What Is the Definition of "tragic Hero"?

definition-tragic-hero Credit: ZU_09/E+/Getty Images

According to the philosopher Aristotle, a tragic hero is a great person who comes to misfortune through a fatal character flaw. Though the tragic hero must be a decent person, he must not be the epitome of virtue.

Aristotle argued that such a hero must first elicit the audience's emotional attachment so that the audience fears the character's tragic fate. Then, the audience must feel pity for the suffering hero. For Aristotle, Oedipus was the ideal tragic hero. Abandoned by his royal parents, the orphan Oedipus generates respect in the audience when he defeats the Sphinx. However, he does not know his true origins: this is his fatal flaw. When he unknowingly marries his mother to become king of Thebes, the audience is horrified yet sympathetic. After his incest is revealed, his mother/wife, Jocasta, commits suicide, and Odysseus blinds himself, creating grief in the audience.