The True Tragic Hero of Antigone
Connor Salmon Social Justice 62 19 March 2010 The True Tragic Hero of Antigone The debate over who is the hero of Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone, has raged on for decades. It is quite difficult to see who the true hero is in the play, for both Antigone and Creon have many heroic traits. This decision that the reader has to make is Sophocles’ dramatic issue in the play. The dramatic issue of the play comes to life when the conflict is introduced. Antigone wishes to bury the dead body of her criminal brother and does so against Creon’s decree.
Some readers feel Antigone’s actions were right for she was simply caring for a fallen family member. Creon then sets out to punish Antigone for going against his orders. Though one might see Creon’s actions justified, his political morals end up destroying his family. Both characters have commited questionable deeds, thus the hero of the play is not seen until both characters fall. Creon’s fall from grace is tragic, whereas Antigone’s fall is welcome. In this manner, Sophocles sympathizes with Creon, and thus Creon becomes the true tragic hero of the Antigone.
Unlike the belief of Jebb, a renowned author and critic of Anigone, Antigone is not the true tragic hero of Antigone. There are several reasons for this: she is a one-dimensional character who does not go through any development during the course of the play, her behavior is illogical and does not evoke a sense of pity from the audience nor the chorus, and her personal vendetta outshines her religious goal. These same reasons are also basis for the dismissal of the claims of Hogan, another critic of Antigone who has Antigone and Creon as dual heroes. Antigone’s character does not evolve in the play.
Jebb sees her as enthusiastic, “at once steadfast and passionate, for the right as she sees it- for the performance of her duty,” and having an “intense tenderness, purity, and depth of domestic affection” (Jebb 1902 p. 12); Calder and I disagree with this statement. Calder is a critic of the play who believes that Creon is to be portrayed as the tragic hero. Instead of steadfast and passionate, Antigone is fanatical; she has an “idee fixe” (Calder 1968 p. 392). “It will be good to die, so doing (burying Polyneices). I shall lie by his side, loving him as he has loved me; I shall be a criminal- but a religious one” (Soph.
Ant. 82-85), she confides to Ismene, her sister. This is her attitude throughout the play. Bravery in the face of the death sentence she brought upon herself, unreasonably enthusiastic about the prospect of her own death. Even at the ultimate moment, she has no fear of what death will bring. “When I come to that other world my hope is strong that my coming will be a welcome to my father, and dear to you, my mother, and dear to you, my brother deeply loved” (Soph. Ant. 951-955). According to Jebb, she is “possessed by a burning indignation” (Jebb 1902 p. 2) and it is this passion, which clouds her vision. Antigone’s defense that she is acting in the name of the gods has no basis in the reality of the play because there is no evidence of the gods taking part in the underlying actions of the play. Antigone’s zealous behavior is the opposite of Creon’s logical arguments. When Antigone is arrested and brought before Creon, her statements allude to a conspiracy set up against her: “Antigone: I know that I will die –of course I do –even if you had not doomed me by proclamation. Here she believes that Creon would eventually have had her killed, just to be rid of her) If I shall die before my time, I count that as a profit. How can such as I, that live among such troubles, not find a profit in death? Now, if you think me a fool to act like this, perhaps it is a fool that judges so. ” (Soph. Ant. 505-515) She thinks Creon is out to get her, but she has no evidence to back this up.
The chorus and Creon do not even take her argument seriously anymore; they just see her as stubborn: “Chorus: The savage spirit of a savage father shows itself in this girl. She does not know how to yield to trouble. Creon: I would have you know the most fanatic of spirits fall most of all…this girl had learned her insolence before this, when she broke the established laws.
But here is still another insolence in that she boasts of it, laughs at what she did. ” Soph. Ant. 516-528 Antigone believes that the people of Thebes are with her, when in fact they do not give her support. As Creon says, “You are alone among the people of Thebes to see things in that way” (Soph. Ant. 552). This is supported further when the chorus rejects her final appeal; “There is a certain reverence for piety.
But for him in authority, he cannot see that authority defied; it is your own self-willed temper that has destroyed you” (Soph. Ant. 923-928). Creon sees Antigone as “anarchy personified, since, having disobeyed, she seems to glory therein” (Jebb 1902 p. 16). Her outstanding qualities, mainly stubbornness and fanaticism, are capable of causing harm and thus discredit her heroine status. Creon, on the other hand, has many heroic qualities. When he takes over, Creon is intent on making his new government strong. Anyone thinking another man more a friend than his own country, I rate him nowhere…in light of rules like these, I will make her (Thebes) greater still” (Soph. Ant. 201-210). Creon declares to his Senate. Therefore, he is willing to put the affairs of the state ahead of any of his personal agendas. His first proclamation decrees that the body of Polyneices shall not be buried, and his reign is put to the test almost immediately when someone disobeys the edict. “Creon becomes enraged and curses the evildoer, and threatens the sentry with death if the culprit is not found” (Soph.
Ant. 279-345). Creon threatens the sentry because he needs a scapegoat if the real criminal is not found. Again, Creon only has the best interests of Thebes in mind. “Creon believes his decision to prevent the burial of Polyneices is the correct one. Even though the battle is over, no formal peace has been declared, because none appears in the text, and Thebes is still in a state of war” (Calder 1968 p. 393). Creon wants to leave Polyneices’ body on the field of battle as a warning. It is true that the legends of the heroic age afford some instance in which a dead enemy is left unburied, as a special mark of abhorrence” (Jebb 1902 p. 10). It was the right political move, as the chorus did not openly object to the edict nor harbor any ill will about the severity of the punishment for breaking this command. But it was the wrong spiritual move, and the gods punished Creon for it. Creon’s flaw in judgment is that he does not realize there are higher powers at work in the play. “I’m afraid it may be best, in the end of life, to have kept the old accepted laws” (Soph.
Ant. 1191-1192). He believes it is simply Antigone’s will versus his own, but Tiresias adds another twist to the story. The blind prophet informs Creon that, “if Polyneices remains unhindered, tragedy will befall the royal house” (Soph. Ant. 1131-1162). Will Creon change his vow of state over personal interests, or will he protect his family above all else? The fall of this powerful man has begun. He decides to contradict himself and have the body of Polyneices buried and given all the rites normally received by royalty. But the gods are already against him.
In a fateful statement to his son, Haemon, Creon says, “There is nothing worse than disobedience to authority. It destroys cities, it demolishes homes” (Soph. Ant. 726-728). Creon’s flaw in judgment causes the deaths of Antigone, Haemon, and Eurydice; with the death of his family, Creon has nothing left. “Everything in my hands is crossed. A most unwelcome fate has leaped upon me” (Soph. Ant. 1418-1419). The audience feels pity for Creon because his life was destroyed by a decision he made that, although politically correct, contained the seeds of his devastation.
What made his edict potent was that the desperate times called for strong measures, and the city agreed with it by staying silent. But the gods disagreed, and they dismantled everything in Creon’s life. He starts as the most powerful character in the play, and is reduced to a shadow of his former self: “Creon: Yes, I have learned it to my bitterness. At this moment God has sprung on my head with a vast weight and struck me down. He shook me in my savage ways; he has overturned my joy, has trampled it, underfoot. The pains men suffer are pains indeed. ” (Soph. Ant. 1348-1354)
He unconsciously made one bad decision, and that is on which this tragedy is based. And that is why Creon is more likely the tragic hero of Antigone, rather than Antigone herself. At first glance, Sophocles’ Antigone seems to have two protagonists, Antigone and Creon. The hero cannot be Antigone because of her one-dimensional character, illogical behavior and lack of pity. And upon closer inspection, it is revealed that Creon is indeed the tragic hero, through the fact that his original edict concerning the burial of Polyneices contained the means of Creon’s downfall.
However, the debate will continue to rage on as long as people are still reading Sophocles’ Antigone. Works Cited Calder, William M. III (1968). Sophocles’ Political Tragedy, Antigone. GRBS 9, 389-407. Hogan, James C. (1972). The Protagonists of the Antigone. Arethusa 5, 93-100. Sophocles (1902). Antigone (Richard Jebb, Trans. ). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Sophocles (1991). Antigone (David Green, Trans. ). Chicago: The Universiry of Chicago Press.