Maintaining Authority While Weighing Competing Ethical Claims: Creon’s Dilemma in Sophocles’ Antigone

Abstract

This case examines Sophocles’ Antigone for insight regarding how leaders respond to ethical challenges that undermine their authority. Creon assumes the throne of Thebes following the murder of the standing monarch Eteocles by his own brother Polyneices. Attempting to restore order to the city, Creon denies Polyneices traditional burial rites to deter others from similarly pursuing politically subversive actions. His decree is challenged by Polyneices’ sister Antigone, who is willing to accept a death sentence under the belief that burying her brother is mandated by the gods. Sophocles’ play sheds light on the dilemma leaders confront when deliberating between the competing demands of their organization’s best interest and wider ethical concerns. The case also invites examination of the ability of marginalized individuals, such as the young girl Antigone, to influence the deliberative process. In turn, the case considers how leaders maintain their authority when confronted by challenges to their organization’s fundamental principles.

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