The great poet and philosopher Aristotle was a highly intellectual man who loved to reason. One of his ideas was his structured analysis of the quintessential “tragic hero” of Greek drama. In his work Poetics he defines a tragic hero as “… The man who on the one hand is not pre-eminent in virtue and justice, and yet on the other hand does not fall into misfortune through vice or depravity, but falls because of some mistake; one among the number of the highly renowned and prosperous. ” Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero is clearly shown by the main character in the Greek tragedy Oedipus the King by Sophocles.
Oedipus, the protagonist in this Greek tragedy, is exemplary of Aristotle’s idea of a “tragic hero. ” In Oedipus the King, Oedipus, the main character is a great man who saves the city of Thebes from the plague of the Sphinx by answering an extremely difficult riddle. Everything is going for him. He becomes the king and marries the widowed Queen of the land. However, as the plot unfolds, Oedipus begins to show the signs of being a “tragic hero” by Aristotle’s definition. Aristotle says that a tragic hero is a person, usually the main character, who starts out as a great and noble individual.
Oedipus is not an evil man but a good, upright, man who suffers a downfall. Aristotle also says that this person begins to become fallible and eventually is doomed by their own “tragic flaw. ” We see this with Oedipus when he displays hubris. Oedipus begins to think he can out do the gods and prevent Apollo’s oracles from being fulfilled. His downfall is that he marries his mother and kills his father. He is blinded by his hubris and is the agent of his own destruction. The completion of Oedipus’ downfall is realization of his folly.
He is then led to blind himself by his own hand and be banished from his own children and city according to his own decree. Oedipus is a victim of the Greek’s most powerful force – fate. Aristotle says that a tragic hero will be sympathized and pitied. He says that they “excite pity and fear. ” This is true in most respects for Oedipus in that he was once a greatly respected and revered man. As the tragedy begins to come to an end, an undercurrent of pity and sorrow is felt for Oedipus. Oedipus was once good, but has since then fallen. This makes his banishment one of even greater sadness, not of revenge.
Lastly, Aristotle describes the plays of the ancient Greeks as having “unhappy endings” due to the fallen hero’s fate. Oedipus is blinded and his beloved wife and mother, Jocasta, hangs herself due to the events of the plot. This certainly is an unhappy ending that brings mourning to the audience of Oedipus the King. The scene with Oedipus giving a final farewell to his children, Antigone and Ismene, hits home with every observer. Overall, Aristotle’s definition of a “tragic hero” is clearly shown by the actions and emotions portrayed by Oedipus in the epitome of Greek tragedies, Oedipus the King.