The history of the world and literature are filled with countless examples of leaders and tyrants who abuse their power. These people can range from Hitler to Voldemort, but in nearly every book or period in history they are well known. Contemporary examples are: Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, and Kim Jong Il. One classical example of a tyrant leader is the wicked king Creon in the play Antigone. Written by Sophocles in 441 B.C. the play is a fabulous example of the grandeur, beauty, and instruction of ancient Greek tragedy. Antigone is the tale of a young woman sentenced to death for respectfully burying the body of her brother against the law of her uncle, King Creon. In the beginning of the play Antigone learns that both of her brothers are dead. While one brother has been given a proper burial, Creon has banned the burial of the other, because he thinks he was a traitor. Antigone defies the law, buries her brother, and is caught. Creon imprisons her, and refuses the advice to release her. Creon finally gives in, but it is too late, and he finds her dead. Out of despair, Antigone’s fiancé and Creon’s wife also kill themselves, leaving Creon in distress and sorrow. Creon is an egotistical and antagonistic figure, but his character is not unique to theater and drama. Real world Creon’s have risen and fallen throughout history. In Antigone, Creon fails to heed sound advice throughout the play due to his hubris and eventually pays the price. Leaders, like Creon, who are practiced in the art self-deception, appear repeatedly in history, and like Creon they become the authors of their own demise or the decay of their nations.
Creon came to power by succession, as the only surviving male family member after the two directs heirs killed each other. This is similar to the story of Kim-Jong-Il: the notorious dictator of North Korea from 1994 to 2011(Kim 1). Kim-Jong-Il came into power by succession as well, but these two leaders have something else in common; they both had an enormous capacity for self-deception. During Kim-Jong-Il’s seventeen years in power, his people lived on the brink of starvation and have not enjoyed technological advancements since the 1970’s, yet he insisted his propaganda machine promote the glory and brilliance of his reign. Creon glosses over his failures in a similar way. On line 143 Creon says “For my part, I have always held the view, and hold it still, that a king whose lips and sealed by fear, unwilling to seek advice, is dammed.” (Sophocles 411) Here, Creon states that a leader who fails to heed advice is dammed. This is rather ironic, as Creon himself fails to heed the advice given to him by many sources throughout the play. To mask his contradictions, he goes on to a flourishing speech about how he will defend the state against the same problems he will eventually create for the sake of his ego. Through Creon’s hypocritical actions and Kim Jong Ill’s belief that he disserves his wealth and power, these individuals both personify the powerful impact that bravado and self-deception can have on the fate of the nation. In both their cases, their own self-deception played a major role in the decay of their nations.
Another leader that is similar in character to Creon is Saddam Hussein, the former dictator of Iraq. Hussein was a leader who deeply abused his power and was charged with genocide after the fall of his regime. He sought to annihilate the Kurdish people killing at least 50,000 Kurdish civilians and quashed any dissenting voices in Iraqi society. (Hussein 1) While he was elected, he abandoned all responsive aspects of a fair representative government. In Antigone Creon also deliberately scorns the importance of the input of his people when he says “ The people of Thebes! Since when do I take orders from the people of Thebes?”(Sophocles 423) In this quote, Creon is making himself above the will of his people. He is the leader of a democracy and therefore should listen to the thoughts of his people, but here he completely disregards their input. Looking at the words “Since when” shows the Creon has never or will never listen to the Theban people. This demonstrates another aspect of self-dilution: self-aggrandizement. In the case of Saddam Hussein I have second hand knowledge of his attitude about his own leadership style. I have a second cousin who was assigned by the National Guard to be Saddam Hussein’s personal physician for six months after his capture. During my cousin’s discussions with Saddam he learned that Hussein thought his actions were perfectly rational and justifiable. Isn’t this the way so many people operate? People do not get up in the morning and say “I’m going to be a tyrant today.” People have a way of telling themselves a story that makes their actions and attitudes perfectly defensible. Creon and Husain again exemplify how a leaders’ self-deception and hubris can lead to the demise of their own people.
As with all failing self-absorbed leaders, Creon eventually reaches a point where all his most valuable allies have abandoned him. A rational person would begin to question his or her own decisions, but a self-delusional leader will stay on the path they were heading in order to preserve their ego. Creon unfortunately chooses to stay on his delusional path, despite the fact that his son, Haemon, turned against him by siding with Antigone. After a disagreement between Creon and Haemon about weather or not Creon should release Antigone, Haemon says “Then, if she dies she will not die alone.” (Sophocles 423) This quote should have served as an anonymous warning to the King, but like so many other occasions in the play, Creon fails to take notice of the advice given to him. A similar quagmire appeared when many of Muammar Gaddafi’s most powerful allies defected and joined the revolution. In February of 2010, in a matter of two days three of Gaddafi’s most trusted advisors deserted him: Mustafa Abdul Juili - the justice minister, Major General Abdul- Fattah Youins - the Interior Minister and commander of Libya’s Special Forces, and Ali Suleiman Aujali - the former Libyan ambassador to the US (The 1). Both Creon and Gaddafi were so far from being able to be introspective that they created narratives as to why their allies had abandoned them. Their egos were so big that they thought they had nothing to learn from the people or events around them. As a result, both their nations were plunged into turmoil. Again, the people of their nation suffered because of their leaders’ ego and hubris.
The hubris of the previously mentioned leaders also often causes them to miss major mileposts in the decline of their situation. In Antigone Creon fails to heed the signs around him and eventually he reaches a tipping point, when the prophet Teiresias says
“ Then mark me now; for you stand on a razor’s edge.” (Sophocles 427) This quote shows how thin the line of no return is, it is like trying to balance something on the edge of a razor blade: situations can either fall into chaos or order, but they rarely remaine in limbo for long. Teiresias’ warning marks a point where Creon could have reconsidered his options and turned his behavior to good. This same kind of situation presented its self to Muammar Gaddafi in the summer of 2011 when rebels took the city of Tripoli on August 20th (Gaddafi 1). This was a critical milepost for Gaddafi’s regime as stated by President Obama. "Tonight, the momentum against the Gaddafi regime has reached a tipping point. Tripoli is slipping from the grasp of a tyrant," (Gaddafi 1) Here, President Obama is also describing a point of no return. Prior to the fall of Tripoli it is safe to assume that NATO had made offers of safe passage out of Libya to Gaddafi, but once the city had fallen there was no going back. Creon’s world met it’s doom when, after steadfastly refusing to heed the warnings and advice given to him throughout the play, all the people close to him die and he is left in a state of immense grief and guilt. Under the influence of self-dilution, leaders cannot see a good opportunity even if it is staring them right in the face. In the case of Creon and Gaddafi, their ultimate demise came when they lost sight of reality because of self-deception.
Leaders who fall prey to hubris and are adept at self-deception appear repeatedly in history, and they ultimately become the authors of their own demise or the decay of their nations. Kim-Jong-Ill left his people starving and his country on the verge of nuclear warfare with its neighbors. Both Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi were found cowering in holes in the ground, with not one friend or ally left in the world. The demise of all of these leaders mirrors the story of Creon’s own story and Greek tragedy by design serve as a lesson to its audience. The confluence of all these stories of ancient Greece are sill as relevant as they were 2000 years ago.