A Mock Trial of Antigone


A Mock Trial of Antigone
Before Lord Carnwarth, Judge
And 82 Lawyer Champions of Classics for All

The charge: that Antigone was guilty of breaking the law of Thebes

Counsels for the Prosecution: Robert McCracken QC and Charles Streeten
Counsels for the Defence: Professor Takis Tridimas and Anita Davies

Opening for the prosecution, Mr McCracken argued that while Antigone may have had a personal duty to bury the body, that did not allow her to break the law clearly established by Thebes’ new and rightful ruler Creon. He had made this order for two reasons: to resolve the crisis created by Polynices’ unjustified attack on Thebes’ previous ruler Eteocles; and thereby to ensure that civil war would not break out again.

Antigone, considering herself above the law, had knowingly flouted it, threatening the rule of law across the ancient Greek world. As was commonly known among the elders of Thebes, wonders were many, but none more wonderful than man, ‘while he respects the laws of the land and the oaths which the gods have sworn to uphold, he rises high in the city; but outcast from the city is he who, recklessly daring, devotes himself to evil.’ Like Polynices and Antigone.

Mr Streeten, pointing out that Antigone had broken the law, raised the question – what law was at issue here? For Antigone argued that she considered the law of Zeus (always to permit the burial of the dead) to be higher than that of men, and breaking that law was out of the question.

He made three points: first, the gods had shown no favours at all to Antigone’s forbears from Labdacus through to Oedipus, casting a miasma over the whole house; second, Antigone, who appeared so hybristically certain that she was in the right, in fact admitted that the gods were capricious and that she might be guilty. So much for her ‘knowledge’; and third, fate controlled every human life. The gods might choose to pardon her, but man could not. Creon acknowledged this by walling her up, thus giving the gods the chance of springing her, if they so choose.

Opening for the defence, Professor Tridimas pointed out that Creon’s law was no law: government authority should be limited, fundamental rights acknowledged and the public interest consulted, and the person who made the law should not also oversee it. Further, Creon was governing in his own interests, in accordance with no acknowledged standard of justice, in defiance of the ephebic oath, which instructed the young to ignore an unjust law; Antigone, meanwhile, could only disobey. There was no other option in response to a bad law, and this made her disobedience proportionate.

Ms Davies, meanwhile, brought those statues outside in Parliament Square into the equation: Abraham Lincoln condemned the law that made slavery possible, while Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Ghandi actually broke the law because the law did not uphold human dignity or rights. So Antigone’s actions did not in any sense undermine the law of Thebes.

Further, in enforcing the law Creon abused his state authority in an act of gratuitous and humiliating cruelty, his paranoia extending even to the inculpation of Ismene. Because Creon was not acting in the public good, the Greek world would have applauded Antigone’s action. Creon was simply pursuing a desire for personal vengeance against Antigone under a cloak of state authority.

Summing up, Lord Carnwarth pointed out that the case would have to be decided without reference to any meaningful evidence, let alone proper legal framework, but nevertheless invited the 82 Lawyer Champions of Classics for All to pass their verdict. It was ‘innocent’.

Your correspondent observes that there was some doubt whether the case was being tried in Thebes or Athens, and expresses surprise that Sophocles’ evidence was not called in aid by the defence counsels. After all, his version of events seemed to suggest that Creon had got things rather badly wrong. That said, the ingenuity of the arguments on both sides alone could well fill the pages of The Journal of Hellenic Studies for many years to come.

Sir Francis Jacobs, chairman of the CfA Lawyers’ Steering Group, thanked all those involved in staging the debate, and introduced Antigone in the person of Alice Gac, grateful for her acquittal since without it, she would hardly have been able to hold up her head – or, indeed, have a head to hold up – and so talk about her experience as a volunteer teacher at St Gabriel’s Lambeth. She described how, in a school where Ofsted had decided that the more able were not being pushed, Latin had taken off not just among the pupils but among the staff too. It was one example of what CfA was achieving around the country.

Peter Jones