Sophocles' Antigone revolves around the issue of how justice is defined and carried out. Both main characters, Creon and Antigone, claim to have the law and Gods on their sides. Each side presents their case with adequate evidence that their reasoning is the absolute truth and that their version of carrying out justice is correct. Creon believes that his power of being king will justify his action of leaving Polynices unburied, while Antigone leans more towards tradition of burial for her form of justice.
However, it is their inability to come to a compromise over the absolute definition of justice, in addition to the lack of a solid and unambiguous explanation of the word, which leads their conflict to escalate to drastic heights. The Oxford English Dictionary defines justice as the ability to be righteous, fair and truthful when dealing with a certain situation. In Sophocles' Antigone this definition of justice is partially applied to both Creon and Antigone's state of affairs.
On the one side, Creon gives his outlook on justice through his action of leaving the dead body of Polynices unburied. He believes that justice will be served in this manner to the so-called traitor for fighting against his city. However, on the opposing side is Antigone who believes justice will be served in another mode. Through a defiant act towards Creon, she buries her brother, Polynices, putting her idea of justice into play.
Although it can be said that both characters have a generally fair idea of justice towards the situation at hand, the fact that their ideas do not agree is what causes the crisis; the argument is over who's definition of "justice" is more correct. Creon, the ruler of Thebes, put forth his edict that Polynices was to remain unburied since he fought against the city of Thebes. In this, he invokes the power of the Gods, saying that he is correct in his action to put forth the edict since to properly bury a traitor would bring shame to the city and his reputation as a ruler.
The chorus is quick to chime in on this act by stating, "When he weaves in the laws of the land, and the justice of the gods that binds oaths together he and his city rise high," (|| 409-412). However, in reality, Creon is simply using the gods to place his law above the divine law in order to make his actions seem just. Although Polynices was his nephew, Creon is boldly steadfast in his edict for the reason that he must rule fairly over his city and show that he is not biased.
His idea of justice is to rule with a level head through the laws of the gods and though laws of the land. Creon's main goal is to be an example to his people and lead them truthfully is which is why he must place the law into effect. He is even willing to put his niece to death for her actions against him in order to prove his steadfastness to the law of the land and gods. Thus, with his form of justice and power as a ruler, he leaves the traitor's body uncovered and uncared for as an example for those who might choose to challenge him.
When juxtaposed to the definition of the Oxford English Dictionary, Creon's idea of justice does seem to be fulfilling its duty. He is acting in what seems to be an appropriate and fair manner as a ruler of a city. However, morally, he is treating the situation unfairly by severely punishing Antigone for what normally would be properly accepted. As a blood sister of Polynices, Antigone feels that it is her duty to him and her family honor to bury Polynices properly.
Doing as Creon did, she invokes the power of the gods upon her side and chooses indisputably to defy Creon's edict. As part of tradition and or respect for the deceased as well as her idea of justice, Antigone buries her brother. Her conviction is that to be just is to give her brothers proper burials even if it does mean that she must go against the manmade law of Creon. She states that "[she did not] think that [Creon's] edict had such force that [he], a mere mortal, could override the gods," (|| 503-505) and her belief is apparent through her rebellious actions.
However, her idea of justice conflicts with Creon's so much so that he is willing to put Antigone to her death. Though Antigone goes willingly to her demise, it is obvious that her dedication to her adaptation of justice is just as strong as Creon's. Antigone's definition, like Creon's, does match up to that of the dictionary's definition. She acts fairly and justly when faced with a certain situation, but, she is only acting justly through a moral viewpoint.
Although, her actions, when examined from a strictly law based point of view, would show that she indeed did break the law and therefore should receive some consequence for her actions, her idea of justice and mindset were in a righteous state. As can be seen the issue of the definition of justice can never be truly resolved. The word has multiple meanings and it changes according to various individuals. The definitions used by Creon and Antigone are similar to each other; it is their points of view that make those definitions clash.
Even in that context, the situation the word is being used in must be taken into consideration. Creon inferred justice to what he saw fit as a leader of a city, but Antigone used a similar definition to act in a fair and moral manner. To be fair, righteous and truthful when given a difficult situation takes more than just those words to truly handle the situation in a just style. Although each of the character's definitions of justice and the dictionary's definition held some truth, no one definition will ever suffice for the word and issue of dealing with justice.