Creon as a Tragic Hero in Antigone by Sophocles: An Analysis

Categories: Creon

Ancient people once wondered why the season turned cold and dark, and farming failed during parts of the year, and in an attempt to rationalize an explanation, myths would come about. One of many stories that were created came from Greek mythology, which claimed it was because Persephone left her mother, the goddess of the Harvest, to return to her abductor Hades. Passing down stories of why the world works the way it does, or the gods who may rule over it, has been a tradition as old as civilization itself.

But another extremely important part of such stories was to implement morals into the individuals that listened.

And from such myths and tales of morality came tragedies. Tragedies according to the Greeks, were stories that involved an important individual who would spiral down to his lowest point due to excessive pride. That individual who spirals down becomes known as a tragic hero. In the tragic play Antigone by Sophocles, Creon, the prideful king of Thebes, and Antigone, his niece, stubbornly stick to their contrasting views of what they believe is right.

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These unmoving and extremely different viewpoints cause many deaths, and Creon is left with nothing. In Antigone, Creon is unarguably a tragic hero.

Creon has all of the traits of a tragic hero, the most important being the trait of pride. For example, in scene one, Creon is giving his speech to the chorus about his beliefs on ruling, and then later his first order, Creon says "Polyneices, I say, is to have no burial: no man is to touch him or say the least prayer for him; he shall lie on the plain, unburied; and the birds and the scavenging dogs can do with him whatever they like” (Sc.

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1, 45-49). In this quote Creon is directly going against the Greek gods and claiming to be either on equal grounds with the gods or above them by commanding his people listen to him rather than their religion.

This shows how much hubris he has. Another example of Creon's pride comes during scene three when Creon and his son Haimon, who was also Antigone's fiance, argue over the proper way to rule a kingdom. Haimon has just given Creon a very respectful and reasonable argument about how he needs to be less close minded and not rule only by his own ideas. To this Creon replies “You consider it right for a man of my years and experience / To go to school to a boy?” (Sc.5, 95-96). In this abrasive comeback, Creon makes it clear that he will not accept that someone younger could possibly hold more wisdom than he.

Furthermore, he feels running a kingdom his way is always the right way. He would never consider he could be wrong, clearly an irrational thing for a leader to believe. This is further exemplified in scene one, where Creon has just heard the news that someone has defied his rule and buried the body of Polyneices. Unbeknownst to Creon, it was his niece Antigone. Choragos, the leader of the chorus of wise men that reside in the palace, asked Creon if perhaps the gods had buried him. Creon responds with “Stop!/ Must you doddering wrecks / Go out of your heads entirely? ‘The gods! / Intolerable!” (Sc. 1, 114 117).

In this demeaning reply, Creon shows his true character. His statement insults the honorable men of the chorus and further supports the idea that he is full of pride and egoism. The preceding quotes show how prideful and arrogant Creon is, and ultimately will lead to his downfall. Due to Creon's horrible nature, he makes decisions that are detrimental to himself and the people around him. For example, in scene two, Antigone, has been captured by a sentry and brought to Creon where he learns that Antigone was responsible for the burial of Polyneices. Creon and Antigone then argue about whether her defiance was righteous.

While Creon is deciding what to do with her, Creon proclaims to himself, "Who is the man here, / She or I, if this crime goes unpunished?” (Sc. 2, 82-83). Creon's mutterings about his pride being challenged influence his decision to send Antigone to her death. This leads to condemnation by the gods. Yet another example in which Creon's pride further influences him comes in scene one. Creon blows up at the sentry who he believes is corrupt, only after he has brought the news of the burial and nothing more. “I'll string you up / Alive," Creon says "and there will be certain ways to make you / Discover your employer before you die” (Sc. 1, 135-137).

This shows Creon acting as the tough leader who has a grasp on the situation. Where in fact, this proves that he is a failure who has disregarded his morals he claimed to have barely hours earlier. In scene five, we are shown more evidence of Creon's wrongdoings caused by his pride. In scene five, we are introduced to Teiresias, a blind prophet who foretells the future from the gods. Teiresias visits Creon to tell him about the prophecies that tell him about the gods anger. Creon is upset by these tellings and he says "No, Teiresias: / If your birds--if the great eagles of God himself / Should carry him stinking bit by bit to heaven, / I would not yield. I am not afraid of pollution: / No man can defile the gods” (Sc. 5, 44-47). This irrational and insane statement by Creon makes the deadly mistake of saying he was not afraid of the gods, a proclamation which makes the gods punish him greatly.

All of Creon's words influenced from his hubris and irrationality have coalesced to the point of no return, where he is now entering the beginning of the end. All of Creon's prideful actions are leading him to his downfall, the final steps of a tragic hero. Again in scene five, the prophet Teiresias warns him of how he is to be punished: “The time is not far off when you shall pay back / Corpse for corpse, flesh of your own flesh... / This is your crime: / And the Furies and the dark gods of Hell / Are swift with terrible punishment for you” (Sc. 5, 71-78).

With Creon's fate now set in stone by the prophecy of Teiresias, no action he may perform will cause him to be spared from the doom that has now begun. Because of the prophecy, Creon becomes fearful and doubts himself. He rushes to the mountain to try and save Antigone, who he locked in a mountain chamber, but instead finds she has hanged herself and Haimon in the process of committing suicide. As he cradles Haimon's dead body which has been brought back to the palace, he says, “This truth is hard to bear. Surely a god / Has crushed me beneath the hugest weight of heaven, / And driven me headlong in a barbaric way / To trample out the thing I held most dear. / The pains that men will take to come to pain!" (Exodus 94-98). Creon is experiencing perhaps the greatest pain that a father can endure, and this plague is only the first of many to come.

For the second haunting event to strike Creon occurs only seconds later, when a messenger has come to tell him the news that after hearing of her son's end, his wife Eurydice has stabbed herself after cursing Creon for being his murderer. He cries after learning of her death, "O port of death, deaf world, / Is there no pity for me? And you, Angel of evil, / I was dead, and your words are death again” (Exodus, 103-105). Creon no longer has anything to love for, and he wishes to die, as he has murdered his son, wife, and niece, and is feeling the effects of his arrogance. But Creon's curse is not over yet, as he is told by Choragos that he is not to die, as there is still much to do on Earth, leaving him to live out the rest of his life with the guilt of killing all that he loved. Creon has now reached his own personal Hell on Earth, the end of his journey as a tragic hero, and his life has become a tragedy.

Creon's large ego and pridefulness lead him to make decisions that hurt him deeply in the end. In his play Antigone, Sophocles makes several comments on the act of pride and how it deprecates individuals in society, as well as giving the audience a reminder about being humble and accepting of other ideas. Sophocles' ideas about keeping an open mind, acceptful to change, and learning from critique are also good moral lessons to take away from Antigone, as well as the lesson of finding the golden mean in a case of two extremes, like there was in the case of Antigone and Creon. In the end, it is most important to recognize when pride is causing an individual to make decisions in the long run, even if it may hurt them in the short term.

Updated: May 03, 2023
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Creon as a Tragic Hero in Antigone by Sophocles: An Analysis. (2022, Nov 07). Retrieved from

Creon as a Tragic Hero in Antigone by Sophocles: An Analysis essay
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