As is the case with Socrates, the reader is not given a dual view of character in terms of motivations, beliefs, or adherence to those beliefs. In fact, from the earliest moments of Sophocles’ play, Antigone demonstrates that she is a rational woman who is acting out of what she believes to be her best judgment and good faith. Although she is a consistent character, there are key moments in the play when her steadfastness is exceptionally clear. For example, her level-headedness is observed in her exchange with Ismene. Antigone informs her sister that one of their dead brothers will not be given the traditional ceremonial burial that is so central to their society’s beliefs. Antigone explains the circumstances of the situation to her sister, demonstrating emotion that is congruent with the event. Knowing that it will be difficult to inter her brother and perform the traditional ceremony on her own, Antigone asks her sister whether she will help bury their brother, even though doing so violates King Creon’s mandates and thus the most powerful mandate that exists. Ismene refuses, however, because she lacks Antigone’s courage and conviction and realizes that going against the wishes of the King will certainly bring death or severe punishment. Unlike Antigone, who is fearless in the face of these threats her perceives, Ismene does not want to violate the law and bring more shame upon their family. The thoughtful reader understands that the law imposed by Creon is entirely arbitrary and personal, serving no greater social ends, and sympathizes easily with both characters. It can be reasonably assumed that many readers understand both perspectives but if placed in such a situation, they might be more inclined to be like Ismene as opposed to her more determined and defiant sister. Despite this potential cause for understanding, it nonetheless becomes evident to the reader that there is no real reason why the law he has imposed should be enacted or enforced; Antigone is just in her actions.

In addition to her steadfastness and loyalty to her ideals that are exhibited throughout the play, there are a number of specific examples that offer more insight about her status as a model citizen. The argument for Antigone being viewed as a model citizen seems to be supported by the fact that when she is brought before the guards, Antigone arrives in a cloud of dust, as if descended from Heaven. Creon demands that Antigone confess, she does so, not out of fear, but out of boldness and the sure sense that she must defend her convictions at all costs. She is calm and direct, saying “No, I do not deny it. I admit it” (16). It is clear in this section that as the central figure of masculinity and political/social domination, Creon is completely unnerved by her ready admission, and accuses her of arrogance, but Antigone calmly contests this charge as well. She replies, “It was not Zeus who published this decree,/Nor have the Powers who rule among the dead/Imposed such laws as this upon mankind;/Nor could I think that a decree of yours—A man–could override the laws of Heaven* /Unwritten and unchanging” (17). Antigone has not finished delivering her lesson, though. She continues by explaining her reason for acting as she did, conveying the lesson about model citizenship to the reader: “Not of today Or yesterday is their authority; They are/eternal; no man saw their birth. Was I to stand before the gods’ tribunal For/disobeying them, because I feared/A man?” (17).

Antigone’s argument is persuasive to the reader, if not to Creon, because it is clear, concise, and controlled. She is not impetuous; she knows what she is going and she is convinced of her rightness. She is willing to be sacrificed as an example if it means that others will be allowed to live by their convictions, too. Antigone accepts her punishment, and does not resist or fight it because she recognizes it is a consequence of conviction. If dying is the only way that society can begin to become just, then she is willing, like Socrates, to make that sacrifice. Like her Greek predecessor, she uses rhetorical questions to call her fellow citizens to task and to make them question the nature of rule. Interestingly, throughout the play, even the Chorus acknowledges her sacrifice for the city of Thebes. When Haemon asks, “And is this girl… not a criminal?”, the Chorus responds, “The city with a single voice denies it” (26). Haemon, Antigone’s formerly betrothed, subsequently declares that Creon’s rule is “not government, but tyrrany!” (26). As Antigone awaits her death sentence, the Chorus sings that hers will be a “glorious death.” Antigone asks her beloved Thebes to recognize that she was only “keeping a law that is holy” by burying her brother (32). Although at no point does Socrates seem to say outright that his death will be glorious, there is a quiet dignity that comes from both of these figures as they face death rather than deny the very principles that are most important to them.

Although he may be the ruler and designated leader, it is not Creon, the King, who is a model citizen, but Antigone who deserves that appellation. When the Tiresias warns against vanity, he is directing himself to Creon, not to Antigone. Those citizens who unite against Antigone do not do so because they believe that she is wrong; secretly, they seem to admire and appreciate her courage. Rather, the citizens who condemn Antigone fear the consequences that the violation of Creon’s law will bring. They, unlike Antigone, are not prepared to die. They have not yet developed fully into the mantle of citizenship. Quite simply, they are cowards because even though they feel as Antigone feels, they choose not to act as Antigone acts. Antigone recognizes what her fellow citizens do not: the laws of a society are arbitrary, but its moral imperatives are not. Antigone is faithful to cultural tradition and belief as her guiding law. It is clear that Antigone is not violating the law just for the sake of being rebellious, but rather because she truly believes that doing so is right, and she knows that no one will support her right to live her beliefs if she herself does not do so. This is the lesson of model citizenship that Antigone offers to the reader.

Oedipus the King as Model Citizen

Finally, we have the lesson of model citizenship offered to us by Oedipus the King. At first, and for quite a long time, Oedipus the King actually seems to represent the antithesis of the model citizen. He is crippled by massive hubris and he makes rash decisions without much thought as to their consequences for society simply because he has divine right to do so. In this, he is like Creon, although he may be considered more benevolent by comparison. Like Socrates and Antigone, Oedipus the King is faithful to living according to his convictions; however, they lack the profundity of thought and reflection and belief that those demonstrated by Socrates and Antigone. Oedipus the King rejects all wise counsel, especially the prophesy of Tiresias the blind seer, when it does not conform to his pre-established ideas. Unlike Socrates and Antigone, Oedipus the King has not arrived at a defense of his convictions as the result of meaningful meditation and decisive action; he lacks the insight and judgment that give Socrates and Antigone credibility as model citizens.

At the end of Oedipus the King, Oedipus has not evolved significantly. If anything, he has become less a model citizen, shown to be rash and irrational, poking out his own eyes in an impulsive act dominated by emotions rather than careful, studied reason. It is only in Oedipus at Kolonos that the reader can begin to comprehend the lesson of model citizenry that Oedipus the King can offer. As Oedipus ages and experiences the consequences of his literal blindness, he develops the capacity for insight that is needed in a model citizen. Oedipus in his later, more mature years teaches the reader a lesson that neither Sophocles nor Antigone conveyed, and that is that the model citizen must place his or her faith and trust in other members of society, even when the other members of society do not fulfill the individual’s expectations and hopes. This is the model citizen at his or her most mature, developed expression: blending the lesson of defending one’s convictions through articulation and thoughtful, consistent action with the lesson of trusting others and engaging them in the process of society building even when they are deficient, as we all are. Oedipus understands what we must all eventually accept: much of what happens in life is beyond our control, and we must maintain our own beliefs while respecting the rights of others to maintain theirs.


All of these model citizens are tragic heroes. They die as a result of their beliefs and actions; however, the best examples of model citizens that we can cite from our times—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi, to name just two—have done the same. Dying is not a requirement to be a model citizen. What is necessary is to act boldly but intelligently, trusting in the goodness and ability of others and committing to making society a better place.
Works Cited

Plato. The Trial and Death of Socrates. F.J. Church (ed). New York: Kessinger, 1942.

Sophocles. The Plays of Sophocles: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Kolonos, Antigone. Robert Bagg, Trans. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2004.