The Tragic Hero of Sophocles’ “Antigone”


Whether Antigone or Creon is the hero of Sophocles’ play “Antigone” is hotly debated. Aristotle believed that a hero was noble by nature but possessed a tragic flaw, known as hamartia, that made him tragic. To be a hero, one must have a high social standing while still maintaining their integrity in their deeds, demonstrating leadership and bravery, and most crucially, possessing a single defect that causes them to fall. With Antigone, the audience is treated to a sad, climactic, and exhilarating conclusion that forces them to reevaluate the morality of the deeds that lead each character to their deaths. Antigone is a hero because she stays loyal to both the gods and her brother. Even when confronted with death and suicide, she chooses to terminate her own life (Bobrick, 2015). As a result, Antigone’s drama reflects the Aristotelian formula for tragedy in the features of conflict and character faults, thus depicting the idea that Sophocles’ Antigone is a play without a hero in the Aristotelian formula for tragedy.


Antigone is one of Sophocles’ three dramas about Thebes. The significant tension of the play centers around the refusal of a burial. Due to power issues, the two brothers engage in combat but end up murdering each other. The new king makes a proclamation permitting the burial of just one of the two individuals. However, Antigone, the two’s sisters, insists that both should be buried, but she is rejected. Antigone ultimately commits herself to her ideals, and her death sets off a series of suicides. Sophocles uses this scene to challenge and investigate tragic heroism.

While Antigone takes place over a single day, the four principal themes of the play address the tension between divine law and municipal law, submissive positions of women in ancient Greece, the curse of the House of Oedipus, and heavenly sanction for individual and communal needs. The fundamental issue was the confrontation between the divine law, which allowed for the burial of relatives, and the declaration of the civic law, whose primary objective and emphasis was the preservation of the state and adherence to the rule of the land (Chanter, 2011). Because of this preservation, traitors would not be permitted to be buried appropriately; instead, their desecrated remains would be preserved as a warning to the rest of society. Many believed that Creon had violated the essential categories of existence and the transition from life to death, as indicated by the burial ceremony. This order consigned people above the ground to a wall under the earth’s surface (Falkenstern, 2020). This essential order was threatened if the dead were left unburied or if the living were buried, bringing chaos and devastation to society.

The submissive status of women within the Greek city-state was another critical issue for Antigone. Antigone by Sophocles conveys to its viewers the sight of Oedipus’ daughter committing herself for the sake of eternal rules against the imperatives of more time-bound laws (Palmer, 2014). Creon desired nothing more than to disregard Antigone and Ismene’s requests for burial, and he sought to divide and degrade their character to compel them to comply with his decree (Chen, 2018). However, Antigone’s disobedience to Creon’s command would eventually destroy Creon’s family and leadership. Creon’s authority will be affected by the curse of the House of Oedipus and its planned impact on kindred. Regardless of how much he may enjoy his new position as king of Thebes, his relationship with Oedipus’s two surviving sons and his battle with Antigone will bring devastation. The gods’ approval and reluctance to intervene will influence the protagonists’ behavior. The characters, chorus, and messengers will seek the gods’ approval for their activities by gaining their backing (Falkenstern, 2020). Ultimately, the gods’ reluctance to intervene and prevent fatal occurrences determines the path of action.

Creon is the king of Thebes and is regarded as the hero of Antigone since he is born honorable. Another characteristic that leads to Creon’s presentation as the hero is that the hero would have a fatal fault in personality, which is evident in Creon. Creon’s character might be described as one who places rules and order more than anything else, rejects God’s laws, and ultimately brings tragedy (Verkerk, 2014). Although Sophocles depicts Creon as a righteous king, Creon’s hubris or excessive pride gradually reveals his genuine nature and, ultimately, demise. It was evident that Creon’s greed and lack of concern for others drove him to keep power, an act that does not exemplify bravery. This depiction is more severe than that of Antigone. He does not know until it is too late how much his terrible defect, an excessive amount of pride, has contributed to his issues (Verkerk, 2014). In addition, he reached anagnorisis at the finish of the performance. However, he cannot change the situation and must continue to live with remorse.

Creon was very devoted to the regulations he established for the city. Polyneices was a traitor to the city he resided in; thus, Creon enacted a decree that anybody who attempted to bury him would be put to death. As Creon mentioned, this was his intention; wrong persons will never be regarded in more esteem than the righteous, but Creon will revere those who have goodwill toward this city in both life and death (Sarah et al., 2003). Since Polyneices was a traitor to the city, Creon believed that it was inappropriate to celebrate his death, which is the antithesis of what a hero should do, who should remember the deaths of many others.

Creon is so devoted to his standards that, upon learning through his guards that someone buried Polyneices, he became enraged at the disobedient individual and sought to identify them. For a ruler, having someone disobey the norms he has established forces him to address the issue to preserve control of the city; if he does nothing, people will not take him seriously (Chen, 2018). Creon believed that if he did not adhere to the regulations he established, there would be problems across the city. As he claims, there is no greater evil than disorder. It destroys towns and damages homes, scattering and scattering the lines of allied spears. Nevertheless, when the lives of mortals go well, it is rule-following that keeps most bodies safe. As a result, Creon wished to prevent problems from spreading through the city and impose rules to keep the city in check (Chen, 2018). This contrasts with a typical hero, who would do whatever was necessary if it was for the greater good of all; avoiding problems is not a characteristic of a hero.

Antigone, a member of Creon’s own family, was ultimately identified as the disobedient individual, and Creon had no option but to put her to death. Antigone’s disobedience of Creon and the civil law as the family’s guardian and her own moral and religious convictions establish her as a symbol of resistance. Her claim to burial threatens the king’s normal functioning (Palmer, 2014). As Creon states, whether she is his sister’s kid or more closely related to him by blood than his whole family under Zeus, neither she nor her sister, her blood-kin, whom he holds equally responsible for the building of this tomb, will escape the worst fate.

Even though Antigone is a member of his family and his son’s fiancée, Creon chooses to punish Antigone for violating his laws by burying Polyneices. Antigone was consigned to the tomb by Creon, where she would starve to death. Teiresias warned Creon of the repercussions of murdering Antigone, and Creon subsequently changed his mind and let Antigone free. Once they reached Antigone, she had already committed herself to famine. Upon learning that his fiancée had perished, Creon’s son committed suicide, and his mother ((Palmer, 2014). Creon’s selfishness and obsession with sticking to the rules and applying them to the city resulted in his wife and son committing suicide; yet, these acts of selfishness and the urge to adhere to rules are not heroic.

Creon serves as a vehicle for Sophocles to demonstrate the benefits and drawbacks of the law. Creon feels that maintaining a stable state is of the highest importance, which is undoubtedly a good position, but his inability to be persuaded on the subject betrays his fundamental fault (Falkenstern, 2020). Antigone conveys her point of view to Creon after being apprehended by Creon’s soldiers. She contends that both brothers are entitled to burial since they were both partially correct and because the right to be buried is a sacred right that should not be taken away from either brother. On the other hand, Creon does not take this reasonable argument seriously. Creon does not even take his son Haimon’s arguments seriously, despite being emotionally and rationally touched by them. Haimon’s actions touch him since he resorts to ad hominem arguments rather than relying on reasoning to defend himself against Haimon. Creon finally argues that it is his responsibility to lead the nation. No one else demonstrates how he does not want even to examine the opposition’s arguments, no matter how rational they may seem (Bobrick, 2015). He feels that, as a monarch, he has the best judgment and should not be influenced by people who are subordinate to him.

There are very few instances of a woman being portrayed as a tragic hero in Greek mythology and theater. However, in the third and last play chronicling Oedipus’ life, Sophocles’ Antigone has a female heroine (Chanter, 2011). Despite being set in a different period than most Greek tragedies, this is regarded as one of the best Greek tragedies ever written. Antigone is the tragic hero of this tragedy and the figure from whom the play’s title is derived. This is shown by the fact that she is not only the play’s protagonist but also demonstrates tragic hero traits throughout the play (Falkenstern, 2020). Given the sexist nature of most Greek myths, it is remarkable that the gender of the tragic hero in this play seems to be the least important factor in defining the tragic hero’s identity.

Among the most important are the three defining characteristics of a tragic hero’s personality. Primarily, the hero’s ancestors must be of noble descent. Secondly, the audience’s hero must be seen favorably as a decent and honorable person (Verkerk, 2014). Finally, the protagonist must have a fatal flaw; otherwise, there would be no dramatic obstacles or tragic ends. All three of these qualities are present in Antigone, distinguishing her as one of the very few tragic heroines in literature.

Antigone’s acts serve as a testament to her bravery. Because Antigone considered it unethical to bury Eteocles while not doing the same for Polyneices honorably, she challenged Creon. According to Antigone’s assertions of fair treatment, Eteocles has been lawfully interred under the soil, where his memory will be cherished by the dead below; in contrast, Polyneices’ pitiful remains must be kept undisturbed and undisturbed, a treasure for birds to feast upon at their leisure (Chen, 2018). Antigone was aware of the restrictions Creon had set on the city, which forbade the burial of Polyneices’ corpse under pain of death if it was not buried immediately.

Given that Antigone knew she would be killed for burying Polyneices, Antigone displayed bravery in doing what she believed was right and burying her brother, even though she knew she would die for him. As Antigone has said, it is appropriate for her to die due to her actions. As a result of her purity, she will be buried near her closest buddy at that location, as she had her dearest friend to cherish her. Similarly, Antigone has a family and a fiancé who are concerned about her and want her to live. As a result, some may accuse Antigone of being selfish for being oblivious that she will die (Sarah et al., 2003). The heroine, Antigone, demonstrated her heroism by risking her life to avenge her brother’s murder and disobeying Creon’s city restrictions to achieve what was right.

Antigone did not believe that laws created by humans were better than those created by the gods. Creon buries Eteocles as a king who died protecting the city but lets the body of Polynices decay beyond the city gates (Bobrick, 2015). Following Antigone’s burial of Polyneices, she engaged in a debate with Creon over whether or not disobeying his rules was justified. Due to her belief that the gods’ rules are more powerful than the laws of Creon, Antigone felt it was right to reject Creon’s restrictions. She also did not feel that Cleon’s statement was so strong that a mere mortal could escape the unwritten and irrevocable laws of the gods.

Antigone’s subsequent explanation states that the god’s laws are timeless and that no one knows when they were first revealed, despite being neither current nor past. Antigone thought that Creon’s prohibitions were only temporary and would be abolished after his death, but the laws of the gods had existed from the beginning of time. The contempt for rules and regulations shown by Antigone, in contrast to Creon, was manifested in her willingness to serve others (Bobrick, 2015). Rather than Creon’s desire to uphold laws and norms for society’s satisfaction, she preferred the selfless act of assisting others.

It seems that Antigone’s bravery is enhanced by the fact that she is a woman fighting against the wishes of strong males. Ismene explains to Antigone that women are not designed by nature to fight against men and are meant to be governed by those who are more robust. Following this conversation with her sister, Antigone gently reprimands her sister for allowing others to interfere with her family’s commitment to its traditions.

Antigone’s ability to listen is another attribute that distinguishes her. The ability to listen and be responsive are two attributes that significantly impact the audience’s opinion of whether a character is fair or unfair. Antigone, in the play, stands in sharp contrast to Creon, whose pride tends to get the better of him regularly and prevent him from making intelligent judgments in his life. When a guard informs Creon that someone attempted to bury Polyneices, he leaps to conclusions. He accuses the sentry of committing these acts for monetary gain without contemplating why a guy would denounce himself for a capital offense (Falkenstern, 2020). By asserting that all prophets are motivated by money, he accuses the seer Tiresias of gathering money to deliver a prophecy condemning Creon’s actions. In the eyes of the audience, she is a hero because she has sound judgment, which Creon does not possess, loyalty, courage, and a strong sense of right and wrong.

The fatal fault that Antigone has, as has been the case with other tragic heroes throughout history, is the only attribute that remains to establish her as a tragic hero. Antigone’s defect is comparable to her father’s imperfection in scale. Even though Antigone is a ruthlessly honest person who finds no honor in reneging on her convictions, she will ultimately come to her doom. Antigone can never keep her emotions under control (Chen, 2018). During her last moments with Creon, she tells her that she is a coward for not doing what is right and reminds him of his faults as she prepares to die at his hands.

Furthermore, as she is brought away to her jail, she refuses to shed a tear for the love of Haemon, which she will never have since it would make her seem weak, something she does not want. However, this serves to bind her to Creon’s punishment further, ultimately proving to be her downfall while also highlighting the bravery that she demonstrates increasingly throughout the story (Chanter, 2011). The cry that she lets out at the very end of her life when her duty is done and she no longer must be the pinnacle of the strength of spirit shows the concept that she is still a woman in her heart. This is the allure of Antigone as a tragic heroine in her own right.

Antigone has all the power that the ancient Greeks would have attributed to a male, but she also possesses gentleness. With Sophocles’ creation of the woman spirit in a society whose culture is founded on sexist mythology, no other Greek tragedy can come close to its accomplishment. Nowhere else has the poetry of the ancient world represented a higher or more beautiful ideal of a woman’s love and devotion than in the poetry of the ancient world (Palmer, 2014). Through Sophocles’ work, ancient female characters may be understood as more than simply seducers and witches who could not be trusted in Greek tragedies and tragedies.

This drama is about a young woman who disobeyed the king’s orders by burying her brother and was put to death for her religious beliefs. Sophocles’ play has several differing opinions about whom one should sympathize with (Verkerk, 2014). Some people will have compassion for King Kreon since he only followed the regulations he established to keep the city secure. Others would feel compassion for Antigone since she showed devotion to her brother and risked her life for what she believed to be good, even though it is logical that Kreon would like to adhere to his city’s regulations. In contrast to Creon, Antigone has all the traits of a tragic hero. Antigone may be regarded as the first great hero, despite the book’s protagonists deviating from the conventional hero archetype (Sarah et al., 2003). She achieves this rank because of her bravery, sense of justice, and eternal commitment to her family. In a way, the sheer force of her views lends her a martyrlike quality.


Nonetheless, the same stubbornness that tightened the noose around Antigone’s father’s neck has brought about the same doom for her. Without this weakness, however, she could never have become a tragic hero in the manner that she has. These qualities allow Antigone to be considered by the Greeks as an equal to the male characters in the play and to have defeated them through the gods’ vengeance on her killers. When Creon recognized his faults and attempted to correct them, he lost everything. Sophocles created this figure as a symbol of sorrow and sympathy for humanity since he exhibited pride, a trait we all share. However, it was Creon’s shortcomings that led to his demise. No one wants to lose their loved ones despite their best efforts to avert such a catastrophe. Each member of Creon’s family is responsible for their destruction. However, this is the only possible outcome of a hero’s death. Furthermore, even though her demise is essential to the plot, her death may not go unpunished. Thus, the said hero meets his end.


Bobrick, E. (2015). Sophocles’ Antigone and the self-isolation of the tragic hero. Psychoanalytic Inquiry, 35(1), 40-46. Web.

Chanter, T. (2011). Whose Antigone?: The Tragic Marginalization of Slavery. SUNY Press. Web.

Chen, Y. S. (2018). The Hegelian Tragedy, Negative Dialectic and Ethical Substance in Sophocles’ Antigone. Journal of Literature and Art Studies, 8(4), 557-567. Web.

Falkenstern, R. (2020). Hegel on Sophocles’ Oedipus the King and the Moral Accountability of Ancient Tragic Heroes. Hegel Bulletin, 41(2), 159-176. Web.

Palmer, S. (2014). Martyrdom and conflict: the fate of Antigone in tragic drama. Mortality, 19(2), 206-223. Web.

Sarah, L., Mack, M., Jerome, C., Danly, R. L., Douglas, K., Hugo, H., Irele, F. A., Heather, J., McGalliard, J. C., Pasinetti, P. M., & Wellek, R. (2003). The Norton Anthology of World Literature, Vol. A: Beginnings to A.D. 100, 2nd Edition: Vol. A (2nd ed.). W. W. Norton & Company.

Verkerk, W. (2014). Heroism in Sophocles’s Antigone. Philosophy and Literature, 38(1), 282-291. Web.

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