The Tragic Hero of Antigone In Sophocles’ play Antigone, both Creon, and Antigone display some characteristics of a tragic hero. Creon is the king of Thebes following the late Oedipus and his sons. He decrees that no one should ever bury Polyneices because he was a traitor to his city, while Eteocles would be buried with full military honors. Antigone hears this proclamation and decides to bury her brother, Polyneices, in order to follow the laws of the gods. They could both arguably be the tragic hero of the story. A tragic hero is usually of high birth that has a tragic flaw that causes them to fall from a great height after having a moment of recognition all too late. This comparison between Creon and Antigone will show that Creon best fits the characteristics of a tragic hero. The definition of a tragic hero includes having an anagnorisis, or moment of recognition when they realize their tragic flaw, and this is one way in which Antigone does not qualify as a tragic hero while Creon does. In the beginning, Creon is very stubborn in his decision to kill Antigone for burying her brother.
Even after he hears Teiresias’ prophecy, de does not change his mind. It is not until later he realizes that “it is worse to risk everything for stubborn pride” though it is still much too late for him. He sees that “the laws of the gods are mighty, and a man must serve them to the last day of his life! ”. He has not served the gods by denying Polyneices a proper burial. By foolishly rejecting the laws of the gods, his “own blind heart has brought [him] from darkness to final darkness”. Now he has recognized the wrongs he has committed against Oedipus’ children, which ultimately causes his downfall. Antigone, on the other hand, is aware of the consequences of her actions from the very beginning. She says to her sister “I will bury him; and if I must die, I say that this crime is holy”, showing that she has very consciously made this decision. She is also aware of the inevitable outcome of her decision, but it does not stop here as she says to Creon, “I knew I must die, even without your decree”.
She ends up accepting her punishment, and still stands by her decision. Even as Creon is about to send her to her death, she says sternly, “I have not sinned before God”. In contrast to Creon’s blind decision making, Antigone made her rash, yet conscious, decision fully aware of the bleak ending, so she never has a moment when she realizes her flaw. In Antigone, Creon is an excellent example of a tragic hero. He has a major tragic flaw and falls from a great height. It could be argued that his tragic flaw is excessive pride. He tries to reason his decision to kill Antigone by asking the Choragos, “Who is the man here, /She or I if the crime goes unpunished? ”. The power of being king seems to have gone to his head. He believes that his “voice is the one voice giving orders in this city! ”, which is true, but his edict is still not popular with many of the citizens. He is so prideful, he will even hurt his son, Haimon, to prove his point. He plans to “Let [Antigone] die before his eyes! ”.
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In the end, Creon locks Antigone up in a stone vault to kill her, but he was so full of pride and did not want to be proven wrong that he was willing to hurt his son. Another way that Creon is a very good tragic hero is that he falls from a great height. This great height is the throne of Thebes. Since the death of Oedipus and his sons, he has “succeeded to the full power of the throne”. He is now the most powerful man in the land. Creon states that “whoever is chosen to govern should be obeyed”, and he insists on showing just how much power he holds. However, after he has his moment of recognition and his fortunes are reversed, he has fallen lower than anyone else. He says that now he has “neither life nor substance”. He has killed Antigone unjustly and indirectly murdered his son and wife. There is not much more miserable than that, in great contrast to his once high and honorable position as king. Through an examination of his tragic flaw and fall from grace, it is easy to see why he is a great example of a tragic hero. One of Oedipus’ daughters, Antigone, could also arguably be the tragic hero of Sophocles’ play.
She has some of the main characteristics of a tragic hero, like having a tragic flaw, although she does not have a moment of recognition or fall from a great height. It seems that her tragic flaw is also excessive pride in addition to making impulsive decisions. After Creon’s decree, she refuses to give up, claiming “Creon is not strong enough to stand in my way”. Then, when her sister, Ismene, tries to caution her against such a rash and dangerous decision, Antigone rejects her, as she says, “I should not want you, even if you asked to come”. Sometimes, her great amount of pride comes off as insolence. While she is speaking to Creon prior to her death she says rudely, “Ah the good fortune of kings, Licensed to say whatever they please! ”. Ultimately, her pride and lack of thoughtful decision making cause her demise. But even though she has this tragic flaw, she does not fall from a great height. Her status in society is relatively low, especially compared to that of Creon. As her sister puts it, “We are only women”. In ancient Thebes, women are very low on the social ladder.
Also, her family’s “curse” does not help her status as a woman. The Chorus says that they “have seen this gathering sorrow. Loom upon Oedipus’ children”. The story of her father and family has brought her no honor because “The blasphemy of [her] birth” has plagued her entire life. So, when she has been found burying Polyneices and is condemned, she does not fall from honor, as a true tragic hero would. Even though Antigone does possess some characteristics of a tragic hero, she does not match the definition as closely as Creon does. All in all, Creon is the true tragic hero of Antigone. He is a perfect example of one, because he has a significant tragic flaw, a moment of recognition, and falls from a very high place. Some may argue that the tragic hero is Antigone because she has a tragic flaw. But she does not have a moment of recognition or fall from a great height. Clearly, through these examples, Creon is the tragic hero of the play.
- Sophocles. Antigone. Trans. Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald. The Oedipus Cycle. USA: Harcourt, 1977. 186-245.
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