The Tragic Figure of Antigone
The Tragic Figure of Antigone When people recall tragedies, they often think Shakespearean. These tragedies were usually named after their tragic protagonists (e. g. , Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Othello). However, many tragic characters did not have an eponymous play. For example, in Antigone, a woman loses her life trying to honor her fallen brother and inadvertently causes Creon, the king, to lose his wife and daughter. Since we have two important characters’ detriments, we must choose which one is the tragic hero.
Given that tragedies originated from Greece, we can use Aristotle’s definition and description to select the tragic hero (Ridgeway). According to Aristotle’s teachings, Creon is the tragic hero, regardless of the title. First, let us layout Aristotle’s tragic hero. His tragic hero was always a man of noble stature and greatness and his destruction had a lesson for the audience (Elements of a Tragic Hero in Literature). The hero’s aggressive goal would lead to his decline by his flaw, the will of the gods through prophets, and/or fate (Aristotle and The Elements of Tragedy).
Also, only until he saw the root of his downfall could he become a hero. Lastly, the audience must feel pity and fear for him (Elements of a Tragic Hero in Literature). With all of these attributes, we can identify Creon as the tragic hero. First, we can match up Creon’s qualities to those of Aristotle’s tragic hero. Creon introduces himself to the Chorus as a worthy king of his city-state, Thebes. Next, we hear Creon’s tenacious goal, which he establishes as law: Polyneices, the traitorous brother of Antigone, is not to receive a proper burial.
However, the Greeks believed that proper burials were necessary so that the psyche, or the spirit of the dead, could leave the physical body. Improper burials meant the individual’s suffering between worlds (Ancient Greek Burial Rituals). Thus, Creon’s law violates the rules of the afterlife and the will of the gods. But his flaw, not this law, would bring his downfall. His flaw was pride and blindness, shown by many incidents in the play. For example, he insults his elders or the chorus who he must depend on for advice. Also, after finding out that Polyneices had een buried, Creon – in his rage – believes that the watchman was bribed and threatens him with death if he does not find the burier. So his flaws begin his descent. First, the chorus announces that his human law will be destroyed by the true divine laws of the gods. Also, the blind prophet Teiresias warns Creon of his bleak future, but Creon rebukes him, saying that the prophet took money to tell this lie. Later, he realizes that he cannot ignore Teiresias’ prophecy, but he is too late. He tries to bury Polyneices, but his body is not intact.
Then, his sentencing Antigone to death leads to both his son’s and his wife’s suicides. He realizes that his stubbornness killed his family members. This realization makes him a tragic hero. The audience pities his blindness, but fears his pride. It is frustrating that he could have erased his problems by calmly reasoning with Antigone, Haimon – his son, or the Chorus, but his blindness is disconcerting. This tragedy teaches the importance of obeying laws and the cost of pride. All of this clearly indicates Creon as the tragic hero.
Second, let us see how Antigone does not fit Aristotle’s mold. Antigone is a female and comes from an exiled, disgraced king, Oedipus. Therefore, she did not have greatness. Next, she is assertive with her goal to properly bury her brother. However, she accepts the announced consequences and her honorable death. The elders tell Antigone, before her death, that she will be honored and goes to her fate like a god and Teiresias clearly states that the gods want Polyneices properly buried. She even mentions many times throughout the play that she does not fear man but the gods.
For example, when Creon is interrogating her about her insubordination, she states that Creon is only a mortal and his laws are unwritten in the face of the gods. Hence, the gods are supporting Antigone. Next, Creon tells Antigone that simply because he is a man and she is a woman, he is right. While Greek culture kept men at a higher social standing than that of women, this conversation took place halfway into the play. Creon was already painted as stubborn and prideful and Antigone as loyal and god-fearing.
Hence, this remark only further set Creon as an antagonist and Antigone as a wronged protagonist. Also, before her death, Antigone complains that she never had a wedding song; however, after Haimon kills himself next to her, their wedding and funeral song is played. She also states before she kills herself that she hopes Creon will be equally punished if she is innocent. Therefore, his wife and son die, which is equal to Polyneices’ and Antigone’s deaths. Even after death, she is praised by the living. Thus, Antigone’s only tragic hero characteristic is her strong motive.
Besides that, she is a contrast to Aristotle’s hero. One could argue that the play is titled Antigone, so the tragic hero is clearly Antigone. However, we must remember that this is the third installment in a trilogy. Antigone features prominently in the rest of the trilogy because she is the daughter of King Oedipus. The first two plays had Oedipus in the titles. So even though Creon was the main character, the playwright might have used her name as the title to notify the audience that this was the third play in this trilogy.
Therefore, the play’s title does not provide enough reason for Antigone to be the tragic hero. In summary, we choose Creon as the tragic hero because of Aristotle’s description, despite the title. By selecting the tragic figure of this play, we have learned about some of the facets of Greek culture, such as the progressiveness of the Greeks, in terms of feminism. These surviving texts allow a new population to pick up where the Greeks had left off so that the human race can evolve more than the Greeks had.
Works Cited “Ancient Greek Burial Rituals. ” Wikispaces. Tangient LLC, 2008. Web. 2 Mar. 2014. . “ARISTOTLE & THE ELEMENTS OF TRAGEDY. ” Ohio Edu. N. p. , n. d. Web. 1 Mar. 2014. . Lucyinthesky. “Elements of a tragic hero in literature. ” Nuvvo. Savvica, Inc, n. d. Web. 1 Mar. 2014. . Ridgeway, William. “THE ORIGIN OF TRAGEDY: INTRODUCTION. ” Theatrehistory. N. p. , 2002. Web. 1 Mar. 2014. . Sophocles. Anitgone. Trans. Nicholas Rudall. Ed. Nicholas Rudall and Bernard Sahlins. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1998. Print.