There has always been a great debate over who is the true tragic hero in Sophocles Antigone. Many scholars would stake claim to Antigone possessing all the necessary characteristics of a true tragic hero, but many others would argue that Creon holds many qualities as well. It is hard to discount Antigone as a tragic hero, because in fact, the play bears her name, but from careful reading, Creon meets Aristotles criteria exactly and fits perfectly into the role.
In order to determine whether or not Creon is the true tragic hero, one must answer the question: What is a Tragic Hero? In Aristotles Poetics, he discusses the basic criteria regarding a tragic hero. Aristotle states that tragic heroes must have a high status or social position; characters must not be perfect, although, the character is pre-eminently good; they must have a single flaw that brings about their own demise and that of the others around them. Aristotle also mentions another quality of a tragic hero, which is that the character arouses pity in the audience usually because the punishment exceeds the crime and the hero is alive to face his suffering in order to achieve some self-recognition.
After reviewing all these critera, it should be clear that Creon is the true tragic hero. First, Aristotle suggests that a tragic hero must occupy a high status position, but must also possess nobility and virtue as part of the heros character. Creon fits this description quite accurately. At the beginning of the play; in the Time and Scene section, it says that, Creon, is now king of Thebes. This quote shows that he occupies a strong status position and stature of nobility. Creon also proves that his character embodies virtue and honor.
He shows that he would put his country above all else, when speaking to the Chorus at the beginning of the play. Creon said, … And whoever places a friend above the good of his own county, he is nothing: I have no use for him. (203-205). Again, his high standards and honor for his country are shown in great detail: I could never stand by silent, watching destruction march against our city, putting safety to rout (207-208). Creon shows a high sense of morality when he properly buried Eteocles, and then is showing his noble character by not burying Polyneices, who attacked Creons country; again his value of his country is shown.
Creon is a good ruler because he like any king would punish evil and reward good. Creon is seen by the chorus to have goodness and leadership. (Lines 691). The chorus praises Creon for his loyalty to the country after the great war, they look forward to his kingly rule and nobility in the future by saying, . . . Creon, the new man for the great new day(Lines 173). Love of his country and his punishment of Polyneices show this great nobility and loyalty talked about by the chorus.
Clearly Creon qualifies under the first criterion of being a tragic hero. The second criterion for being a tragic hero is that one is neither purely evil nor pre-eminently great. Although Creon possesses many good kingly qualities, as far a honor and nobility, his imperfection lies in his excessive pride and hubris, as well as his self indulgence as King of Thebes. Creon shows his power and pride when talking to Antiogone and Ismene. Creon is putting himself on the level of the gods, by showing how easy he can take and give people their lives.
This pride is shown when Ismene and Antigone speak to Creon, Ismene says, How can I live alone, without her? (638) And Creon responds by saying, Her? Dont even mention her – she no longer exists. (Lines 639-640). When Haemon, Creons son, tries to convince his father not to kill Antigone, Creons ego and pride come into full context when he says, So, men our age, were to be lectured, are we? – schooled by a boy his age? (Lines 812 -814). Creon is showing that he can in no way learn or profit from the wisdom of his son or any others.
This pride is also shown in the same conversation between him and his son. Haemon declares, The whole city of Thebes denies it, to a man; (820) this is dealing with what the city has said about Creon wanting to kill Antigone, but Creon lashes out by saying, And is Thebes about to tell me how to rule?……. The city is the kings – thats the law. (Lines 821-825). Creons major tragic flaw is his hubris, and unknowing to him, it brings about his demise. Thirdly, for Creon to be a tragic hero, he must have a flaw that brings about his own doom as well as that of others.
This character flaw is where Creon stakes claim to his title of the tragic hero. Clearly, Creons pride was his downfall and his major flaw, and it is this pride, which will bring the ruins of his family. Creons pride blinds him from doing what is right and burying Polyneices, this is seen in his speech with Teiresias, when he claims, Youll never bury that body in the grave, not even if Zeus eagles rip the corpse and wing their rotten pickings off to the throne of god! Never, not even in fear of such defilement will I tolerate his burial, that traitor.
Creons excessive pride and arrogance in this speech are in full force, because Creon is putting himself on the same level of the gods, basically saying that no human or god is going to stop him from doing what he thinks he should do. Creon, in his mind, is the final decision maker, he is the ruler of himself and the country. The profit Teiresias predicts on Creons future because of his horrid deeds by saying, … before you have surrendered, one born of your own loins, your own flesh and blood, a corpse for corpse given in return.
Creon, faced with his true prophecy, refuses to yield on his word and actions. Because of his hubris, the prophecy is true and his son Haemon kills himself when he discovers Antigone has hung herself. Later, Creons wife suffers the same fate as the others and Creon is left with the thought of losing two loved ones because he was too proud to admit his wrong. After Creon understands that the prophecy was correct and that his son was dead, he finally starts to recant his actions and achieve some self-knowledge and self-discovering.
Another important characteristic is that the hero is alive to face their suffering and discover their wrongs, in other words, their fall is not of pure loss. Creon, only after the deaths of his family members, achieves a moment of recognition. Teiresias leaves Creon to his thoughts, and only now does Creons hubris and arrogance begin to dissolve as his judgment arises. Creon begins to apologize for his actions toward Antigone, and he sees the errors of his ways, by saying, Oh Ive learned(1404) and Take me away, quickly, out of sight. I dont even exist – Im no one.
Creon before his judgment, says to let everyone know that he understands that he is responsible for the deaths of Antigone, Haemon, and his wife that he is, … so senseless, so insane. . . my crimes, Look at us, the killer, the killed, father and son, the same blood – the misery! My plans, my mad fanatic heart, Ai, dead, lost to the world, not through your stupidity, no, my own. (Lines 1394-1401) Creon looks at himself as a senseless, insane man who was blinded by pride and arrogance, and the inability to admit his wrong doings.
When Creon calls himself the killer he reaches his ultimate peak of enlightenment and understands he was wrong. Another key critera which Creon meets is that he arouses a sense of pity in the audience because many feel that his punishment exceeded his crime. Although Creon admits his fault and although he is at fault, he is forced, by punishment, to live a lonely life and in turn is hated by the people who once loved him. Teiresias predicts Creons fate by saying that all the cities will stir in hatred against [Creon]. (1105).
Creon is punished in another way, because the death of his son and wife happen suddenly, thus in fact, killing the spirits and heart of Creon. Creon was making a decision that he thought was right and for this he lost his son, wife, and the country which he favored with all of his heart. Creon is doomed to live in this country with people who hate him. Some would say that Creon was a harsh ruler and should be punished in the same matter that he ruled. Creon made a choice, a choice he thought was the right one. It turned out that this choice warranted an unjustly punishment.
Creons punishment exceeds the crime; is one who has excessive pride and arrogance, like many of us, to suffer a lonely and hated life? Should we pity him? Creon fits all of Aristotles criteria to perfection. He is a good king with a high stature, although he is not perfect in his actions. The excessive pride sets the stage for his major flaw. This pride leads to his downfall and that of his family. Creon reaches a period of recognition for his actions. Lastly, his punishment was overly harsh compared to his crime. According to Aristotle, Creon is a striking match to fit the role of a tragic hero.