In Antigone, a Greek tragedy, Sophocles tells the story of Antigone, the daughter of the old King of Thebes Oedipus, who buries her brother against the law of her uncle and father of her husband to be King Creon. The author utilizes his characters to critique and reflect on ancient Athens. While telling the story, Sophocles stays within the boundaries of Greek tragedy set by Aristotle. Aristotle’s theory covers the importance of the primary element plot and secondary element character. Creon’s character is driven by and the stimuli of key elements of Aristotle’s poetics, which can be seen in the mimesis, catharsis, peripeteia and anagnorisis of the story.
Contradictory to Plato’s theory on mimesis in tragedy Aristotle gave great importance to this imitating element of tragedy. Aristotle put tragedy down as imitation just as other forms of art that imitate either nature or the world. He made a distinction between these arts and tragedy by stating that tragedy imitates life, emotions either good or bad, fortune and misfortune. In philosophy, this phenomenon is called mimesis. In Antigone Sophocles uses Creon’s character to reflect upon monarchs in ancient Athens. He starts by doing this by implementing one of the most highly regarded values in any ancient Greek society, which is patriotism. Creon is a personification of this and a reflection of the good and bad sides of the trait.
On the other hand, you have the trait of loyalty, which is portrayed in both Creon and Antigone, yet they are loyal to different things: Creon is loyal to his word and the law whilst Antigone stays loyal to her family and the Gods. The clash between the two is what Sophocles tries to show in Antigone. The traits on its own is not something bad, Creon makes it worse by refusing to subside after receiving mounting opposition. Sophocles succeeded in imitating a situation in which the power of one leader leads to a series of unfortunate events. In doing so Sophocles gives the opportunity to the audience to derive knowledge from the play by telling them not to always follow the judgment of the one in power. He utilizes the characters and chorus to reflect on the play based on their own society in ancient Athens, which falls in line with Aristotle’s view on mimesis.
Sophocles gives catharsis, the purgation of emotions- typically pity and fear- through, in this case, tragedy, a big role in Antigone. It is supposed to result in the rejuvenation of the emotions of the audience. According to Aristotle, for there to be catharsis, a tragic hero is crucial. In Antigone, it’s evident that Creon is the tragic hero. The hero must be of high social standing yet possess a tragic flaw, something that will blow up in their faces later. In Antigone, Creon is the perfect tragic hero for he has a high social standing by being the King of Thebes yet possessing a tragic flaw, his arrogance. Throughout the play, Creon’s arrogance comes to light several times. “Creon: So, men our age, we’re to be lectured, are we? Schooled by a boy his age?” This is a moment where Haemon is criticizing his father’s decision concerning the death of Antigone. Creon refuses the critique from “a boy his age” or any “worthless woman” which confirms his arrogance and towards any inferior. At the beginning of the play the main feeling Sophocles evokes in the audience is fear, fear of being treated the way Creon treats Antigone. The feeling of pity and another sense of fear are brought up when Creon’s own fear and self-pity reach its height which is at the moment of peripeteia and anagnorisis. There his tragic flaw blows up in his face. This is because at that moment nobody would wish to be in Creon’s place.
Aristotle states that peripeteia, the plot twist of a tragedy, and anagnorisis, the realization scene, are vital for a tragedy. Sophocles portrayed this through Creon, linking the plot twist and the realization scene to his character and his character development. In Antigone, the moment of peripeteia is when Creon finds his son together with his love, Antigone, in the tomb where she was sent by Creon to die. Creon finds Haemon full of fury, ready to kill his own father. When this fails, however, he kills himself. As a reader or audience, you do not expect Haemon to have killed himself to join his wife in the bridal bed of death. Sophocles uses the shock that the audience feels by implementing the reaction of Creon. He is put at the same place as the audience, for he too did not see this coming. The plot twist is because of the actions of Creon, which led Haemon to suicide, and eventually lashes back on Creon. After the heart-wrenching death of Haemon, the news reaches his mother leading to her own suicide with hate in her heart towards Creon: “Messenger: then with her dying breath she called down torments on your head – you killed her sons.”
After this second blow Creon’s character has undergone peripeteia but this does not have to mean that the character changes. In Antigone however Creon realizes that the death of his son and wife is because of his own fault. The author directly links the peripeteia in Antigone with the anagnorisis: “Creon: And the guilt is all mine – can never be fixed by another man, no escape for me. I killed you, I, god help me. I admit it all!” The anagnorisis is the intriguing part of the story, for the realization is directly tied with perhaps another plot twist, the one where Creon acknowledges his fault. Nobody had expected the arrogant, self-assured Creon to back down on his words and admit to his wrong doings. Sophocles portrayed Creon as a man deaf to critique and blind to self-reflection. Even when the seer Tiresias, one Creon always respected when it came to advice, tells him of the misfortune that lies ahead of him Creon responds: “I am in no mood to trade insults with a seer”. Sophocles gives a foresight on the fate of Creon through the old seer yet fails to make Creon realize himself, which is why the eventual realization is a twist on its own. After seeing the fate caused by his tragic flaw, he undergoes anagnorisis. It’s the moment when the character makes a discovery. Here Creon can reflect on himself. It’s debatable if this can be called character development however, as reacting this way to the death of a son and wife is merely a human reaction. The anagnorisis would not have come without the peripeteia which shows that the “development” of Creon’s character was by virtue of the peripeteia and therefore plot. Sophocles did this within the boundaries of Aristotle’s poetics because he put the importance of plot above that of character, which is one of the key elements of his theory.
In conclusion Sophocles’ Antigone is written within the rules of Aristotle’s poetics. Creon’s character seems to steal the show perhaps more than the story itself. The whole story is either stimulated by him or happens to him, which makes it hard to pinpoint whether Creon is the drive behind the plot or if the plot is the drive behind Creon. This would be the only contradicting point to Aristotle’s theory as the plot has to evidently be put to the foreground of a tragedy. However, this doesn’t take away from all the points Sophocles keeps to his rules: the usage of mimesis in order to reflect on society, the implementation of catharsis so the audience can relate and the role of plot and character through peripeteia and anagnorisis. The guidelines that Aristotle put down to make a tragedy effective and Sophocles following them has made Antigone the famous play that is to this day.