When people discuss ideas of good and evil, they are often discussing the difference between divine law and civil law and how it addresses human rights. This has been the case possibly for as long as stories have been told. We can see this is true in some of the very ancient plays such as Antigone by Sophocles.
Antigone stands on the side of good as it is dictated by divine law and argues that civil law is evil because it withholds divine law from enemies of the state. The problem comes up because one of Antigone’s brothers raised an army and marched against the city in order to demand his rightful turn to rule the city from her other brother. When both brothers died in the battle, her Uncle Creon, who took over the leadership, ordered that the brother who brought a force against the city should not be buried but instead scattered by the elements. She tells her sister, “And now what is the proclamation that they tell of made lately by the commander, publicly, / to all the people? Do you know it? Have you heard it? / Don’t you notice when the evils due to enemies / are headed towards those we love?” (Antigone 8-12).
Although Antigone views Creon’s actions as the ultimate evil because he is withholding divine law from Polyneices, Creon sees only evil in Polyneices action of leading men against his own city and the citizens he is supposed to protect. According to Creon, “anyone thinking / another man more a friend than his own country, / I rate him nowhere” (Antigone 200-202). In Creon’s view, a man’s first duty is to show loyalty to his own city and to find peaceful means of settling disputes such as that which existed between Polyneices and Etiocles.
Antigone puts the final question of good and evil to the test when she openly defies Creon’s proclamation withholding burial rites from Polyneices by going out to perform them herself. When she is caught, she tells Creon, “I did not believe / your proclamation had such power to enable / one who will someday die to override / God’s ordinances, unwritten and secure. / They are not of today and yesterday; / they live forever, none knows when first they were” (Antigone 496-501). By following the law, Creon is forced to have Antigone entombed alive. Finally understanding that it is evil to allow civil law to overcome divine law, Creon rushes to the tomb to save Antigone, but it is too late, she has already killed herself.
- Sophocles. Antigone. The Norton Introduction to Literature. 10th Ed. Alison Booth & Kelly Mays (Eds.). New York: W,W. Norton, 2010: 1423-1454. Print.