From what I learned in high school when reading Greek literature, there are five key qualifications for a tragic hero:
a. Noble Stature: Since the tragedy often involves the “fall” of a hero, the central character must have a lofty position to fall from, or else it’s not considered a tragedy, but rather just a misfortunate event (for example we only consider it a tragedy when someone famous dies but not when it’s just a random man).
b. Tragic Flaw (Hamartia): The tragic hero must “fall” due to some flaw in his own personality. The most common tragic flaw is hubris (excessive pride), something that we are familiar with from the Odyssey and Odysseus.
c. Free Choice: While there is often a discussion of the role of fate in the downfall of a tragic hero, there must be an element of choice in order for there to be a true tragedy. The tragic hero falls because he chooses one course of action over another.
d. The Punishment Exceeds the Crime: The audience must sympathize with the hero. Part of what makes the action “tragic” is to witness the injustice of what has occurred to the tragic hero.
e. Hero has Increased Awareness: The tragic hero must understand what’s wrong or unjust with the situation before he/she comes to his/her final decision and eventual fate.
f. Produces Catharsis in Audience: Catharsis is a feeling of “emotional purgation” that an audience feels after witnessing the plight tragic hero: We feel emotionally drained, but overall satisfied with the course of events.
So there’s no doubt that Antigone meets the criteria, but for some reason or another I still feel uneasy with the idea of calling Antigone a hero. Something about Antigone suicide doesn’t settle well with me. In a (somewhat) more modern context, Antigone to me is very similar to the monks who set themselves on fire as a means of protest. While although those monks certainly raise awareness, I still think they would be of more value to the community if they were still alive and were able to actually do something; there’s nothing you can do to further your cause once you’re dead. Thoughts?