Tragedy in Greek Literature
When one hears the word tragedy, they might think of someone dying in a car wreck, being killed in a plane crash, or even a massive tsunami that wipes out nations. This type of tragedy is the most common, but when referring to Greek literature, a tragedy is an outstanding piece of drama originating in Ancient Greece. Greek tragedy originated in honor of the god of wine, Dionysus, the patron god of tragedy. The performance took place in an open-air theater. The work tragedy is derived from the word “tragedia” or “goat song.” Aristotle said, “Tragedy is largely based on life’s pity and splendor (Lucas).
Greek tragedy would not be complete with out a tragic hero. Sophocles, the great writer of tragedy, wrote of noble and courageous heroes with specific “tragic flaws” that lead the hero to his downfall. In Aristotle’s analysis of Greek tragedy he states, “Greek tragedy has an effect on the audience called “catharsis,” or purging of the emotions (Mcavoy).” The two specific emotions that Sophocles provokes are pity and fear. Sophocles wrote Antigone with a specific character in mind for this noble hero. Creon fits the image of the hero with the “tragic flaw.” Creon is significant because he is the king. The hard decisions that Creon is faced with, is what makes him fit Aristotle’s image of a tragic hero. Creon faced decisions that lead to a no-win situation. He believes that Polyneices should not be buried because he was a traitor to his family. This decision affected Antigone greatly, and Creon knew that the decision would be hard on some people. Family and burials are very important in society, and Creon is asking Antigone to not consider them, to only consider that Polyneices was a traitor to his home city. Creon is then faced with the knowledge that Antigone went against his will and law, and buried her brother. Again, Creon is faced with a hard decision. He must choose to kill his own family member and uphold the law, or punish her less severely and show that he is not serious about death as a punishment to his law. Creon doesn’t want to show weakness, even for family, but he doesn’t want to kill Antigone, who is not only his niece and sister, but engaged to his son. The final decision that Creon must make is whether or not to revoke his death sentence on Antigone. Creon would be doing the right thing, but it would show that he was wrong in a previous decision and he does not want to admit that he was wrong. Unfortunately, Creon does not always make the correct decisions. When he sentences Antigone to death, he is wrong. This decision is one of Creon’s downfalls the he unwillingly possesses. He is excessively prideful and believes that his choice is the only correct one. Creon eventually realizes that his decision to sentence Antigone to death was wrong, but it is too late. This makes the audience feel pity for him. Creon’s character fits the image that Aristotle portrays for the tragic hero (McAvoy).
The same characteristics that are portrayed by the Ancient Greek “tragic hero,” are living in the lives of many people we interact with in today’s world. Some may say that the president possesses the traits of a “tragic hero.” He is in a powerful position and many hard decisions have to be made that have great consequences. The president of the United States is put in many difficult positions and most of his decisions affect the well being of the citizens abiding in our country. The same principles of tragedy are the same in today’s society, but the minute details are different. There are many other examples of tragic heroes living in today’s world. Tragic heroes don’t just die because they are good or bad, they die because of a flaw. In a lot of stories, tragic heroes die because of pride and stubbornness. In real life there are many people who die because of their flaws, so many people surrounding us may fit in the category of a tragic hero.