Sirius Black: A Tragic Greek Hero

Classical heroes like Odysseus, Oedipus, and Theseus, despite having radically different stories and fates, tend to fall into some of the same archetypes. Sirius Black, despite being very British, also shows signs of these archetypes.

The first characteristic he has in common with these heroes of old is his heritage. Being from the Ancient and Noble House of Black, he’s, in a sense, wizarding nobility. Similarly, the ancient heroes also had noble, and sometimes even divine, heritage. Unlike the modern day where we like to root for the underdog, the ancient Greeks preferred their heroes to be noble in blood and spirit. That Sirius despises, and is despised by, his noble family does not lessen this similarity. After all, family feuds were a staple of Greek myth. Hercules is an excellent example, as a hero despised by his step-mother and then later forced to perform supposedly impossible and suicidal labors for the cousin who feared him. Even being killed by your family members was a common theme in Greek mythology, as seen in the myths of Kronos, Thyestes, Oedipus, and many others.

The next characteristic of Greek heroism Sirius shows is his journey to the Underworld. In his case, his Underworld was Azkaban, not Hades. Although given the grim conditions of both, there’s not much of a difference. There were multiple Greek heroes who made such a journey, such as Hercules, Orpheus, and Odysseus. Their reasons for doing so varied. Hercules was forced to by his cousin, Orpheus sought his wife, and Odysseus wanted knowledge. Sirius’s journey is most similar to the journey of Hercules since he was forced to journey there by a man he considered family, even if he wasn’t an actual blood relation. He even leaves the Underworld with a large dog symbolizing death, although a Grim doesn’t have three heads. And furthermore, his quest to seek revenge after escaping is a common trope in Greek tragedy. There were quite a few blood-feuds in Greek myth, and they could last generations. So Sirius’s desire to kill one man is actually quite tame in comparison to some of the Greek revenge tragedies. Thyestes’s legend in particular is very brutal reading.

Sirius’s last similarity lies in his death. One of the marks of a tragic Greek hero is hamartia, or a fatal flaw. For Sirius, this is his passionate loyalty. Now, this may not seem like a flaw, and indeed, this loyalty is what allows Sirius to defy his family and turn against the Dark. However, it is this loyalty that gets him imprisoned and then later killed. After Pettigrew’s betrayal, had Sirius gone to Dumbledore or even the Ministry of Magic first and explained that he wasn’t the Secret-Keeper, he might have not gone to prison. But his loyalty to James and Lily meant that sitting by and allowing others to solve the problem was unthinkable, and thus he chose to hunt down Pettigrew himself. Later on, it is loyalty to his godson that drives him to go to the Department of Mysteries, where he ultimately died. Had he not rushed into battle, he would have lived. The tragedy of his death is that he could have avoided his death, but his own nature never would have allowed him to so. This is what makes a tragic hero: that they will ultimately cause, but not deserve, their own fate.

Thus, Sirius Black is the very image of a tragic Greek hero, He was born to a noble family, one he later feuded against. He found a new family but sadly lost them through a grievous betrayal. In a fit of reckless loyalty, he pursued the traitor, but failed to catch him, and was banished to the Underworld. Years later, he escapes and seeks his long-awaited revenge. However, he never manages to succeed in it, but is instead killed by his own cousin after rushing into battle in another bout of reckless loyalty, this time to his godson. His death turns him into a tragic hero, sadly dead and gone. However, just like other Greek heroes, we can still remember him through the constellation he shares his name with.

Mikaela Renshaw

I picked up a Harry Potter book for the first time when I was six years old and promptly fell in love. However, it didn’t take long for my love of literature to go beyond just Harry Potter and I am now working towards my PhD in English. Outside literature, I love Irish-dancing, D and D, going to the beach, attending Comic-Con, and playing with my dog.