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Creon and His Shadows

Even though he had been shown truth, Creon chose to remain in the cave with the

shadows rather than risk his reputation. Plato in his Allegory of the Cave asks the question:

Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are

now shown to him? Creon is expected to be trapped in the cave at the plays beginning, but

even as he receives enlightenment throughout the play he clings to the shadows which he

formerly saw. In Creons case, the shadow he clung to until the bitter end was that he was in the

right. The driving force behind his clinging to this shadow was the fear of losing his reputation

as king. In his first few lines of dialogue, Creon sets himself up as a just king who considers the

state before his personal allegiances, the principles by which [he governs]. (Sophocles 350)

Therefore, considering this principle of country before friends, Creon sets aside his personal

allegiance to his nephew and makes his decree based on what he feels is best for the state.

However, Creon is not a man of this principle as he claims to be, for in later lines of the play, he

refuses to concede the possibility he might have been wrong in his decree even though three

separate people give him sound reason to doubt that his decision was best for the state.

Throughout the play, three people challenge Creons decision with their own truths, truths that

Creon rather poorly attempts to refute, and through his refutation of these truths, Creon chooses

the the shadows which he formerly saw over the objects which are now shown to him.

Antigone gives the first of these truths when she tells Creon: I never thought your mortal

edicts had such force they nullified the laws of heaven . . . . (Sophocles 358) Creons refusal to

give Polyneices a proper burial was in direct opposition to an edict of heaven. In choosing to

uphold this law over Creons law, Antigone sentences herself to death. Creon responds to

Antigones truth with a dismissal based solely on that she is a woman. Creons response

indicates that he believes truth is only relevant if given by a man. Although Creons thinking

was common for that time period, this truth is the truth that ultimately leads to Creons self-

destruction. In his outright mocking of Antigones truth based on the truth-bearer, he set himself

up for failure. Since Creon could not imagine that he might be wrong and a woman right, he

further latched onto his shadow as he evaded Antigones truth.

Haman gives the second of these truths to Creon less as a challenge and more as a plea

when he humbly suggests that Creon reconsider his reasoning. Haman had heard the grumbling

of the people, who agreed with Antigone. Creon now contradicts his earlier claim that his

actions had been for the state when he declares: The state is his who rules it. Is that plain?

(Sophocles 367) C.G. Thomas in his article Sophocles, Pericles and Creon, suggests that

Creon is a ruler who came to identify the state with himself. (120) Since he had claimed

himself to be a man of principles early on in the play, Creons change of heart appears out of

character. Although his principles might be dear to him, Creon was more afraid of losing his

reputation by admitting he might be wrong than he was of abandoning his principle. For a second

time, when presented with truth, Creon refuses to admit he might have been wrong by declaring

that he himself is the final authority of Thebes and chooses instead to allow his shadow to

consume his principle.

Tiresias gives the last of these truths with the authority of the gods when he declares: To

err is human, true, and only he is damned who having sinned will not repent, will not repair.

(Sophocles 376) Creon cannot dismiss the prophet as easily as he did Antigone and Haman, for

Tiresias speaks with the authority of old age and of the gods. Instead, Creon resorts to threats.

With his violent reaction to Tiresiass truth, Creon shows that the truth is starting to dissipate his

shadow. Even as his shadow is evaporating, Creon still clings to the final shred of the shadow

that he is in the right. Now even though he can no longer deny the truth, for he had been

presented with it in a way he cannot refute, Creon chooses to threaten the representative of the

gods rather than admit that he might have been wrong.

Creon is an example of a man who so fears losing face that he would rather violate all of

his principles than risk his reputation. However, although Creons fear might have been the

driving force behind his actions, ultimately his tragic end happened because of his refusal of the

truth. Plato understood human nature when he wrote his allegory of the cave, for he knew that

men would rather cling to shadows than face truth. If Creon had let go of what he knew, he

would have come to a truth that would have set him free from the burden of being a king who

could do no wrong. When man sets himself up as infallible, he is setting up his destruction.

Even though the end of the play appears to indicate that Creon had accepted truth, Creon did not

admit he was wrong until he was presented with something he feared more than losing his

reputation: the prophecy that Tiresias declared. Creons driving force of the entire play was his

fear, whether he feared losing face or losing everything. The end leaves him a broken man with

nothing left for which to live. After an entire play of refusing to consider the truth, Creon is left

with no shadow and a tragic truth.


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Works Cited

Plato. Plato: The Allegory of the Cave, from The Republic. Reading About the World, Volume

1. Ed. Paul Brians, et. al. Washington State University: Harcourt Brace, 1999. Print.

Sophocles. Sophocles: The Complete Plays. Trans. Paul Sophocles. New York: Signet Classics,

2001. Print.

Thomas, C. G. Sophocles, Pericles and Creon. The Classical World. 69.2 (1975): 120-22.

JSTOR. Web. 22 Sep. 2015.