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Literature and management (2). Why Antigone, Creon and Oedipus are still referents Sophocles confronts us with the fundamental problems of all human government.


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Manuel Cruz Ortiz de Landázuri |

Professor of History of Ancient Philosophy , Ethics

Greek tragedy was not only an expression of the Apollonian and the Dionysian (those impulses of moderation and immoderation that Nietzsche placed at the root of artistic creation), but also a school of leadership models. Sophocles knew how to bring us face to face with the fundamental problems of all human government through the characters of his great trilogy around Oedipus, Creon and Antigone.

The action takes place in the city of Thebes. Faced with a seemingly hopeless pandemic, we see the fearful Oedipus forced to confront his own past. Who is Oedipus? Apparently a successful man, with an able account of himself that gives him authority in the eyes of the people. He had been able to solve the riddle of the Sphinx and was thus crowned king. Now, Oedipus has fabricated a story about himself that will soon have to be questioned. He is a leader who has the popular clamor but has not yet developed a brake on his hybris, the hubris punished by the gods. Events force him to rethink his own identity and discover his dark origins. As he inquires about the murder of the former king, he reinterprets his own history. All his initial story is dismantled and only at the end of the tragedy, when he has discovered his true identity and has lost everything (even his eyes), poor Oedipus declares himself happy, since at least now he knows himself and has the support of his family: "Long ago, oh, my daughters, I saw no better; I discerned nothing and I was your father, fertilizing the womb in which I myself had been sown". Two clear leadership lessons from the tragedy: firstly, power is based on a story, and this is always subjected to the test of truth; secondly, there is no true leader without self-knowledge, and that means having the humility to face one's own truth.

Opposite Oedipus we have Creon, an example of exaggerated political realism. Here Sophocles presents us with a leader who is not very silent and who bases his power on the force of the rules. Creon is not sympathetic, he does not possess charisma, but he supports his leadership on pragmatic rationalism and the defense of the law. His strong point is that he knows himself and knows that he has no gifts to excite the people. He is not interested in being at the center of public opinion, but in being able to manage the affairs of the city, and he always succeeds. Now, Creon is situated in the technocratic sphere: he possesses a political art based on know-how and management, but not on involving others around a story, a project. In fact, his weakness as a leader lies precisely in not empathizing with others, in not showing mercy in the face of the evils of others. Faced with the fratricidal war that Thebes is experiencing after the departure of Oedipus, he will be intransigent with the corpse of Polynices. This is the root of his confrontation with Antigone, which will also provoke his own tragedy: "I am not willing to deny myself in front of the citizens, and I must put him to death". Creon prefers to maintain the force of the rules rather than show mercy, and here too pride will be punished by the gods with the ruin of his family. His success in the management of public affairs leads him to close in his own approaches: "He who puts in command the city must be obeyed not only in the minutiae, but in what is right and even in its opposite". Creonte equates the rules he promulgates with what is convenient, but life itself, guided by the gods, will make him see that he is a fool.

Finally, Sophocles presents Antigone as an example of leadership based on common sense and piety: "I was not born to share hatred, but love". Here, in the face of the rationality of the law, a different rationality appears, one that points to universal values: the disinterested donation for the dead brother, the enforcement of those norms that are deeper than human laws "for their validity comes neither from yesterday nor from today, but from always, and no one knows since when they appeared". This is precisely what makes her a heroine in the history of the West, with a power to move the hearts of all. Her weakness as a leader lies in the lack of pragmatism that could have brought the story to a different ending. Now, although she dies tragically, Antigone will go down in the history of literature as a true heroine of universal values. Both Oedipus and Creon will have learned something from her by the end of Sophocles' trilogy.