Modern Day Tragic Hero - Ben Johnson

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Tragic Greek dramas featured tragic heroes. A tragic hero is defined as a character who makes an error of judgment or has a fatal flaw that, combined with fate and external forces, brings on a tragedy.

Of all the tragic heroes in Greek literature, Sophocles believed that Oedipus was the truest. Sophocles was correct, for based on analysis of Aristotle’s Poetics; it is obvious that Oedipus is indeed far more of a tragic hero than any other hero of ancient Greek literature.

According to Aristotle, a tragic hero is a character, usually of high birth, who is neither totally good nor totally evil, and whose downfall is brought about by a tragic weakness or error in judgment. A true tragic hero must have six key qualities. These are hamartia, hubris, anagnorisis, peripeteia, nemesis, and catharsis. Hamartia is a tragic flaw that causes the downfall of the tragic hero. This tragic flaw is often a result of hubris, which is extreme pride. Anagnorisis is a recognition or discovery made by the tragic hero. In other words, the tragic hero will learn a lesson, usually as a result of his downfall. Peripeteia is a reversal of fortune, the downfall of the tragic hero. Nemesis is a fate that cannot be escaped. Catharsis is a feeling of overwhelming pity and/or fear that the audience or reader is left with after witnessing the downfall of a tragic hero.

Benjamin Sinclair "Ben" Johnson is a former Canadian sprinter who won three Olympic medals during his career, one of which was a gold. However, that medal was later recinded when he tested positive for drugs at the Olympics. Looking back, it becomes apparent that Johnson fits the criteria for a tragic hero that Aristotle set about.

In the terms of being ‘high born’ this could, in a modern context, be translated into ‘high status’. Ben Johnson had high status as a world renowned athlete for his country just as Oedipus had ‘high status’ from being born a prince and then later becoming a king. Johnson’s main opponent in...
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