two different ways. Creon could mean that Oedipus and anyone else who desires and assumes the kingship are by nature not people of wisdom and self-control- or he could be saying that the position of the kingship is one that strips an individual of his wisdom and self-control.
In support of the assertion that the kingship changes one’s character, one could point to the events of Antigone and Creon’s striking change in character in the play. In Oedipus the King, Creon reveals himself to be a reasonable ruler, who makes rational decisions and is not quick to anger, as is revealed by his calmness in his responses to Oedipus’s heated accusations. However, in Antigone, Creon has become prideful and irrational. His dealings with Antigone and Teiresias and his stubbornness in the play indicate a change in his character. In fact, his actions, especially in his dealings with Teiresias the prophet, are very similar to Oedipus’s actions in Oedipus the King. Just as Oedipus had done before him, Creon refuses to completely believe Teiresias’s prophecies for the state. Creon also emulates his predecessor’s actions in his accusation of bribery directed towards Teiresias: "Out with it-/ but only if your words are not for gain" (201. 1128-1129). Creon’s words and actions in Antigone indicate that he has taken on the negative characteristics of king that he describes in his speech in Oedipus the King. He has same amount of power as king, but he now seems to have lost his wisdom and self-control. This indicates that perhaps his words to Oedipus are, in fact, mainly an insult to the position of king and to what it evokes from a person’s character rather than an insult solely directed towards Oedipus.
Creon also feels that the king is generally not responsive to the
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Creon, Oedipus, Antigone, Haemon, Tiresias, The Phoenician Women, Sophocles
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