Antigone Tragic Hero

Antigone Tragic Hero

F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy”. This is characteristic of Antigone, a play written by Sophocles. This quote is based on the definition of a tragedy, a story of a person who starts in a high position in society and falls throughout the story to end in a state worse-off than where he began.

This person is known as the tragic hero. The tragic hero is the character who falls from grace due to fate and a weakness. Also, a tragic hero is a character who is known for being dignified and has a flaw that assists to his or her downfall. One could therefore argue that Sophocles’ Antigone and Creon are the two main tragic heroes of the great play.

Before proceeding further, one point must be noted. That’s the fact that Greek tragedy would not be complete with out a tragic hero. So therefore, one could safely say that Sophocles wrote Antigone with one main tragic character in mind. That’s Creon. Also, this play is based on Aristotle’s definition of who a tragic hero is.

In this research paper therefore, the main tragic character that will be discussed is Creon. This doesn’t mean that there are no other tragic characters in the play, but Creon is the main tragic character of the play. The things he said did, and the comments that were made by those around him show how a man with everything could lose it all due to his own behavior.

So therefore, this paper will be looking at Creon as a tragic character vis-à-vis the Aristotelian definition of who a tragic hero is. As noted above, Creon fits Aristotle’s tragic hero traits as a significant person who is faced with difficult decisions. . Creon is significant because he is king. This makes him both renowned and prosperous. Creon is not completely good or completely bad; he is somewhere in-between, as humans are.

Some incidents contribute to the downfall of Creon in the play. One an important note, personality traits of Creon could be said to be the main reason for his eventual downfall. Because of these inherent traits he does not always make the correct decision. For instance, when Creon sentences Antigone to death in the play, he is wrong. This decision is based on Creon’s downfalls. Also, he has hamartia and he judges wrong, and he also suffers from hubris. He is excessively prideful and believes that his choice is the only correct one.

Furthermore, Creon also has an inaccurate view of his place in relation to the Gods. He believes he is in a position to know what they want and know what they feel is best. No mortal truly knows what the Gods want, but Creon believes he does because he cannot imagine that what he believes is wrong, even to the Gods. For instance, Antigone’s death is a bad decision that Creon makes based on his beliefs that the Gods view Polyneices as a traitor and would not want him honored in death.

In another vein, Creon’s bad decision leads to his eventual downfall and demise. Creon realizes his hubris and his wrong decision a little too late. Antigone is already dead, and he cannot correct his wrong-doing. This makes the audience feel pity for him, for he does try to correct his mistake. As more deaths are realized, the audience feels more deeply for Creon.

In the process of going from ignorance to knowledge, he loses Antigone, his wife, and his son. All of his suffering humbles Creon, and he begins to change and view the world differently. He realizes that he was wrong in punishing Antigone for honoring her brother’s death and that it is okay for him to admit when he is wrong, and show his weakness, because, in the end, it makes him stronger.

All of the suffering that he endures serves for the reason for his death. Creon’s decisions and their consequences show the audience that he is the tragic hero of the play.

At this point, Creon’s words will be looked at. This is because many of his statements reveal his personality including his admirable parts and his flaws. So therefore, some of the things he said showed how he changed and became the tragic hero of the play. When Creon says: “I call to God to witness that if I saw my country headed for ruin, I should not be afraid to speak out plainly” (Sophocles, scene 1, 24-26), it shows his strong sense of nationalism and leadership which catches up with him in the end.

“The inflexible heart breaks first, the toughest iron cracks first, and the wildest horses bend their necks at the pull of the smallest curb” (scene 2, 76-79) is what Creon says to Antigone after finding out she is the one who buried Polyneices. He thinks that if Antigone wasn’t so headstrong and arrogant then she could have avoided the consequence he was about to give her.

In another statement credited to Creon, “it is hard to deny the heart! But I will do it: I will not fight with destiny” (scene 5, 100), is a statement that shows Creon detecting his fault and how he needs to correct it. After talking to Teiresias, the blind prophet, he realizes in order for the higher powers to forgive him he needs to release “Antigone’s .fate has brought all my pride to a thought of dust” (exodos, 138). Creon recognizes his flaw and its consequences but it is too late because fate has already occurred.

Moreover, many people say that action speaks louder than words, in scene 2 line 164, Creon orders the guards to take Antigone and Ismene away. Not caring for his son’s, and Ismene’s feelings, he still insists that they be taken away and guarded well. Creon feels the law should stand despite if the person is family and or innocent, or how moral the act was. “Bring her Antigone out… Let her die before his eyes…” (Scene 3, 130).

By this, Creon was willing to be the cause of son’s ruin just to prove that he is the king, the father, and always right. “I will go… I buried her; I will set her free” (scene 5, 102,104). Creon finally comes to a just state of mind and does what is ethically right. Unfortunately, he came to his conclusion too late, for Antigone had already hanged herself.

Also, the comments made by other characters show how Creon is a tragic hero. “…Because they bend, even twigs are safe, while stubborn trees are torn…” (Scene 3, 79-80). Haeman said the same thing to Creon that Creon said to Antigone. Haeman points that Creon needs to stop being narrow-minded and stubborn, and listen for a change. “…Not far off when you shall pay back corpse for corpse…” (Scene 5, 72-73).

Teiresias warns Creon that his ways will cause him destruction and he should do something about it now. “Creon was happy once… and now it has all gone from him” (exodos, 7 and 10). The Messenger indicates the time of Creon’s downfall.

It must be noted that the definition of a tragic hero that Aristotle set forth marks a high standard for what makes one a tragic hero. All tragic heroes must possess eight qualities.

A tragic hero must belong to a noble family. Some possibilities for a tragic hero’s family include belonging to a royal family or a lord’s family. A true tragic hero always takes his fate into his own hands. Often times he knows full well what awaits him in his choices, although sometimes he does not. Regardless of the knowledge he does or does not possess, a tragic hero always decides his own fate.

Furthermore, a tragic hero’s character contains a tragic flaw, such as excessive pride. He always makes a terrible error in judgment. Due to the terrible mistake that a tragic hero makes, he always loses his good reputation and his position of high regard. Although the tragic hero realizes the mistake, he cannot rectify this error in judgment try as he might. A tragic hero must meet a tragic end, with a heartbreaking death. The tragic hero’s death greatly affects the audience to feel fear or pity for the character. Creon, as an exceptional character, meets these qualities.

In pointing towards the tragic character of Creon, an overall character of him in the play should be looked into. He plays a significant role in the plot of Antigone. He, of course, is the center of the plot. It develops mostly around his actions. For example, Creon could have had the chance to live “happily ever after” if he would have simply buried Polyneices. He then sentences Antigone to death for attempting to give Polyneices a proper burial. This importance in the plot therefore leads to the conclusion that he is a tragic hero.

Tragedies recount an individual’s downfall, usually beginning high and ending low. This individual also boasts noble qualities. Of course, Creon begins as a powerful king, but his development through the plot forces him to become nothing more than a fool. Thus, Creon’s involvement in the plot of Antigone clearly shows that he is the center of the tragedy.

Again, Creon’s faults brought an endless life of pain upon himself. He carried an easily describable tragic flaw. Of course, this defect is a vital trait of the tragic hero of any work. Creon’s flaw was that he was stubborn. Creon’s defect brings misery to his life, for that his stubbornness indirectly kills Antigone, Haemon, and Eurydice. This, of course, fits the definition of a tragic hero.

Finally, Creon is a dynamic character. He undergoes changes in emotion throughout the work. He realizes his mistakes when Teiresias forecasts the future. Thus, Creon attempts to correct himself by releasing Antigone. But he is too late. He is forced to live, knowing that three people are dead as a result of his actions.

This punishment is worse than death. Although Creon’s self-righteousness and inflexibility did not change until the end of the play, his motivations traveled from patriotic ones to personal ones. This created a major portion of the tragic element in Antigone. Creon is obviously the tragic hero.

In conclusion, Creon is the tragic hero in Antigone. He started off being the noble king who had everything until a young woman did what she believed in and tested him. He let his pride get in the way of what was important and caused his own destruction losing almost everyone in his life. It’s quite unfortunate that he finally understands how the whole thing could be prevented, but it is too late. The play is indeed characteristic of Greek plays with its tragic themes and characters.

Works Cited

Antigone. Cyclopedia of Literary Characters II. 1990.

Paul Woodruff, Sophocles’ Antigone (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2001)

Sophocles. ‘Antigone.’ Exploring Literature. Ed. Frank Madden. New York: Longman, 2001. 123-154.

Sophocles. ‘Antigone.’ Prentice-Hall Literature. Ed. Bowler, Ellen. Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1996