Who was the tragic hero/heroine in Sophocles's Antigone? Was Creon the tragic hero, or was Antigone the tragic heroine?

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Hollis Sanders eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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While it would seem obvious at first glance to assume that Antigone is the tragic hero of the play of which she is the titular character, she does not fit the strictest definition of a tragic hero given that she does not have a readily apparent tragic flaw. She is, compared to other characters in the play, a paradigm of virtue, and she sacrifices herself for what she knows is right by the gods. Though she meets a grim and miserable fate, she meets it with her spirit unbesmirched and is a victim of external forces rather than herself.

Creon more readily fits the archetype of the tragic hero, as his...

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Let us consider Aristotle's definition of a tragic hero: "a person who must evoke a sense of pity and fear in the audience. He is considered a man of misfortune that comes to him through error of judgement." With this definition in mind, I would argue that both Antigone and Creon could function as tragic heroes. In the case of Antigone, she is heroic in her desire for a fair burial for her brother, Polyneices, however her tragedy lies in the fact that she kills herself despite Creon heeding Tireseas's warning against her open burial. Creon can also be understood as a tragic hero as his misfortune is established at the beginning of the play, when he decides to not bury Polyneices and decides to punish Antigone by having her buried alive. He changes his mind too late and the damage is already done; we see his tragedy fully crystallize at the end of the play in the deaths of his son, Haemon, and his wife, Eurodice. I would take this a step further and suggest that Haemon could also be understood as a tragic hero: he attempts to avenge Antigone's death by trying to stab his father, Creon, but in his angry rage, misjudges his aim and instead ends his own life.