A Tragic Tiger?

Aristotle wrote the book on tragedy. Well, actually, he wrote a short treatise he called “Poetics” in which he sought to define and describe tragic drama. In that treatise he described the tragic hero in careful terms. The hero must fall from great heights — like Oedipus who was a King of Thebes who ended up blind and poor. Indeed, it was probably Sophocles’ play that Aristotle had in mind as the paradigm of Greek tragedy. But the hero must fall due to a “tragic flaw,” what the Greeks termed “hubris,” or overweening pride. Not pride as such — that was OK. After all, every Greek should take pride in the fact that he is a Greek and not a barbarian — a term they invented to describe people whose language they couldn’t understand and which sounded to their ears like the bleating of sheep.

In these regards, one might argue that Tiger Woods is a tragic hero in Aristotle’s scheme. He fell from great heights — from the #1 player in the world to something around #286 at present, playing badly, unable to make the cut at the last three major tournaments. His tragic flaw may well be his overweening pride, indeed his conceit. He still thinks he can regain the #1 spot in the world and refuses to allow that there are better players out there. To listen to him is to hear the words of a deluded man who still thinks he is the man he was years ago. It just ain’t so.

Tiger’s demise may be sad, but it is not tragic. It’s pathos, as the Greeks would say, not tragedy. Not to Aristotle’s way of thinking. The philosopher was convinced that in addition to the features mentioned above the hero must be a noble man. Now he may have been thinking of Kings, like Oedipus, but scholars usually insist that his word “noble” must be taken in a much broader sense. But no matter how much we broaden it — even if we broaden it enough to drive a bus through it — by no stretch of the imagination can Tiger Woods be regarded as a noble man. He is anything but. He is a spoiled, self-centered, delusional athlete whose best days are behind him and who, like many athletes, simply will not admit that a new day has dawned.

Thus, Tiger Woods is not a tragic hero. Indeed, one might argue that he is not a hero in any sense of that term. He is simply a sad case of a man who was spoiled by his parents, became convinced he could walk on water — because that’s what he was told over and over — and discovered that even when frozen the water was too thin to hold his weight.