Tragic Heroes in Greek Myth

Topics: Tragedy, Tragic hero, Sophocles Pages: 5 (2049 words) Published: October 24, 2011
Tragic Greek dramas featured tragic heroes, mortals who suffered incredible 
losses as a result of an inescapable fate or bad decisions. According to Aristotle, a tragic hero is a character, usually of high birth, which is pre-eminently great, meaning they are not perfect, and whose downfall is brought about
 by a tragic weakness or error in judgment. The three Greek heroes Oedipus, Medea and Agamemnon, who each killed a member of their family, carry most of the qualities that make up a tragic hero: being of noble birth, being surrounded by an extraordinary circumstance, and gaining self-awareness or some kind of knowledge through their downfall. There is an important need for the audience to identify with the Aristotelian hero through their faults; faults are what inevitably make the hero a human rather than a God since to be human is to make mistakes. According to Aristotle's theory of tragedy and his definition of the central character, Oedipus, the hero of Sophocles, is considered a classical model of the tragic hero. The tragic hero is an essential element to arouse pity and fear from the audience to achieve the emotional effect. Sophocles features Oedipus in a trilogy of plays; however, it is during Oedipus the King that Oedipus experiences his tragic downfall. Although Oedipus is not of high birth, he rises to become a king rather early in his life. To complete the tragic hero profile, Oedipus inspires pity in audiences. Oedipus however, like all tragic heroes, has one great weakness, or flaw as said by Aristotle; his excessive pride, which the Chorus describes as: “Insolence breeds the tyrant, insolence if it is glutted with a surfeit, unseasonable, unprofitable… But I pray that the God may never abolish the eager ambition that profits the state, for I shall never cease to hold the God as our protector” (Sophocles, Oedipus the King, 875-882). Not only does the chorus refer to his pride, but Oedipus himself hints at it. In line 8 he says, "I Oedipus whom all men call the great" (Sophocles, Oedipus the King, 8). This shows he has much pride for himself. He feels he is very important, and that no one is above him. Eventually, Oedipus pays back for this pride by gouging his own eyes out which allows him, like every hero, to experience greater self-knowledge and repent. When referring to the reasons of committing a murder, Oedipus's pride did contribute to the tragedy of killing his own birth father, but was not entirely the reason for his downfall. Oedipus and his father, King Laius, both believe that they have social indifference and that they are more important than the other. This leads to self-defense, the main reason Oedipus had to kill his father. King Laius’ murder by Oedipus could be explained by some as fate that cannot be escaped because Oedipus did not know who he was killing at the time, and this is proven later on when Oedipus says: “Who so among you knows the murdered by whose hands Laius, son of Labdacus, died - I command him to tell everything to me, - yes, though he fears himself to take the blame on his own hear; for bitter punishment he shall have none, but leave this land unharmed” (Sophocles, Oedipus the King, 225-229). This also reflects his pride that leads to his selfishness, his own self-interest. From the moment he learned of the former king's death he was acting not as a king concerned for his people, but as a king concerned for his own life. Similar to Oedipus, Medea also, to some extent, displays Aristotle’s characteristics of a tragic hero. Medea is the daughter of Aeetes, who is the King of Colchis and the son of Helios, the Sun god, thus making her of noble birth. However, in the case of Medea, it is excessive passion that leads Medea to her destruction and her need to kill her kids. Because Medea is madly in love with Jason, Medea is crushed to find out that Jason has left her. Medea explains to the women of Corinth and says, “it has broken my heart. I am finished. I let go. All...
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