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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: February ::
Re: Oedipus and Greek Tragedy
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0080.  Monday, 6 February 1995.
 
(1)     From:   Bernice W. Kliman <KLIMANB%
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        Date:   Monday, 06 Feb 1995 09:22:53 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Oedipus
 
(2)     From:   Piers Lewis <
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        Date:   Monday, 06 Feb 1995 11:18:38 -0600
        Subj:   Greek Tragedy
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bernice W. Kliman <KLIMANB%
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Date:           Monday, 06 Feb 1995 09:22:53 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:        Oedipus
 
Yes, Oedipus kills his father and marries his mother unwittingly--but he had
gone to the oracle in the 1st place because he had been told that the couple
who had brought him up were not his parents.  He runs off, then, forgetting
about that concern, and kills the 1st person he meets old enough to be his
father and then marries the 1st woman he meets old enough to be his mother.  I
don't think he is entirely the victim of fate.
 
Just adding my two cents....
 
Bernice
 
(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Piers Lewis <
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Date:           Monday, 06 Feb 1995 11:18:38 -0600
Subject:        Greek Tragedy
 
Nietzsche would be amused.  You've missed the point he'd say:  Sophocles isn't
"contemplating" the possible irrationality of the cosmos in _Oedipus_, he's
proclaiming it.  The play's a fable, he'd say, about knowledge, inquiry, the
new philosophies that call all in doubt.  Preceding Aristophanes' attack on
Socrates and the sophists by six years, it dramatizes the futility of
intellectual inquiry and rational understanding.  And he'd have had a good
laugh at the notion that democracy and the decline of the aristocratic warrior
ethos should be acclaimed as evidence of progress.  'Progress' is a modern,
post-renaissance idea.  "Why," he asks in the posthumous fragment, 'Homer's
Contest'," did the whole Greek world exult over the combat scenes of the
_Iliad_?  I fear that we do not understand these in a sufficiently 'Greek'
manner; indeed,  that we should shudder if we were ever to understand them 'in
Greek.'"
 
Bernard Knox makes a related point in his 'introduction' to Robert Fagles'
translation of the _Iliad_:
 
"Homer's Achilles is clearly the model for the tragic hero of the Sophoclean
stage; his stubborn passionate devotion to an ideal image of self is the same
force that drives Antigone, Oedipus, Ajax and Philoctetes to the fulfillment of
their destinies.  Homer's Achilles is also, for archaic Greek society, the
essence of the artistocratic ideal, the paragon of male beauty, courage,
patrician manners--'the splendor running in the blood,' says Pindar . . .   And
this too strikes a tragic  note, for Pindar sang his praise of aristocratic
values in the century which saw them go down to extinction, replaced by the new
spirit of Athenian democracy."
 
Knox goes on to say that even Socrates, "a man whose life and thought would
seem to place him at the extreme opposite pole from the Homeric hero, who was
so far removed from Achilles' blind instinctive reactions that he could declare
the unexamined life unlivable . . . on trial for his life, should invoke the
name of Achilles" in order to explain to his judges "why he feels no shame or
regret for a course of action that has brought him face to face with a
death-sentence . . . rejecting all thought of a compromise that might save his
life . . . . In the last analysis, the bloodstained warrior and the gentle
philosopher live and die in the same heroic, and tragic, pattern."
 
It's the strangeness of the ancient world that ought to impress us:  not how
much our distant ancestors resemble us but how little.  None of them were
liberals.  Why on earth should we suppose that the Dionysian religious and
literary culture of 5th century Athens supports the values and principles of
modern liberalism or responds to the demands of the liberal imagination?
 
Piers Lewis
Metropolitan State University
 

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