Oedipus and Creon

How much does Creon and Oedipus’s styles of ruling differ, and range in eventual conclusions to problems that arise?

Oedipus and Creon appear immediately to be two very different leaders in the plays Oedipus Rex and Antigone. This essay will explore the similarities and differences between both Oedipus and Creon, in terms of how they respond to the problems and issues arising during their tenure as king of Thebes, how these responses affects the public perception of each ruler and how leaders’ approach to dealing with their problems, influences and directs the ultimate outcome.

Oedipus and Creon are very different rulers and therefore their subjects have two very different views of them. First of all Oedipus became king by answering correctly the sphinx’s riddle, freeing Thebes. This would have made Oedipus appear heroic, for had he been wrong he would have died. Oedipus’s supreme intelligence was required to answer a riddle nobody else could, showing Oedipus as the ideal king.

This is very different to what Creon, king at the time does which was to set a reward for defeating the sphinx and wait for someone to do it for him. This may have given the impression of cowardice, however it would also shows him as noble enough to surrender his crown to save Thebes in a time of desperation. This also shows the concern Creon holds for his people.

Oedipus would have seemed to be very open and honest. In the play Creon has a prophecy, he suggests that Oedipus hears it inside away from the public, but Oedipus replies “Speak out, speak to us all. I grieve for these, my people, far more than i fear for my own life.”[1] Causing him to appear as though he has nothing to hide, whereas in actual fact this is far from the truth. In contrast to this, Creon is very much the politician, preferring to do things behind the scene as not to give the public any information that may cause them to see the royal family in an anything but perfect light.

Oedipus appears to be very powerful and knowledgeable, almost godlike. In the play Oedipus states “You pray to the gods? Let me grant your prayers. Come listen to me-do what the plague demands: you’ll find relief and lift your head from the depths.”[2] This comment seems arrogant and egotistical, however at this point in the play the people of Thebes need someone to solve their problems, so this speech makes Oedipus appear to be everything that Thebes needs. However if this speech was heard later in the play when he isles of a sound figurehead, then they may have perceived this speech differently.

Creon became king as he was the last male in the royal line, and so is perceived to be the man that stepped up to his responsibilities. The man that cleaned up the mess left to him by Etocles and polynices. The Chorus states in the introduction “But when he wakes up, the problems are there to be solved; and like the conscientious workman, he does his job.”[3] Showing that he works hard and does what is necessary. To clean this mess Creon even refuses to give one of his nephews a funeral, giving the people of Thebes the impression that he is very serious. This is also the impression that is held of Oedipus, a trait they share.

Later in the play we see Creon as a force to be recond with as when Creon finds that his own niece and future daughter, Antigone, was the one that disobeyed him, he still has her put to death.This shows the people of Thebes that it doesn’t matter to Creon who has done wrong, they will be punished. Showing that their king is a man not to be crossed, Whereas Oedipus is seen as someone not to be crossed for a different reason. Oedipus shouts and makes threats that he doesn’t follow through, which is a contrast with Creon. Making Creon seem even more dangerous.

As kings, Oedipus and Creon face many problems. They both solve these problems but in different ways, Oedipus solves the smaller problems such as Tireseas not telling him everything he knows by calling him names, shouting and demanding, as you see when he says “Nothing! You, you scum of the earth you’d enrage a heart of stone! You wont talk? Nothing moves you? Out with it once and for all!”[4] This shows that Oedipus can be petty and stubborn, the opposite of the impression given by Creon.

The small issues Creon faces are more significant than those of Oedipus. However he handles them as everyday problems, for example when Polynices’ body is covered Creon comes to the conclusion that; “You will uncover the body. If another attempt is made to bury it, i shall expect you make an arrest and bring the person straight to me. And you will keep your mouths shut.”[5] This shows that to Creon the best way to solve a problem is to conceal it, revealing him to be the true politician. This is not however always a bad trait, for example when Oedipus found out that he had married his mother and killed his father he made no effort to keep this from the people of Thebes, through doing this Oedipus put doubt into the people’s minds of their ability to rule, it humanised them. If Oedipus had a political mind, as Creon does then this could have been avoided.

On more serious issues both step up to their responsibilities as kings are expected to do. The ways in which they do this may at first seem very different but are actually quite similar. Oedipus’s main issue is that he married his mother and killed his father and so is the reason for the curse upon Thebes. Earlier in the play Oedipus proclaims that the penalty for murdering king Laius would be exile and that the people of Thebes were to; “never shelter him, never speak a word to him, never make him a partner in your prayers, your victims burned to the gods.”[6] When he discovers the truth he sentences himself to exile. This shoes Oedipus to be a very dignified and righteous ruler.

The main issue faced by Creon is that he finds Antigone, his niece and future daughter guilty of defying him and burying her brother. He tries to conceal it however when Antigone refuses to comply he punishes her in the same way he would a stranger, as this is the example needed to be set for the people of Thebes, showing in both cases that when it is needed both Oedipus and Creon follow through on their words. This shows a similarity between the two rulers, they both take responsibility a required trait in a good king, proving that both had the potential to be great.

In conclusion Oedipus would have been perceived as the honest hero, someone to be looked up to, whereas Creon would have been seen as serious, the dangerous politician, but a good king that did what was necessary. On smaller issues Oedipus gets petty and angry like the emotional and stubborn king that he is, and Creon solves them by sweeping them under the rug like the logical politician he is. This shows two different styles of ruling, one using fear and logic, and the other using the love and adoration held for him. Both effective and both flawed. These flaws in both cases lead to losing something great, as well as adding to the existing problems of Thebes.

[1] Sophocles, The Three Theben plays: Antigone, Oedipus the king, Oedipus at Colonus, trans. By Robert Fagles (London: Penguin, 1984), p. 163.

[2] Sophocles, The Three Theben plays: Antigone, Oedipus the king, Oedipus at Colonus, trans. By Robert Fagles (London: Penguin, 1984), p. 171.

[3] Anouilh, Jean, Antigone (London: Methuen, 2000), p. 11.

[4] Sophocles, The Three Theben plays: Antigone, Oedipus the king, Oedipus at Colonus, trans. By Robert Fagles (London: Penguin, 1984), p. 178.

[5] Anouilh, Jean, Antigone (London: Methuen, 2000), p. 33.

[6] Sophocles, The Three Theben plays: Antigone, Oedipus the king, Oedipus at Colonus, trans. By Robert Fagles (London: Penguin, 1984), p. 172.

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