Techniques of Argument in “Antigone”: Analyzing and Interpreting the Argument Between Haemon and Creon

Techniques of Argument in “Antigone”: Analyzing and Interpreting the Argument Between Haemon and Creon

The idea of argumentative dispute is an invention of ancient Greeks who paid enormous attention to the art of reasoning, argumentation and rhetoric - Techniques of Argument in “Antigone”: Analyzing and Interpreting the Argument Between Haemon and Creon introduction. No wonder that Greek playwrights used to make their heroes argue of some matter and made an ethic conclusion based on their arguments and the outcome. In this paper I will analyze a fragment of Sophocles’s “Antigone” namely the dispute between Haemon and Creon that took place after Creon sentenced Antigone to death. I will attempt to demonstrate that their dispute is as itself futile, because they are critically unable not only to listen to the arguments of each other, but even to notice that they argue on different subjects. As a result they dispute with their the idea of an opponent that they have imagined but not with the opponent himself. To prove that I will refer to Sophocles’s text as a primary source and review it in the light of a theoretical framework explained by James L. Kastely in his “From Formalism to Inquiry: a Model of Argument in Antigone”, which is going to be my secondary source.

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Kastely observes that one should distinguish formal argument and actual argument. The formal argument is something that is said. The actual argument is the reason for saying that[1]. What Creon formally says is that the law must have its way and that Antigone has to be punished for disobedience. He further refers to the common good of the people as justification explaining that “what keeps their lives secure in almost every case is their obedience”[2]. However, Haemon does not in fact dispute the necessity of obeying the laws and common good which Creon advocates. He does not even openly attempt to save Antigone and seems to recognize his father’s will. Haemon rather refers to the different understanding of wise laws, which should not be considered as formal rules, but rather as a measure of wisdom.

It appears from the scene that neither Haemon nor Creon have been originally interested in the dispute. Creon believed that his son would accept the sentence without complaint as it is due to a good son and Haemon in fact does making his father pleased at the beginning of the dialogue. The dispute arises gradually from Creon’s words “father, I am all yours” to his charge of Creon’s insanity. In turn Creon seems to represent justice at the beginning becoming angry in his stubborn whim at the end. They are both unwilling to hear the arguments of each other leading them to a verbal duel.

As Kastley notes, for Creon the matter at stake is not legal order, but his own power and control over the city[3]. He proceeds from dogmatic approach that a formal rule has to be observed by everyone and no personal relation and no motif can serve as justification for violation. As he puts it, “If I foster any lack of full respect in my own family, I surely do the same with those who are not linked to me by blood. The man who acts well with his household will be found a just man in the city”[4]. Yet he further links the law as itself with his own idea of law equating himself to justice. He notes that the city is not likely to teach him how to rule asking “Am I to rule this land at someone else’s whim or by myself”[5]. At that it does not enter his mind that a ruler should not follow his own whim as well.

Haemon seems to be more flexible, yet this is nothing but appearance as he has probably inherited tenacity from his father. He reveals his actual motif for claiming justice at the end when saying “no, no, she will never die beside me – don’t delude yourself. And you will never see me, never set eyes on my face again”[6]. The difference between Haemon and Creon is that Haemon is unable to support his claim by his authority as a ruler, and so he has to demonstrate the validity of his claim by readiness to die for it.

Both opponents in this dispute feel that their personal authority is not enough to support their arguments. So they both appeal to the outside authority. Creon speaks of Zeus to whom Antigone should appeal after he dies and than refers to his authority as a father and his authority as a ruler and than directly refers to gods who, to his opinion, would settle the dispute in his favor: “then, by Olympus, I’ll have you know you’ll be sorry for demeaning me          with all these insults”[7]. Haemon in turn refers to the authority of the community. Here we can once again observe that there are at least two layers in their discussion. Haemon fist says “Your gaze makes citizens afraid—they can’t say anything you would not like to hear.          But in the darkness I can hear them talk— the city is upset about the girl”[8]. Here he disputes both the particular sentence and Creon’s manner of ruling which makes people oppressed. He than directly disputes Creon’s authoritarianism and advices his father to listen to the voice of his people when he notices that “A city which belongs to just one man is no true city… By yourself you’d make an excellent king but in a desert.”[9]. For Haemon there is a mistake of being unjust. But for Creon such question statement is an attempt to undermine his personal rule.

Being unable to settle their dispute both Haemon and Creon use insults and threats as counterarguments. Haemon claims his father injustice and insanity hinting that “her death will kill another”[10], while Creon abuses his son calling him “empty” and “mindless” and eventually threatening to kill Antigone before his eyes. This marks a dead end in their dispute an imminence of a tragic outcome. At that quite interesting is the position of the chorus which simultaneously represents the opinion of gods, people and the author himself. The chorus first finds that the words of both are perfect and wise, yet thereafter the chorus leader attempts to calm the situation down noting that Haemon’s words hurt Creon’s feelings about Haemon and this makes Creon’s heart harden. There are just few remarks of the chorus in the scene but both its words and its silence demonstrates that there is little wisdom in the discussion that out of dispute about justice turned into a family quarrel. Haemon desperately attempts to save his bride while Creon becomes concerned of his control not over the city, but over his own son.

Kastely observed that “to be closed to the words and feelings of the others is to place oneself beyond argument and to be outside argument is to abandon one’s humanity”[11].  The dialogue between Haemon and Creon exemplifies that. The opponents are so mush closed in their worlds that they are unable even to imagine that there can be a different world and a different idea of the world. The discussion runs high because they are unable to imagine a situation in which they would think as their opponent does causing them to fiercly claim each other’s insanity.

Works cited:

1.                            Sophocles; Fagles, Robert; Knox, Walker. The three Theban plays. Penguin Classics, 1984;

2.                            Kastely, James L. “From Formalism to Inquiry: a Model of Argument in Antigone”. College English, vol. 62, No 2, Nov. 1999.

[1] Kastely, James L. “From Formalism to Inquiry: a Model of Argument in Antigone”. College English, vol. 62, No 2, Nov. 1999. p. 222
[2] Sophocles; Fagles, Robert; Knox, Walker. The three Theban plays. Penguin Classics, 1984. p. 95
[3] Kastely, 231
[4] Sophocles; Fagles, Robert; Knox, Walker. p. 96
[5] Sophocles; Fagles, Robert; Knox, Walker. p. 97
[6] Sophocles; Fagles, Robert; Knox, Walker. p. 99
[7] Sophocles; Fagles, Robert; Knox, Walker. p. 98
[8] Sophocles; Fagles, Robert; Knox, Walker. p. 97
[9] Sophocles; Fagles, Robert; Knox, Walker. p. 97
[10] Sophocles; Fagles, Robert; Knox, Walker. p. 99
[11] Kaslely. p. 229.

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