Sophocles’ tragic hero is someone with flaws enough to evoke compassion for them as a fellow human being. According to his definition of the tragic hero, Creon is the tragic protagonist because Antigone cannot be. Creon brings about the catharsis, which could not be properly created with Antigone as the protagonist, and he is flawed with both internal and external conflicts, where as Antigone seems almost too saintly because of her self sacrifice.
One major aspect of Aristotle’s tragedy is the catharsis, whose goal is to bring about feelings of pity and fear. Creon is such a character that the reader both pities and fears him. For instance in lines 280-284 Creon speaks on the subject of the corpse being buried.
“Stop now, before you fill me up with rage,
Or you’ll prove yourself insane as well as old.
Unbearable, your saying that the gods
Take any kindly forethought for this corpse.”
This line make the reader pity Creon for his lack of morals or ability to respect common laws of the dead. The reader also begins to fear Creon because he dares disobey the order of the Gods and the laws of humanity, so what will he not do to prove his point? What is his next move?
Creon fit’s the definition of Aristotle’s tragic protagonist because he is flawed enough to appear human to the reader. His major character flaw is his desire to not be humiliated and to prove himself, which most of us recognize as a human flaw, and which many of us have ourselves. This flaw is shown in one of his speeches:
“I am no man and she the man instead
if she can have this conquest without pain.
She is my sister‘s child, but were she child
of closer kin than any at my heart,
she and her sister should not so escape
their death and doom.” (lines 485-486).
This line shows both his desire to not be humiliated and his desire to prove himself a good leader because he says that he would not be any kind of man at all if he were to let her off; he would not be a man if he did not hold up to his word, even if it means killing one who, though not beloved, means something to him. He is willing to go to any end to show that he is worthy of being the ruler of Thebes, and that is his biggest flaw.
Finally, the reason Creon must be the tragic protagonist is because Antigone cannot be. Although she has human flaws such as her stubbornness, her willingness to sacrifice herself puts her above most others and makes her a sort of saint.
“For me it was not Zeus who made that order.
Nor did that Justice who lives with the gods below
Mark out such laws to hold among mankind.
Nor did I think your orders were so strong
That you, a mortal man, could over-run
The gods’ unwritten and unfailing laws…
And so, for me to meet this fate, no grief.”(lines 450-465)
This quote shows both Antigone’s stubbornness through her argument with Creon about the laws that he has passed, and her willingness to die for the cause with “no grief.” According to Aristotle’s definition of a tragic protagonist we must both pity and fear him or her, and Antigone is not frightening, and we pity her, but the pity is accompanied by “indignation and anger,” which is “not a proper tragic reaction,”(Literature Anthology, pg. 1256), because of her saintliness.
Through Aristotle’s beliefs about the nature of the tragedy and the tragic hero we can conclude that Creon is the tragic protagonist in Antigone.
Although he is not the one the reader would necessarily root for, he evokes the proper feelings of pity and fear because of his realistic character flaws. He also brings about the catharsis, which is the main point of a tragedy according to Aristotle. Also through the ideas of Aristotle we are able to infer that Antigone cannot be the tragic protagonist because although the reader generally agrees with her, she does not cause the proper feelings of pity and fear, but rather those of anger and resentment because of her saintliness; to the reader her death is simply unjust.