Sophocles’s Antigone of Ancient Greece is a tale for all times. The actions and relationships between characters can be seen in any society. In particular, the leadership and actions taken by Creon in the play can be compared to the leadership traits that Nicolo Machiavelli suggests a leader should follow in his 16th century work The Prince. Machiavelli provides twenty six chapters on how leaders should act in specific scenarios.
Princes and rulers need to maintain a subtle balance between love, fear, hatred, liberalism and meanness, all in addition to keeping possession of a newly obtained rule. Creon has obtained rule of Thebes through unique means. Etocles and Polyneices were to rotate rule between themselves, but since Etocles refused to allow Polyneices his time to rule, the two quarreled with armies, and killed each other, leaving Creon their uncle as the next hereditary male in line for the throne. (Sophocles 2) These deaths are bad ways to commence a rule.
Creon needed to find a means to make the public view of him a positive one as he took leadership. Machiavelli in chapter two claims that the hereditary prince shall be loved more, unless extenuating circumstances cause him to be hated by his mew subjects (7), which is the case with Creon. To improve the image of his city, himself, and what is left of his nephews names, Creon claims Polyneices and the Argos army the enemies of Thebes, and glorified Etocles, giving the polis something to cling onto.
Machiavelli also states that the subjects of a hereditary leader will be more ‘well disposed’ towards him (7), which is not the case with Creon. His mislead actions throughout the play cause him to cry out in the end “what a miserable wretch I am… on whom can I lean? Everything I touch turns against me… ” (Sophocles 58) Creon’s decision making was for the good of the state, but in the end fate backfired on him and caused his people to hate him. Chapter nineteen of The Prince discusses how to ‘avoid hatred and contempt’ as a leader.
For the most part, Creon follows what Machiavelli suggests; he’s not fickle about his burial decisions, he is resolute in his choice to enforce the laws, even when his own niece violates them, and Creon’s judgment is irrevocable and the final word in the matter. He follows these rules for success as a monarch, yet he still fails in his doings. Fate has continued to curse his family name with ill providence and atrocities. Machiavelli warns of having to defend against and suppress conspirators. Antigone, in this case, could be classified as a conspirator.
She was caught in the act, and didn’t have any regrets about burying her brother. Machiavelli says that “The conspirators face nothing but fear, mutual distrust, and the prospect of punishment, so they loose heart” (57). This is the complete opposite for Antigone. She was only strengthened in her resolve to bury Polyneices as Creon continued his punishments for her, and this made her a martyr and backfired on Creon’s leadership. Machiavelli’s ideas failed again for Creon as he loses the love of his family and his people. Creon slowly looses the respect and love of his people and his family during his process of punishing Antigone.
Haemon puts it perfectly when he says that “she is not going to die while I am near her. And you will never, ever see my face again. Go on, be crazy! Perhaps some of your friends will stay by you. ” (34). Machiavelli does say that when it comes between the two, it is better to be feared by your people than loved. But Creon does not follow the idea that “a ruler should make himself feared in such a way that… does not provoke hatred… whenever you have to kill someone, make sure you have a suitable excuse and an obvious reason… ” (Machiavelli 52).
Creon had an obvious reason to dishonor the death of Polyneices and to sentence Antigone to death, but he failed to make his reasons into suitable excuses. He had the polis’ opinion in mind, but did not have an overall good outcome. It seemed he was harsh and mean, rather than just and merciful as he intended. “In modern times nobody has succeeded on a large scale except those who have been thought miserly; the others came to nothing” (Machiavelli 49). He says that in order to save a kingdom, it is better to be mean and feared without hatred than to be generous and get walked upon.
Creon is described as ‘slither into wickedness sometimes’ (Sophocles 16) by the Chorus. He seemed to have the original intent to aid his people, but later on when Antigone rebelled against him, he was irked that a lowly woman would try to question his authority, especially when he just attained power. He becomes crazed in his desire to stop her mini-rebellion against his influence, and it is at this point that his meanness is transformed into a two sided hatred: Creon towards Antigone’s rebellious nature, and his people towards his suppression of a helpless girl trying to honor her family.
When comparing Creon’s leadership flaws to Machiavelli’s ideals for a perfect rule, one can see how some of then work and some of them fail. Part of this is due to Creon’s greed and open desire to have things his way. Through the suppression of Antigone’s burial of her brother Creon creates an image for himself of a cruel leader, which in turns causes his people and family to turn against him and ruin his kingdom. This is in part caused by the Oedipus curse upon his family, which is his fate. But, Creon is hated as well as feared, which is the opposite of what Machiavelli suggests.