According to Aristotle, "Tragedy, then, is an imitation of a noble and complete action, having the proper magnitude ; it is presented in dramatic, not narrative form, and achieves, through the representation of pitiable and fearful incidents, the catharsis of such incidents" (Golden 11). Using the criteria established by Aristotle in Poetics, "Antigone" by Sophocles displays the qualities of a tragedy. The principle character engages in an immense moral struggle (ending in death). Catharsis is accomplished through the catastrophic consequences of the main character's actions. Throughout the play, the viewer experiences pity and fear for a number of the characters. .
In the opening scene, a conversation between Antigone and her sister Ismene introduces us to the folly that has befallen their family. They allow us to see that prior to their current circumstance, they have greatly suffered. Their mother has committed suicide. Their father, King Oedipus, has cast himself to exile. The gods have had no mercy upon their lives. War broke out between their two brothers, Polyneices and Eteocles. Polyneices invades against the city of Thebes, to regain the throne. Eteocles, who was the legitimate heir, goes to war with his brother. During battle the two brothers were slain, "by their hands dealing mutual death" (1.16). Not only must Antigone and Ismene survive their brothers, they learn that Polyneices will be shamed for all eternity if the law of Creon is to be obeyed. By the declaration of Creon, their uncle, and King, Polyneices will not have an honorable burial, but will be left to be fed upon by animals.
We learn later in their conversation that Antigone has no mind to obey the law of a mortal man, but will cling to the laws of the Gods. It is here where she is introduced as the protagonist. She lets her plan of righting the wrong that is her brother's fate be known to her sister.