Antigone: not the tragic hero
Antigone: Not the Tragic Hero Sophocles, a great tragedian, was the one who gave Greek tragedies their traditional form. An important part of traditional Greek tragedies is the presence of a tragic hero. All tragic heroes should have the characteristics of rank, a tragic flaw, a downfall, and a recognition of mistakes. The seemingly tragic hero is Antigone. She wants to bury her brother Polyneices even though this would be going against Creon, who is her uncle and the king. When Antigone buries Polyneices Creon sentences her to death because of it.
In Antigone by Sophocles the tragic hero is not Antigone because she only meets the characteristic of a tragic flaw, hers being pride, but doesn’t meet the other three characteristics of a tragic hero. Through Ismene’s response it’s clear that Antigone does not meet the characteristic of rank even though she is of royal blood, because to have rank there has to be more than a title. All she has is a title, she is of no value and has no power in her society because she is a woman. In the Prologue Antigone tries to get her sister, Ismene to help her bury their brother Polyneices.
Ismene refuses saying, “We are only women; we cannot fight with men, Antigone” (46)! Here it’s shown that Ismene does not believe it would be wise to bury Polyneices because it would be going against the will of Creon and other men. Ismene’s word choice demonstrates to readers that she believes that women are extremely inferior to men. This belief is established when she says her and her sister are “only women”. With the usage of the word “only” it is demonstrated to readers that she perceives herself, Antigone, and other women as inferior to men. She believes they are “only” women, not of huge importance, easily replaced, and insignificant.
She obviously accepts that she is inferior to men as seen in her response. Ismene’s views of women are acceptable in her society. Not only are women not valued highly in ancient Greek society, they are in essence powerless. At this time women had no rights and they were considered property. Ismene’s words show readers how powerless women are when she says that they “cannot fight with men”. Not that they shouldn’t, that it would be wrong, but that they “cannot”. In her eyes, and therefore society’s eyes, women can’t fight with men even if they tried. They do not have the power and strength to go against men.
It is clearly shown through Ismene’s words how insignificant women are considered in this time. Antigone as a woman therefore cannot have rank, even if she is a princess, because in her society she has no value, power, or the respect of others. Antigone might not possess the characteristic of rank, but does possess the characteristic of a tragic flaw as evident through her response to Ismene. Antigone’s tragic flaw is pride, which means having a high opinion of one’s self and superiority. This pride is exhibited at the beginning when she speaks to her sister, Ismene, in an attempt to gain her help in burying their brother Polyneices.
After Ismene refuses to help bury Polyneices Antigone responds by saying, “I should not want you, even if you asked to come… if I must die I say that this crime is holy… apparently the laws of the gods mean nothing to you” (53-62). Here Antigone is telling Ismene that she wouldn’t want Ismene’s help because of what Ismene had previously said. Antigone also says that if she died it would be fine because she did it for the gods and that she does not believe that Ismene cares for the gods and their laws. In this setting the gods are an extremely important part of the society.
She says that the crime is “holy” and therefore it would be fine if she died for it. Obviously her priorities lie with the gods, who are “holy”, since she’d die keeping their laws. Antigone’s pride rests on doing the right thing; by doing the right thing she establishes herself as someone maybe superior to others. She obviously has a high opinion of herself by risking her life, and by her refusal to listen to her sister. That is why she told Ismene she wouldn’t want her because of the beliefs she had expressed. She does not believe those beliefs are right and stubbornly ignores them.
By acting this way she is demonstrating pride because a prideful person does not take into consideration anything going against them and their beliefs. Also when she says that “the laws of the gods mean nothing” to Ismene she is showing her pride. Firstly it again establishes the importance she puts to the gods laws. In this time period it was important to respect the gods. By suggesting Ismene does not respect the gods Antigone is entirely discarding Ismene. Antigone’s tragic flaw does not lead to her downfall, because of this Antigone does not meet the characteristic of reversal in fate otherwise known as a downfall.
Creon’s pride is what causes Antigone’s death. For example when Teiresias tells Creon to let Antigone go and to give Polyneices a proper burial because the gods are upset he does not listen. Instead he says to Teiresias, “doddering fortune tellers… if your birds-if the great eagles of God himself- should carry him bit by bit to heaven, I would not yield”( 44- 47). Creon is insulting Teiresias, a respected prophet, and says that he wouldn’t do as Teiresias says even if the birds carried Polyneices body bit by bit to heaven.
It is obvious that Creon is prideful because he has a high opinion of his superiority. This is shown when he refers to Teiresias, a highly respected prophet who has never been wrong, as “doddering”. By this he is rudely saying that Teiresias is senile and that he is feeble minded, this statement is rude but Creon believes it is fine coming from him the king. This is pride because he is demonstrating that he has a high opinion of himself by being rude and disrespectful to a respected prophet. This pride makes him sentence Antigone to death because it does not allow him to listen to the warnings of others.
He says he won’t “yield”, and stop what he’s doing, even if the birds took Polyneices themselves to heaven. He would ignore the gods, and their prophet, because he is so set on what he believes. This pride leads to Antigone’s death because his stubbornness did not allow him to release her before her death. Even though she committed suicide she committed it because of him. She probably did not want to spend her last days in fear and killed herself. This is logical considering she would die slowly in her tomb. Either way she would have died even if she didn’t commit suicide.
Antigone also cannot be considered to have a true downfall because she did not lose everything as is requirement. Antigone’s fate is not reversed as seen when caught burying Polyneices. Once confronted by Creon, she asks him, “can anyone living, as I live, with evil all about me, Think Death less than a friend” (68-69)? Antigone through this rhetorical question is saying that she was not happy and would embrace death. She is not happy because of the “evil” around her, which is Creon’s decree. This decree makes her unhappy because she believes it is wrong and goes against he gods. This decree though has been present since the start of the play therefore since the start Antigone has been unhappy. This unhappiness does not go away or get better because the decree is always there. Her unhappiness also is set when her situation starting the play is taken into consideration. Her entire family excluding Ismene and Creon is gone in a short period of time. Also she does not have the best relationship with her family, she dismissed Ismene’s excuses to not burry Polyneices and wouldn’t let Ismene take part of the blame for what she’s done.
With Creon the decree has torn them apart and Creon is sentencing her to die. Suffering a downfall means that essentially everything one has is lost. The only thing Antigone can lose is her life, and from her words it can be seen that she does not mind losing it. This can be seen when she says she views “death” as a “friend”. “Friends” are welcomed so Antigone is saying she would welcome “death”. She does not mind dying and embraces the idea of her death. Antigone therefore doesn’t suffer a downfall because the only thing she lost was her life and she did not care if she lost it.
Finally Antigone does not meet the characteristic of recognition as seen in her response to Creon. The obvious reason that this characteristic is not met is that as discussed Antigone does not meet the characteristic of having a downfall. She can’t recognize her downfall because there is none. She died but this can hardly be a downfall since she embraced it, and her death was not caused by her hubris, or in other words her tragic flaw. Even if the fact that she does not have a true downfall is temporally ignored it can’t be said that she meets the characteristic of recognition.
This is so because she never demonstrates that she has knowledge of her hubris, also she never regrets the error of her ways. This can be seen when she is being taken to her tomb, where she will be buried alive. She is lamenting herself and says to the choragus and Creon, “I have done no wrong… you will remember what things I suffer, and at what men’s hands” (66-69). Antigone is saying that she has suffered greatly for nothing because of Creon. Antigone does not recognize that she has been prideful and does not regret anything that she has done.
She says she has “done no wrong”, and is innocent. She believes this because in her eyes she made no mistakes and has only done what’s right. This is further emphasized when she says she has “suffered”. She says she has suffered because she did no wrong. Then bringing it all together she adds that her suffering has been under “men’s hands” suggesting that it’s Creon’s fault that she has suffered a downfall. Creon is most likely the man whose hands she has suffered under seeing that she is under his power and he is the one that is punishing her.
This emphasizes that she does not recognize that she has hubris, and does not regret anything. She does not believe she is at fault for her death instead she believes Creon is. Antigone clearly then does not meet the recognition of a fault that leads to a downfall. Firstly because in reality she doesn’t even have a downfall and secondly she never does recognize that she has pride and that she is in any way at fault. There is no remorse to what she has done. Antigone is not the tragic hero of Sophocles’ play, Antigone, because she does not meet three out of four characteristics of a tragic hero.
The first characteristic not met is rank. Even though Antigone is royalty she can’t have rank because she is a woman, all she has is a worthless title. Ismene shows through her reasoning to not burry Polyneices that women are inferior to men. The only characteristic Antigone meets is having a tragic flaw, her flaw is pride. This can be seen with the condescending tone she responds to Ismene’s refusal to help. The second characteristic not met is that of a downfall. She does not suffer a downfall because she only lost her life.
Not only that her pride is not what caused her death. It was Creon’s pride that caused it. He was to prideful to pardon her even when Teiresias warns him that the gods are angry with his choice. The last characteristic not met is that of recognition. She does not meet it because there is nothing to recognize and even then she does not believe she has been prideful, that she is at fault for her death and she regrets nothing. Instead she believes her suffering is Creon’s fault. Sophocles even though he named his play Antigone he did not mean for Antigone to be the tragic hero.