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Justice Knows No Such Law

“Antigone” is the last play in the Oedipus trilogy by the ancient Greek writer, Sophocles. In the drama Antigone’s brothers challenge and kill each other in battle at the gates of Thebes, both wishing to be its future ruler. Creon, their uncle, who assumed the throne upon the downfall of their father Oedipus, buries one of the brothers, Eteocles, with full rites for his role in defending Thebes. The other, Polynices, is left unburied, the prey of scavenger birds.

Antigone, who loves both brothers despite their enmity, takes it upon herself to cover the body of Polynices with earth, honoring his memory. In so doing she has defied an order imposed by the state and as a result is confronted by Creon. Her response, made even though she is faced with walled prison, still rings across the centuries:

 

Creon: Now tell me, in as few words as you can,
Did you know the order forbidding such an act?

Antigone: I knew it, naturally. It was plain enough.

Creon: And yet you dared to contravene it?

Antigone: Yes.
That order did not come from God. Justice,
That dwells with the gods below, knows no such law.
I did not think your edicts strong enough
To overrule the unwritten unalterable laws
Of God and heaven, you being only a man.
They are not of yesterday or to-day, but everlasting,
Though where they came from, none of us can tell.
Guilty of their transgression before God
I cannot be, for any man on earth.

The translation I was reading, and from which shared with you above, is by E. F. Watling in a 1974 Penguin Classics paperback edition.

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