Who is the Hero of Antigone?
The question of who the hero of Antigone is can have various different answers depending on the definition of hero. It is generally accepted that a hero is a person who is characterized by “exceptional strength, nobility and courage”. It shall be understood for the purposes of this analysis that these terms refer to the strength, nobility and courage of convictions; an ideological strength rather than brute strength, a nobility of purpose, rather than that of birth and the courage to hold on to one’s beliefs or give them up.
Using this broad definition it would be difficult to decide between Antigone and Creon as the hero of the play. However despite the more obvious claim that Antigone has to heroism, I believe Creon is as worthy of the term as she does. As the story unfolds, we are introduced to Antigone, one of the daughters of Oedipus. Her father being dead, the state of Thebes has been taken over by the king Creon. After a bloody battle in which one of Antigone’s brothers, Polyneices, refuses to accept Creon’s claim and tries to plunder the city, in the process fighting against his own brother who has sworn allegiance to Creon, both brothers are slain. Creon immediately issues a decree that Etiocles will be buried with all honors but anyone who dares honor Polyneices with a burial will be put to death. His reasoning is clear; in his eyes Polyneices is a traitor who has plundered the city and gods of his forefathers and raised his hand against his own family. He is therefore base and undeserving of an honour of burial. Antigone rebels against this, as the edict goes against the commandments of the gods and disrespects them as well as the family that he belonged to, and she decides to bury him, despite the fact that she knows it means her own death. After her sister refuses to help her, in fear, she goes ahead with the strength of her own belief in the rightness of what she is doing, and even later when she is caught, she proudly admits to it, standing by the rightness of the action. Creon condemns her to burial alive in a tomb despite the pleas of his son Haemon. It is only later, when the blind prophet Tereisias warns him that what he has done has offended the gods and that he will lose one of his own family that he realizes his error, repents and tries to make amends. Unfortunately, his actions come too late and he loses his son and wife, and is left a broken but wiser man.
Antigone and Creon both share the strength of conviction in what they believe is right, and are determined to follow the course which they think is true. However both have very definitions of what is right here in the story. Both are also trying to honor the customs they think are sacred. Though Antigone is clearly in the right about the dishonor done to the dead body of her brother, Creon is himself only trying to protect his city and his people. He thinks that what he is doing is necessary for the long-term safety of his people. He is very clear about the need for discipline and order without which a leader cannot govern and watch out for the wellbeing of his people. Though this idea has misled him, it is not done with the thought of viciousness but with the aim of the smooth functioning of his land. In this respect, though his actions were misguided it was done out of a belief that this was right and fitting for a man who had no respect for his family and the state of his forefathers and who tried to plunder its temples. In this respect his actions fit a hero’s, since he does not do it for personal gain but for what he believes is the greater good.
Nevertheless, Creon also has the strength to realize that he was wrong and then make amends for it despite the blow to his pride. This, I believe, is an important part of determining what strength of character is, and thus one of the parts that make a hero. It is irrelevant that he decided all too late; what is important is that he did finally acknowledge that he had made a mistake and went forth with his own hands to bury Polyneices. It is a very subtle off-spin to the definition of strength and courage, which Antigone is more obviously representative of, but nonetheless a vital part of a hero; the ability to recognize his errors and try to make up for them.
Creon is thus the hero of Antigone as much as she is for these three reasons, then: First, that he believed strongly in what he considered was the right thing, and he tried to look for the greater good of his people. Second, that he was capable of introspection and realization that he was not infallible. Thirdly and most importantly, once he realized he was wrong, he tried to make amends for his actions, the feature most important for a hero, and within these three reasons lies all the traits of strength, nobility and courage; strength to pursue rightness, nobility of purpose and acceptance of his error and the courage to take reparative action.