A Tragic Hero: "Antigone" by Sophocles

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Everyone needs a hero, someone to look up to and to admire. Most literary heroes are recognized by great courage, strength, and nobility. However, heroes in tragedy are identified through qualities that tend to differ from the idea of a typical hero. Having a reversal in fortune, taking responsibility for one's actions, and having a catharsis are all qualities that tragic heroes are thought to possess. In Sophocles' "Antigone", Creon is the character that best exhibits the characteristics that define a tragic hero. Creon undergoes a reversal in fortune, takes responsibility for his actions, and has a catharsis, and therefore is the true tragic hero of Antigone.

Creon undergoes a reversal in fortune by starting out as a king with power and authority and eventually losing everyone he loves. In the beginning of the play, Creon has just become King of Thebes. He has power, wealth, and happiness and is prepared to take on the world.

When Creon gives his acceptance speech, he is eager to be a worthy king, proudly accepts his status. "The throne and Kingdom which I now possess / ...authority and rule" (140, 143). He is confident that he will be an exceptional king. Creon is proud of his new title which is indicated when he talks of the "Throne and kingdom" as well as the "Authority and rule" which he now possesses. Most would agree that at this point Creon had much to be proud of; he was the King of Thebes and had a faithful wife as well as a capable son. Later in the play, Creon condemns Antigone to her death, and does not rethink his actions until he is warned by the blind prophet Teiresias that the gods will punish him. By the time Creon reaches Antigone, both she and Creon's son, Haemon, have committed suicide. When the messenger brings Creon's wife the news, she commits suicide as well. Creon now finds himself alone: no wife, no son, no family at all. "What fate awaits me now? / My child in my arms...and there, the other... / the son...the mother..." (1135-1137). Creon realizes that in protecting his title, he has lost the only two people he ever truly cared for, his son and his wife. He is unable to grasp the fact that he now has no family. Creon refers to his wife as "the other..." because she was the only other person he cared for besides his son, and now she was dead as well. He has lost his family and now he feels there is no purpose for his life. "I am nothing. I have no life" (1164). In this quote, Creon is talking about how his life is now worthless, without a family to love. He has "no life" because his title means nothing to him if his loved ones are gone. Without a family, Creon feels he has nothing to live for. Creon has gone from having everything he had ever wanted, to having no wife, no son, and nobody to love. However, Creon does not commit suicide himself because he feels he deserves the punishment of having to live without a family. Generally, someone who has gone through such an unfortunate turn in events and does not give in to death is considered to be a great person or hero. Their story is one that is tragic. Creon has endured a reversal in fortune, and therefore he can be deemed the true tragic hero.

In "Antigone", Creon takes full responsibility for his actions by admitting his mistakes. Creon was inflexible and did not think about the consequences of his actions. He condemned Antigone to her death in spite of his son's warnings and did not realize what the cost of his actions would be. As a result of his actions, Creon lost his wife and his son, the two people he loved. However, instead of blaming the deaths of Eurydice, his wife, and Haemon on Antigone, he takes full responsibility for his actions. "O the curse of my stubborn will! / Dead for my fault, not yours/ ...There is no man to bear this guilt but I" (1113, 1115, 1150-1151). Creon realizes that because of his inflexibility, he has caused the deaths of his loved ones. When Creon exclaims, "curse of my stubborn will!" it shows that he understands that it is because of his own mistakes that Haemon and Eurydice died. When he talks to of his son's death as being "my fault, not yours," Creon accepts that the death is his responsibility. When he says that "There is no man to bear this guilt but I," it is clear that Creon understands that he cannot accuse anyone else of his own mistakes. He has taken responsibility for the consequences of his actions. In general, it takes a great deal of courage for one to admit to their faults, and most people would agree that someone who is able to take responsibility for their actions should be regarded as a hero. Creon takes full responsibility for his actions by admitting his mistakes, and as a result he is the true tragic hero of "Antigone".

Creon has a catharsis, which is a sudden emotional breakdown which constitutes overwhelming feelings of great pity and sorrow. This emotional breakdown must come too late to change the course of events in the play. A catharsis is nesscessary to a tragic hero. Creon has his catharsis after he learns of Haemon's death. "I am nothing. I have no life. / Lead me away... / That have killed unwittingly / My son, my wife. / I know not where I should turn, /Where to look for help. / My hands have done amiss, my head is bowed / With fate too heavy for me" (1164 - 1171). In Creon's catharsis, he realizes the consquences of his actions, and is overwhelmed by emotion. He sees no purpose to his life without his family and is consumed with grief. Creon now sees error in his ways, however it is too late for him to alter the course of events in the play. His wife and son have already died and there is now way for him to correct his mistakes. This brief monolaugue of Creon's includes all the criteria that make a catharsis. It is a form of emotional purgation for Creon that comes at a time when it is too late to change the outcome of the play. Creon is besieged with emotion and sees the consqeunces of his actions. Most of the time, one who goes through such an emotional breakdown, or catharsis, is believed to be a tragic hero. They have gone through much tragic emotional strain. In Sophocles' play, Creon goes through a catharsis, and he is therefore the true tragic hero of the play.

To be considered a tragic hero, one must possess specific qualities. It is clear that in "Antigone" the character that demonstrates these traits most successfully is Creon. For example, one of these qualities is that the hero must endure a reversal in fortune. Creon undergoes this reversal in fortune by starting as King of Thebes and then later losing everyone he loves. Another characteristic is that the hero must take responsibility for his actions and admits to his faults. Creon does this by recognizing that it is a consequence of his obstinacy that his wife and son have died. Finally, a hero must have a cartharsis. Creon goes through an emotional breakdown or catharsis where he is overwhelmed by sentiment. It is clear that ther true tragic hero of this play is Creon since he undergoes a reversal in fortune, takes responsibility for his actunes, and has a catharsis.