Kreon is a tragic hero in Antigone. Both Antigone and Kreon are contenders for the tragic hero role in the play.
A tragic hero, as defined by A Dictionary of Literary, Dramatic, and Cinematic Terms, is someone who suffers due to a tragic flaw or hamartia. This Greek word is translated as tragic flaw, error, or weakness. Kreon’s hamartia, like in many plays, is hybris, Greek for overweening pride, arrogance, or excessive confidence. Kreon’s hybris causes him to attempt to violate the laws of order or human rights, another main part of a tragic hero. Also, like all tragic heroes, Kreon suffers because of his hamartia and then realizes his flaw. The belief that Antigone is the hero is strong, but there is a stronger belief that Kreon, the Ruler of Thebes, is the true protagonist.
Kreon’s main and foremost hamartia was his hubris, or his extreme pride. He would never let anyone prove him wrong or change his mind once it was made. One event that showed Kreon’s hamartia and caused the catastrophe was when he asked his son Haimon, who was engaged to marry Antigone, if he still loved his father. Haimon respected Kreon’s ruling but felt that Kreon was wrong in this case. Haimon advised his father not to have Antigone executed, but Kreon’s hubris caused him to become furious and worsen the situation.
He was too proud to take advice from someone younger, and in his anger, he decided to kill Antigone in front of Haimon’s eyes. Just understand: You don’t insult me and go off laughing. Bring her here! Let him see her. Kill her here, beside her bridegroom. (Sophocles 919-921).
This was too much for Haimon to take, and he runs out of the room, yelling, Her death will destroy others” (Sophocles 908). Blinded by his pride and arrogance, Kreon takes that remark as a threat to himself, unknowing that it wasn’t directed to himself, but was a suicide threat by his own son. Another example of Kreon’s tragic pride is when the prophet Teiresias travels all the way to Thebes to tell Kreon very important news, but Kreon’s pride makes him ignore it and accuse Teiresias of being bribed. Teiresias tells Kreon that the gods are angered by Kreon’s disregard for their laws and that Kreon should release Antigone and bury Polyneices. After Teiresias tells Kreon that he, the King of Thebes, has made a wrong decision, Kreon’s tragic pride is shown again. Teiresias asks, “Doesn’t anyone know? Won’t anyone consider?”
Kreon asks, Consider what? What universal truths are you going to proclaim?” Teiresias responds, “How much more valuable than money good advice is?” Kreon retorts, “Or how much worse losing your judgement is?” (Sophocles 1210-1214) Teiresias, a blind prophet from Delphi who has never been proven wrong, tells Kreon, “All mankind is subject to error.” Once a mistake is made, it is wise to make amends and not be unbending. “Stubbornness is stupidity” (Sophocles 1180-1184), but Kreon remains stubborn. Teiresias warns, “And tyrants love to have their own way regardless of right and wrong.” Kreon responds, “Do you know who you’re talking to? We’re your rulers” (Sophocles 1225-1228).
Like all tragic heroes, Kreon must suffer because of his hamartia. After his anagnorisis, which means recognition in Greek, he realizes that his excessive pride has led him astray and that the prophets’ predictions must be true. Kreon attempts to set things right but unfortunately does not do so in time. In a very ironic peripeteia, which means reversal in Greek, his son and wife both commit suicide. This is all because of Kreon’s tragic flaw: pride.
Kreon realizes this and suffers like all tragic heroes. Suffering is one of the main parts of a tragic hero’s story: realizing their tragic flaw when it’s too late and suffering because of it. Kreon’s realization of his flaw is very obvious when he says, I was wrong, not you” (Sophocles 1464), and “I have learned, I am ruined. It was a god.”
Then, right then! He hit me, held me, and heaped heavy blows on my head (Sophocles 1468-1469). His suffering is also evident.