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Everyone loves the hero of a story. A hero inspires you and gives you a sense of hope and security. Heroes are characters who are admirable, noble, brave, intelligent, and powerful. They are great examples and positive role models. But what if the hero is not so admirable or courageous? What if the hero is flawed? A tragic hero is such a hero. A tragic hero’s downfall is the result of his flaws or weaknesses. According to Aristotle, “every tragic hero has some fatal weakness that brings him to a bad end”.
In the Greek tragedy “Antigone”, written by Sophocles in 441 B.C., the conflict is between Antigone, a grieving sister desperately trying to give her brother a proper burial, and Creon, the new king forbidding anyone from doing so. Antigone is trying to honor her brother by providing him with a proper burial, however, Creon labeled him a traitor and has “decreed that his body shall be left to the crows”.
The character of Antigone has a strong family bond and sense of loyalty. She also appears to have strong religious convictions. She does not believe that Creon has the authority to dictate her brother’s fate in the afterlife and makes this clear by saying “It is not for him to keep me from my own”. Antigone is strong, fearless, not concerned with the gender gap of society, and never sways from her original stance and beliefs. She is in no way even tempted to give in to the wishes of those around her no matter what the consequences may be. Her love for her brother and her desire to do what she feels is the right thing is enough to overcome any fear one might have. When Creon asked her if she was the one who had buried him, she fearlessly proclaimed “Yes, I confess; I will not deny my deed”. Even in the end, when she was brought to the cave, she took her own life so she could be in control of her death. She was not about to allow her life to be taken by another.
It could be argued that Antigone’s tragic flaw or hamartia was her stubbornness and her inability to let go of the past and move forward. Antigone’s hubris “extreme pride leading to over confidence” was the cause of her downfall. At many points in the story, Antigone could have saved herself, married Haemon, and been there for her sister who had no one upon Antigone’s death. However, she chose to stick to her convictions even though it meant death and abandoning her sister Ismene and her fiancé Haemon. A major theme in this story, the conflict between earthly law and order and divine law was no conflict for Antigone. She had no hesitation in choosing divine law or the law of the land.
Creon, another candidate for tragic hero of this story, has the typical traits of arrogance, over confidence, and errors in judgement as described in “Aristotle’s Concept of Tragedy”. Creon inherited the throne later in life and intentionally limited his interest to that of politics and social order. He abandons his family values, rejects the irrational laws from the gods, and rules only by the logical laws of man. He did not want to see Antigone punished for her crime, but when she had no remorse and made no attempt to deny it, he felt he had no choice. He would not be told what to do by a woman and stated, “When I am alive no woman shall rule”. His chauvinistic nature and insistence of adhering to the laws of man while repudiating those of the gods fueled his hubris and became his hamartia.
Both Antigone and Creon could equally be considered the tragic heroes of this story. Their stubbornness and unwillingness to concede or even compromise to the others predicament ultimately resulted in their demise. Antigone chooses to die rather than succumb to the pressures to abide by earthly law that goes against her divine beliefs, though she had ample opportunity to change course. Creon, although doing what he thought to best for the throne, lost all that was dear to him because he was unwilling to submit to divine law. In the end, Antigone’s character does not evolve from her original position. However, Creon realizes his culpability and takes responsibility for his loss stating, “Everything in my hands is crossed. A most unwelcome fate has leaped upon me”. The battle between man and the divine will always leave a trail of devastation.
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