In Sophocles' Antigone, which character is considered the tragic hero, Antigone or Creon, and why?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Aristotle, in Poetics, defined a tragic hero as the protagonist in the story to whom something happens that elicits pity from the audience. A tragic hero is a "virtuous" person whose life changes from being prosperous to being a life full of "adversity," or tribulation (Aristotle, Poetics).

As the title Antigone suggests, by Aristotle's definition, Antigone is most definitely the tragic hero. One way that we can tell that Antigone is the tragic hero is that the play opens with lines spoken by Antigone, indicating that she is the most important, or main character of the play. While Creon is a very important character, he is not the main character.

Another way we can tell Antigone is the tragic hero is that misfortune befalls Antigone for burying her brother. Despite the fact that Creon has decreed that Polyneices shall not be given burial rights because of his betrayal of the state, the act of burying her brother, in and of itself, is a blameless and virtuous act. While the act goes against royal decree, there is nothing wrong, in and of itself, with burying a brother.

We can also tell that Creon is not the tragic hero because, even though tragic things happen to him as well, particularly the death of his son, it is his actions that are frequently questioned. The chorus frequently accuses Antigone of being prideful and unyielding, but the chorus accuses Creon of being unwise. The chorus believes that Creon is foolish and arrogant for disregarding Antigone's strong desire to bury a deceased, beloved brother. In the end, the chorus blames Creon for the tragedy that befalls Creon, including the death of Antigone and his son.