The play Antigone by Sophocles, despite written around the year 441 BC, still is able to tackle multiple global issues that are present even today. One of these issues is the conflict of authority between the younger and the elderly. Older people, with their vast experience, learnt from living their lifetime, prefer to think that they should be the ones in power with the voice which matters because they are able to make decisions consequences of which they will be able to predict, and that makes perfect sense, as people with more experience will be more cautious and will be able to make better decisions. This tradition comes way back from the prehistoric days of the tribes, and so our society is built around this concept. The younger people, however, due to their irrational, immature mind prefer to think that they “know everything better,” and that they are making wrong decisions, and that makes perfect sense as well. Younger people are reluctant to follow orders under authority, they feel rebellious and think that the world needs a new perspective on things, and perhaps they are correct – the elderly sometimes miss things which need revisiting, or prefer not to touch the sensitive subjects. An example of this is the climate change movement which has recently been more active. The younger generation has been taking more action, both in form of protesting and discussions with the elderly. So, perhaps, both sides are needed to be able to achieve a result, however, the conflict of authority is eternal and unlikely to go away.
In the play, the issue is best seen in the interaction, not between Antigone, Ismene, and Creon, but between Creon and his son, Haemon, which also slightly shifts the issue into the “sons and fathers” area. Firstly, Haemon gives his father respect and tries to give a suggestion, but meets older’s pride. Creon expects his son to be obedient, to put him higher than Haemon’s bride – Antigone, who is about to be killed. And so he does, at least for now:
“Father, I’m your son… you in your wisdom set my bearing for me – I obey you. No marriage could ever mean more to me than you, whatever good direction you may offer.”
(Haemon, 709-712, 93)
As a good son, loyal to his father and the King, Haemon obeys and follows the orders. However, when it comes to Creon’s decision on killing Antigone, Haemon, as a younger member of the society and Antigone’s lover, sees a problem with this, and tries to respectfully offer a suggestion:
“Of course it’s not for you, in the normal run of things, to watch whatever men say or do, or find to criticize. The man in the street, you know, dreads your glance, he’s never say anything displeasing to your face. But it’s for me to catch the murmurs in the dark, the way the city mourns for this young girl. ‘No woman,’ they say, ‘ever deserved death less, and such a brutal death for such a glorious action.’” (Haemon, 768-779, 95)
Haemon uses his position as the King’s son to offer an alternative point of view, because he knows Creon will not execute him, acting as the city’s voice. And he once again tries to keep Creon calm, to not be “single-minded, self-involved, or assume the world is wrong and [he] is right.” (Haemon, 789-790, 95). This shows how the younger son recognizes the authority of his father and tries to be respectful, not to cause conflict, perhaps knowing about his father’s fragile pride. The chorus’ leader acts as a 3rd viewer, who agrees with both sides, saying that “both are talking sense.” (811, 96). Creon, however, is dissatisfied:
“So, men our age, we’re to be lectured, are we?- schooled by a boy his age?” (Creon, 813-814, 96).
Creon feels like his son is rebelling against him a child is trying to teach him, a grown, experienced man with wisdom. He only cares about Haemon’s age, not what he is trying to say. This shows how the elderly sometimes are blind to the fresh perspective of the younger, just because of their age. So, the younger one tries to offer a suggestion, but the elderly dismisses it and is offended by it, has his pride hurt.
Later in the play, we see that this ends up in a terrible fate – when Creon recognizes his mistake he rushes to give a proper burial to Polynices and to free Antigone from imprisonment, but he is too late – she is already dead. Then, we can see the opposite side of the issue. Haemon, clearly in grief caused by his bride’s death, tries to kill, or perhaps scare away his father with his sword, and then stabs himself to death.
“’…Come out my, son! I beg you on my knees!’ But the boy gave him a wild burning glance, spat in his face, not a word in reply, he drew his sword – his father rushed out, running as Haemon lunged and missed!” (Messenger, 1357-1361, 122)
While we could say that Haemon did this out of rage, grief about Antigone, and we would be right, it still shows how young and emotional Haemon acts completely irrational, following not his mind, but his heart, or rather hormones. This contrasts with the way he talked with his father, trying to convince him not to kill his bride. Then, we can say that this shows the opposite side of the conflict of authority between younger and elderly – the younger ones are still emotional and irrational and can make wrong decisions.
Overall, the play Antigone shows both sides of the global issue of the conflict of authority between the younger and the elderly, mentioning both the fragile pride of the more experienced elderly who sometimes cannot comprehend the alternate opinion coming from a younger, less experienced one, and the immaturity and irrationality of a younger mind when the two do not get together, and some catastrophic consequences it can lead to.