Democracy’s Humility: A Reading of Sophocles’ Antigone

in Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought
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Abstract

Hegelian readings of Antigone would have us believe that Creon and Antigone are both heroes and villains at once. In this essay, I argue that Creon is in fact the villain of the piece, and a paradigmatic tyrant. Far from representing democratic rationalism, Creon is in fact the antitype of the epistemic humility that was one of the foundational ideals of Athenian democracy. As the Ode to Man and Protagoras’ Great Speech in Plato’s dialogue both suggest, human expertise ultimately reaches its limits in the sphere of ethics, an area overseen by the gods. For both Protagoras and Sophocles, in my reconstruction, democratic and religious practices are not an arrogant attempt to deny this fact, but a way of humbly accepting it. Through the humbling of Creon and the piety and reasonableness of Teiresias, Haimon, and even the Guard, Antigone illustrates an essential characteristic of democracy: its humility.

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