From Aristotle we know that most stories can be boiled down into two types: comedy and tragedy. In comedies everything starts out well for the protagonist but then something bad happens. Somehow the hero is able to overcome adversity, and everything isbetter than when the story began. These kinds of stories often end with the protagonist getting married; he was once isolated from society but has now been integrated back into it.
Tragedies have just the opposite story plot. Events often start out bad, the hero overcomes, but in the end he is undone. Tragedies usually end in the hero’s death.
In this post we are going to be taking a look at tragedies. First we’re going to see some elements they all have in common. Next we’re going to look at what makes a tragic hero a tragic hero. Lastly we’ll take a look at a couple of tragic heroes from the pages of scripture.
The phases of a tragic story
The tragic hero is faced with a dilemma, which is to say he is faced with a difficult decision for which there are two options. The dilemma is always moral in nature.
In response to the dilemma the tragic hero makes a choice. As indicated by the nature of the story he makes the wrong choice.
As a result of his choice the world of the tragic hero falls into catastrophe. Everything begins to spiral out of control for the protagonist.
There is a period of suffering for the tragic hero as his world plunges further and further out of control.
Before the end the tragic hero gains some level of perception for why everything has gone terribly wrong.
As I said above the story of the tragic hero usually ends in death for the protagonist.
3 characteristics of the tragic hero
All tragic heroes in the Bible have some character flaw. Even most of the good heroes have a character flaw. What turns a hero into a tragic hero is when he allows himself to be overcome by his flaw.
In pre-Christian pagan tragedies the capricious gods are responsible for the downfall of the hero (read King Oedipus). In biblical tragedies the view of the biblical authors is that the hero is responsible for his own downfall.
Because the hero has given in to his character flaw, whether it is pride, jealousy, greed, etc., and he is responsible for his own downfall the hero deserves the tragedy.
Tragedy in the Bible, Samson and Saul
Samson is the first person from the Bible we often think of when we think of a tragic hero. He had everything going for him. His birth was foretold to his parents by an angel. He had super strength. He was a judge of Israel.
The story of Samson is complex. On the surface it seems like his mistake was going after the wrong women. However, in regards to his first marriage we find out that it was from the Lord. “His father and mother did not know that it was from the Lord; for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines” (Judges 14:4).
In the end it was his constant failure to maintain his Nazirite vow, along with pursuing the wrong women, that led to his downfall.
Samson had some elements in his story that leads us to think that is was not purely tragic. On the other hand the story of Saul is simple tragedy.
Saul’s story comes at the heels of Samuel’s and precedes and is intermingled with David’s. Saul is the first king of Israel, however he lacks a strong sense of leadership that ultimately results in his downfall.
Saul’s tragic choice was his decision to keep the spoils from his battle with the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15. God had told Saul not to keep anything but the people wanted him to save the best spoils. His tragic choice was one of weak leadership; he followed the will of the people instead of the will of God.
From this we know that God raised up another king and Saul later went on to fall in battle. In both Saul’s and Samson’s cases their failure to obey God is what led to their downfall.
That’s it for biblical tragedies. As always I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.