A great tragedian, Sophocles, gave Greek tragedies their conventional form. Specifically, he started the tradition of including a tragic hero with four distinctive characteristics: the presence of a rank, a tragic flaw, a downfall, and a recognition of mistakes. In Sophocle’s “Antigone,” the eponymous character initially seems like the story’s tragic hero, but she is not. She is prideful and buries Polyneices – her brother – against her uncle King Kreon’s wishes. The King then sentences her to death. This judgment came down upon her because she was full of pride. Antigone ignored anything that went against her wishes and beliefs and stated that “the laws of the gods mean nothing” (Sophocles 55-62). Thus, even though she is prideful (hence tragically flawed) and the story is named after her, Antigone is not the tragic hero because she neither has a rank nor experiences a tragic downfall that makes her recognize her mistakes.
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Through Antigone’s interaction with her sister Ismene, it becomes apparent that Antigone does not meet the rank characteristic – one of the four important aspects of a tragic hero. When Antigone asks her sister Ismene to help her bury their brother Polyneices, Ismene refuses, claiming, “We are only women; we cannot fight with men, Antigone” (Sophocles 46). This response proves two critical things about Antigone. First, it shows that she does not have a rank despite coming from a royal family – her uncle is the King. All she has is a title obtained from her familial connection to the ruling family. Second, Antigone lives in a male-dominated society. Therefore, being a woman, she is weak and powerless. Based on Ismene’s words, it is evident that women are extremely inferior to men; they are insignificant, easily replaceable, and unimportant. Despite this lack of rank, Antigone is prideful (thinks highly of herself), which explains why she went against the King and buried Polyneices.
Pride as a tragic flaw does not lead to Antigone’s downfall, yet another reason she is not the story’s tragic hero. Her eventual death is not directly due to her pride. Instead, it is from her uncle, the King’s pride. When Teiresias asks Kreon, the King, to forgive Antigone and give Polyneices a proper burial to appease the gods, he does not listen. He responded that “doddering fortune tellers you’re your birds – if the great eagles of God himself – should carry him bit by bit to heaven, I would not yield” (Sophocles 44-47). Here, Kreon insults the respected prophet Teiresias and demonstrates his prideful nature. This pride resulted in Antigone’s death, which means she never experienced a downfall nor recognized her mistakes since the dead do not learn.
Sophocles. Antigone. ReadHowYouWant. com, 2008.