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The Image of Antigone in Greek Tragedies

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Jean Anouilh’s Antigone is arguably the most famous tragedy ever performed, as it greatly satisfies Aristotle’s ideas of the nature of tragedy. Aristotle’s theory of a tragedy is to bring catharsis of the audience, to make them feel the sensations of fear and pity, and to cleanse them of these sensations so that they would leave the theater with an understanding of the ways of men and gods. This catharsis of relief is brought up by witnessing disaster and change in the fortunes of the drama’s protagonist.

Antigone is a tragedy because it follows Aristotle’s five rules of tragedy. It has a tragic hero, being Creon, a change in fortune within a character occurs, it is poetic, and happens in one location, Thebes, on the same day. Consequently, this essay will explore the ways in which Antigone conforms to the conventions of tragedy. The first convention of a tragedy from Aristotle’s theory is the peripeteia, which is the reversal of fortune. We see peripeteia in Antigone when Creon tries to find another punishment for Antigone instead of putting her to death for her attempt to bury polyneices. “They’d just put Antigone in the cave”. Instead of killing her, which was the punishment for whoever disobeys the king, Creon put Antigone in a cave so that he would not feel the guilt of killing his own niece, and his son’s fiance. Creon tries to save his niece from her doomed ending by hiding the truth from the citizens of Thebes and putting her in a cave for the rest of her life. Another peripeteia that happens in the play is when Antigone’s fortune has been reversed from dying on her uncle’s hand to her hands. “Antigone was in the depths of the cave, hanged with her own girdle”. Not only did Antigone die on her own hands but she escapes both of her uncle’s punishments; the first killing her on the guard’s hands and the second is burying her in a cave underneath the ground where she is left with just enough food and water to survive. Antigone’s fate changes from being the princess of Thebes to a “fallen princess” because she is dead as a result of her own beliefs, and her own hubris.

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The second greek tragedy that is conveyed in Antigone is Hamartia which causes fall to bad fortune, and the fatal flaw leading to the downfall of a tragic hero. Antigone’s hamartia is caused by her stubborn loyalty to her family and the gods, as well as her moral convictions. Her loyalty to her brother Polyneices is what dooms her “They have uncovered my brother’s body. I Must go bury him”. Even though Antigone knows the punishment of whoever tries to bury Polyneices. She believes that it is her moral duty to bury him so that he would find peace. Her duty and loyalty to her family and God go beyond her and her life. She is willing to sacrifice her own life, both her sister and her fiance’s happiness to bury her brother and to fulfill her moral duty.

Creon is the anagnorisis. In the end, he realizes that due to his hubris that lead to his demise, he lost everything when he sentenced his niece to death. His son killed himself when he saw Antigone hanging and Creon’s wife killed herself as well after finding her son dead, and that his hubris leads to his demise.

The third Greek tragedy that is in Antigone is Anagnorisis which is the recognition of one’s actions and consequences. Antigone has stood by her choice of dying through the entire play and her through her discussion with Creon. She is obsessed with death as though its a prize to earn. Even when her uncle tries to stop her from burying her brother by exposing her brother’s dark past, she still refuses. Her hubris and her family especially burying Polyneices was above all. No matter what was said to her by Creon she did not want to change her mind. Before her doomed ending, Antigone writes a letter to Haemon, her fiance explaining to him her situation. While waiting for her sentence to pass Antigone finally admits her error “I have chosen, to die… Creon was right: it’s awful, but, here, with this man beside me, I don’t know anymore what I’m dying for.. I’m afraid, oh, Haemon! It’s only now I realize how easy it was for me to live.”..

Finally, after her long conversation with Creon and her unfolded discovery of her brother’s past does Antigone admits her fear of death. Everything she was standing by, burying her brother is lost. Her excessive pride was clouding her judgment of what is rational. She was consumed and in love with the idea of death and when the time came she realized how lonely death can be. Antigone is selfish she does not regard her fiance, Haemon’s feelings nor her sister’s. They both love her deeply but her hubris came in the way and she was focused in one thought and one belief: burying her brother. Once this belief was lost she lost everything and everyone with it”. They have uncovered my brother’s body. I must go bury him”. Antigone shows strong civil-disobedience. She goes against her uncle, the king’s laws, and does what she wants, no matter what the consequences will be. Another character in Antigone, who shares Antigone’s selfishness, pride, and hubris is Creon; due to his characteristics, he caused the tragic downfall of his family. He leads his niece to death. And even though he admits that he needs to bury Polyneices, he rejects the idea to prove to the people that he is the king of Thebes and that his ‘job’ is above all. ‘Don’t you think I am revolted as you are by the flesh rotting in the sun … the whole business is not only horrible but stupid… I myself would have preferred your brother’s body buried,, just for reasons of hygiene” (37-8) The reasons for both characters to bury Polyneices are different but in the end, they agree at the same point; burying Polyneices. If the Creon swallowed his pride and just buried him for his family’s sake, The tragic hero’s ending may differ.

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