Who is the tragic hero of Sophocles' Antigone and why?

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Which character can be considered a "tragic hero" in Sophocles' Antigone has been widely debated. While modern critics, especially those interested in feminism and social justice, have been fascinated by the character of Antigone, other critics have argued that Creon is actually closer to the ancient conception of the tragic hero.

Antigone drives the action of the play in many ways. In attempting to bury her brother, she is taking on a traditionally female task of caring for and mourning the dead. In violating the authority of Creon, however, she is overstepping the bounds of what is considered proper for a woman. Ismene, her sister, was actually considered a much better female role model in antiquity. She is also a somewhat static character; we do not see her growing in wisdom or recognizing her own flaws.

Creon, however, is portrayed, like Oedipus, as a fundamentally good ruler, striving for what is best for Thebes in trying to end the fratricidal wars that are destroying the city. Also like Oedipus, his initial decisions appear fair and guided by good judgment. Where he errs is in stubbornly persisting on a path once divine signs such as the dust cloud enveloping Antigone and the warnings of Tiresias suggest that the gods disapprove. By the end of the play, he has developed as a character, learned wisdom, and even reversed his decision about Antigone, albeit too late. Thus Creon is more of a traditional tragic hero than Antigone.

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