Social Justice 62
19 March 2010
The True Tragic Hero of Antigone
The debate over who is the hero of Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone, has raged on for decades. It is quite difficult to see who the true hero is in the play, for both Antigone and Creon have many heroic traits. This decision that the reader has to make is Sophocles’ dramatic issue in the play. The dramatic issue of the play comes to life when the conflict is introduced. Antigone wishes to bury the dead body of her criminal brother and does so against Creon’s decree. Some readers feel Antigone’s actions were right for she was simply caring for a fallen family member. Creon then sets out to punish Antigone for going against his orders. Though one might see Creon’s actions justified, his political morals end up destroying his family. Both characters have commited questionable deeds, thus the hero of the play is not seen until both characters fall. Creon’s fall from grace is tragic, whereas Antigone's fall is welcome. In this manner, Sophocles sympathizes with Creon, and thus Creon becomes the true tragic hero of the Antigone. Unlike the belief of Jebb, a renowned author and critic of Anigone, Antigone is not the true tragic hero of Antigone. There are several reasons for this: she is a one-dimensional character who does not go through any development during the course of the play, her behavior is illogical and does not evoke a sense of pity from the audience nor the chorus, and her personal vendetta outshines her religious goal. These same reasons are also basis for the dismissal of the claims of Hogan, another critic of Antigone who has Antigone and Creon as dual heroes. Antigone’s character does not evolve in the play. Jebb sees her as enthusiastic, “at once steadfast and passionate, for the right as she sees it- for the performance of her duty,” and having an “intense tenderness, purity, and depth of domestic affection” (Jebb 1902 p.12); Calder and I disagree with this statement. Calder is a critic of the play who believes that Creon is to be portrayed as the tragic hero. Instead of steadfast and passionate, Antigone is fanatical; she has an “idée fixe” (Calder 1968 p.392). “It will be good to die, so doing (burying Polyneices). I shall lie by his side, loving him as he has loved me; I shall be a criminal- but a religious one” (Soph. Ant. 82-85), she confides to Ismene, her sister. This is her attitude throughout the play. Bravery in the face of the death sentence she brought upon herself, unreasonably enthusiastic about the prospect of her own death. Even at the ultimate moment, she has no fear of what death will bring. “When I come to that other world my hope is strong that my coming will be a welcome to my father, and dear to you, my mother, and dear to you, my brother deeply loved” (Soph. Ant. 951-955). According to Jebb, she is “possessed by a burning indignation” (Jebb 1902 p.12) and it is this passion, which clouds her vision. Antigone's defense that she is acting in the name of the gods has no basis in the reality of the play because there is no evidence of the gods taking part in the underlying actions of the play. Antigone’s zealous behavior is the opposite of Creon’s logical arguments. When Antigone is arrested and brought before Creon, her statements allude to a conspiracy set up against her: “Antigone: I know that I will die –of course I do –even if you had not doomed me by proclamation. (Here she believes that Creon would eventually have had her killed, just to be rid of her) If I shall die before my time, I count that as a profit. How can such as I, that live among such troubles, not find a profit in death?...
Cited: Calder, William M. III (1968). Sophocles ' Political Tragedy, Antigone. GRBS 9, 389-407.
Hogan, James C. (1972). The Protagonists of the Antigone. Arethusa 5, 93-100.
Sophocles (1902). Antigone (Richard Jebb, Trans.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sophocles (1991). Antigone (David Green, Trans.). Chicago: The Universiry of Chicago Press.
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