A True Servant of the State. A Simple and Straightforward Man; the Bringer of a Message from the Oracle
If Teiresias, with his prophetic powers, may be described as the true servant of the gods then Creon, the brother of Queen Jocasta, may be regarded as the true servant of the State. We meet Creon quite early in the play, in fact in the prologue itself. He returns from Delphi whither he had been sent by Oedipus to seek the oracle’s guidance. He has brought what he considers to be good news, the news that may lead to good results if all goes well. This news is most crucial for the people of Thebes and also from the point of view of this play.The news is, indeed, the starting point of the investigation which occupies the major part of the play. The news is that the murderer of King Laius lives on the soil of Thebes and must be killed or banished if the people are to expect any relief in the vast suffering which they are undergoing. As Oedipus knows nothing about the history of King Laius, he questions Creon with regard to Laius’s death, and Creon gives a simple, straightforward account of the circumstances of Laius’s death as known to him, though his knowledge is not first-hand, having been obtained from the survivor of the small group of persons attending upon Laius. At this stage we do not have enough data to form a proper estimate of the character of Creon. Judging by appearances only, he is a well-meaning sort of person, free from any trickery or deceit.
Creons’s Able Reasoning: His Defence of Himself
We next meet Creon after Oedipus has had a quarrel with Teiresias in the course of which Oedipus has expressed his suspicion that Creon has, in collaboration with Teiresias, hatched a conspiracy against him. Having come to know what Oedipus has said about him, Creon arrives and has a brief talk with the member of the Chorus. He says that Oedipus has brought a slanderous charge against him which he finds hard to endure. Creon seems to have been stunned by the charge. He says that he would rather die than be guilty of doing any harm to Oedipus either by word or by act. The Chorus tries to soothe him by saying that Oedipus spoke the offensive words in a fit of anger. On being asked by Creon whether Oedipus had alleged that Teiresias had been instigated by Creon, the Chorus confirms what Creon has heard. At this point Oedipus appears and directly accuses Creon of treason. Creon would like to explain his position, but Oedipus hardly lets him speak. However, Creon does get an opportunity to speak in his self-defence, and the speech he makes shows his powers of reasoning and persuasive talk, though his eloquence falls flat on Oedipus. Creon argues that he would be the last man to desire Oedipus’s throne and that the question of his plotting against Oedipus’s life does not, therefore, arise. He is leading a quiet and carefree life, he says, and he is at the same time wielding a lot of influence in the city by virtue of his close relationship with Oedipus. As a moderate man, he desires nothing more. Kingship would not please him more than his present status does. He is not so foolish as to seek more honours than are good for him. As for his sincerity and truthfulness, Oedipus can himself go to Delphi and verify if the message brought by Creon was genuine or not. If he is found guilty of any secret agreement with Teiresias, he would be ready to forfeit his life. But he would not tolerate a charge of treason against him on mere suspicion. Oedipus has committed a blunder by bringing a baseless charge against a loyal man, Creon says. By discarding an honest friend like Creon, Oedipus would be losing a precious treasure. Time alone will teach Oedipus the truth of this observation. While the Chorus supports Creon in what he has said, Oedipus rejects Creon’s plea and says that he will punish Creon’s treason with death. The speech that Creon makes in his self-defence shows his transparent honesty and loyalty even though Oedipus is at this time blinded by his prejudice.
A Man who Speaks on the Basis of Sure Knowledge
Two other remarks which Creon makes in the course of this interview with Oedipus are important: he does not presume to say more than he actually knows; and what he knows he will freely confess. The first observation shows that Creon does not indulge in idle conjectures or speculation, while the second remark shows that he will not hide what he knows. Both these traits of his character raise him in our estimation.
Jocasta’s Faith in Him, and the Faith of the Chorus
Creon enjoys the full confidence of his sister, Jocasta. As soon as she learns about the quarrel between Oedipus and Creon she scolds both men. When Creon complains that Oedipus has unjustly sentenced him to death or, a charge of treason, and swears that he has always been loyal to Oedipus, Jocasta pleads to her husband on Creon’s behalf asking the King to believe Creon’s oath. The Chorus supports Jocasta’s petition, pointing out that Creon has never in the past played false to Oedipus. At the entreaties of Jocasta and the Chorus, Oedipus certainly withdraws the sentence of death against Creon, but does not cease to suspect him of treason. All our sympathy in this scene is with Creon, and we deplore Oedipus’s hasty judgment in condemning an innocent and tried man on the basis of a mere suspicion.
His Consideration for and Kindness to the Blind Oedipus; His Piety and Faith in the Oracles
In the final scene, again, Creon gives a good account of himself and reinforces the favourable impression which we have already formed of him. He tells Oedipus, who is now blind, that he has not come to exult at Oedipus’s downfall or to reproach Oedipus for his past misdeeds, though at the same time he would not like the unclean Oedipus to remain outside the palace in the full light of the day. A sinner like Oedipus must not expose himself to public view, says Creon. Out of consideration for the paternal feelings of Oedipus, Creon has already sent for Oedipus’s daughters so that he may be able to draw some comfort from their company. Creon’s kindliness and consideration towards the man, who had unjustly accused him of treason and had almost taken his life, further raise him in our regard. Creon is now the King and wields all the authority of a King. But Kingship does not turn his head. His religious piety has not diminished one whit. He believed in prophecies before and he believes in them now; his reverence for the oracle suffers no decline. And he repeats what he had previously said, “I do not speak beyond my knowledge.” Creon’s character may be summed up in these words: self-restraint, self-control, moderation, avoidance of excess of all kinds, and speaking from sure knowledge only.