Physis vs. Nomos in Sophocles' Antigone Essay

Words: 1474
Pages: 6

Known today as the "Nature versus Nurture" debate, the question of human social conduct and character development has remained a topic of interest for many philosophical discussions. Centered around the natural and socially constructed, ancient Greeks referred to this debate as physis versus nomos – is individual behavior a primary product of custom and convention or absolute natural fact? Greek mythology addresses this dichotomy of mankind through scenarios of interaction between man and the supernatural. The juxtaposition and/or separation of physis and nomos in this way is found in many myths, an overt strategy that is used to convey Greek ideas of inherent moral responsibility. Sophocles addresses the question of physis versus …show more content…
Confident her actions are orderly, Antigone advises Ismene to "guide thine own fate aright,"1 as it is she who is in need of counsel and discourse, but even when Ismene chooses to take partial blame for the burial of Polyneices, Antigone refuses to accept her sudden change of heart as worthy of the burial's due glorification – having a guilty conscience is not the same as acting out of nobility and justice. Creon's desire to exert and establish authority in his new land, however, provides a stronger and more consistent argument for the prevalence of nomos over physis. When the Chorus suggests Polyneices' burial may be the work of the gods, Creon erupts angrily, arguing the gods would never honor a traitor like Polyneices. In fact, any mention of divine interference in stately matters greatly frustrates the king, causing him to act tyrannically. The initial ideas he voiced to the Chorus about loyalty and nationalism are taken to an extreme when he threatens to hang the disobedient. His inability to remain collected when challenged reveals the proud and egotistical aspects of his nomos viewpoint; in trying to create and maintain the superiority of human law, more so his law, over natural law, he has a hard time incorporating moral reasoning and thought into his decisions. When Antigone and Creon finally go head to head in their argument of physis versus nomos, Creon struggles to separate personal feelings against Antigone from fair jurisdiction. Her defiance